A HEART FOR HUMANITY: Herbert Mukuru’s Unique Journey

Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2017/03/herbert-mukuru/


By Sarah Lagot Odwong

Herbert Mukuru is unconventional. I met him when he was a fresh-faced first year student at Uganda Christian University. Inquisitive, jolly and sometimes mischevious, it is easy to miss the seriousness with which he engages life.

Born 24 years ago at Nsambya Hospital, Herbert has spent most of his life in Kampala (Uganda’s capital). As one of three siblings, the vocal young man fondly recalls his childhood as one filled with love and many adventures. He lived a typical life; fighting with his sister and brother over toys and getting into accidents. Eventually, his parents enrolled him in boarding schools (St.Francis Primary School, St.Lawrence London College and East High School, Ntinda) for his education. The years spent in these educational institutions would become pivotal in shaping Herbert’s life path. For instance, one significant lesson he recalls is that he learned to socialize with people of different ethnic backgrounds.

Herbert Mukuru in a classroom with some of the teachers and volunteers at Bishop West Primary School

After high school, Herbert enrolled at Uganda Christian University (UCU) in 2013 as a freshman. He was thrilled to be studying communications. It had always been his dream to be a journalist. However, his joy was short-lived. His parents notified him that they could not afford to pay his full tuition. Herbert was downcast. The future looked so bleak. In this moment of emotional turbulence, he got an ephiphany. He had to think outside the box if he wanted to continue with his education despite the financial encumbrances. Armed with some savings, he paid for a small room and opened up a confectionary shop near UCU (at Bishop Stage in Mukono). He procured cooking items and started baking cakes, and making pastries like samosas, mandazis and selling soft drinks to raise additional money for his tuition. The business took off. Suddenly, there weren’t enough hours in the day for the young man. With a growing customer base, Herbert had to find the balance between his classes and the business. He woke up at 4am daily to prepare snacks that he would sell. By 8am, he was required to be in class. The early mornings, long days and short nights taught Herbert the value of hard work and sacrifice. His business grew gradually into a restaurant and he was able to generate enough money to pay for his schooling.

“Starting and maintaining the business was hard. It needed resolve. It needed strength. I had none of those. Only God’s grace prevailed over my life,” Herbert states.
Usually on Herbert’s way out of the campus after classes, he passed by Bishop West Primary School; a church-founded primary school that neighbours the university. One particular day in April 2016, he felt a strong urge on his heart to go into the school compound. What he found broke his heart. There were several children with special needs (autism, down syndrome, celebral palsy, physical and mental disabilities) that were not being catered for adequately. He resolved to get help for them.

A teacher at Bishop West Primary School Special Needs section checks the progress of the students in class.

This resolve grew into the idea for “Upendo Foundation.” Herbert launched “Upendo”- a Swahili word for “love” in his last semester of school. He mobilised monetary resources from friends, family, and university staff and got enough funds to buy a water harvester for the special needs section of the school. Still, he felt it was not enough. He encouraged his friends to volunteer at the school. Herbert was deeply engrossed in the volunteer work himself. The children tugged at his heartstrings. Suddenly, he had added an extra portion on his plate- school, the business and a time consuming volunteering experience. Whereas another person would have been overwhelmed, the fulfilment he got from playing with and teaching the children was more than enough to make up for any fatigue.

When Herbert completed school in August 2016, it was therefore no surprise that he dove headlong into Upendo’s charity work. His passion for helping the children was so strong that he closed down the restaurant and started volunteering. Currently, he works full-time at Bishop West Primary School together with two other friends.

Herbert Mukuru with Matsiko Edwin, a special needs student who is deaf. Mukuru has found a home amongst these children.

Many have despised Herbert career choice. In Uganda, after graduation, children are expected to get good employment to make money and look after their families. Herbert disagrees with this perspective.

He says, “This project caters for these vulnerable children. They were underlooked by society but our work is bringing healing to them. Like us, they were created in God’s image. I used to see some of them shunned by their peers. They would eat under trees, away from their school mates. I want to show them that are they worthy like everybody else. Parents from as far as Misindiye and Nyenje bring their children for diagnosis, treatment, interaction and education at the school. This is testimony that I am fulfilling God’s will in my life. Why should I gain the world and lose my soul?”

Herbert’s mentor, Gerald Rovis Masinde, the Programs Director at Power FM and a Lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication at UCU applauds the work the young man is doing.

“It is hard to find visionary young people who are hungry to change their communities. I am very proud of Herbert,” Masinde notes.

In less than 8 months of existence, Upendo Foundation has managed to establish a counselling service at the special needs section of Bishop West Primary School. Herbert has also mobilized enough resources to construct a water harvester, play area and to organize a Christmas party for the children.

Like any start-up, Herbert’s young non-profit venture has had its fair share of challenges. Oftentimes when he approaches other organizations for funding and partnerships, he is met with bureaucratic systems that don’t share his enthusiasm. He also lacks adequate funds to meet some expenses such as transport allowances and upkeep for the volunteers.

Herbert hopes Upendo can grow into a formidable organization championing the cause for structured special needs education and advocating for rights for people with disabilities in Uganda.

“People look at me like I am wasting my time with this project but I will stick up for it. God has put a burden on my heart to stand in the gap for these children. How then can I pull the plug on them?” Herbert asks contemplatively. Herbert must soon run back to his work with the children.

He signs off our conversation by reminding me that his education and spiritual mentorship have adequately prepared him for this season of his life.

“I am a good public speaker. I go to people to lobby for funds, I write proposals, I am able to do so many things. All the pieces, all the experiences I’ve gone through fitted like a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes God takes us to places that are uncomfortable so we can be the hands and feet of Jesus in a world that needs healing.”

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