Bjørn is definately not your typical Norwegian. Bjørn is Ugandan. I first met Bjørn in Norway when a friend brought him to meet me and my family not only because we were living in neighbouring municipalities, but mainly becasue I am Ugandan. That lovely evening, seneraded by Ugandan/African music, we dined and socialized to much cheer and deep nostalgic conversation – about Uganda. Bjørn had impecable knowledge about Uganda, and not just general knowledge, but that insidious kind that one only gets when they have deep and vested connections and relationships with a place and its people – I was blown away!
The very next morning was a Sunday and I was woken by an urgent knock on the door. And guess who it was? Bjørn.
“Carol, can you rap?”
Bjørn asked, beaming with excitement. He had forgotten to say hei first!
‘Hæ? Rap? Me?’ I muttered. Confused.
Had Bjørn forgotten that I am a shy academic researcher and not a rap artist – and to make matters worse, who speaks broken nynorsk! I wondered.
So, right there, in the hallway, before I could invite him to our messy lounge, Bjørn ‘rapped’ what all this was about. There was a big gathering the following weekend with over 150 guests and Bjørn, being a well-known, well respected and vocal humanitarian in the small community, had been invited as guest of honour. He was to say something about his humanitarian work in Uganda. Bjørn then devised a most ingenious strategy to relay his message – incorporate his speech with a norsk rap-dance duet with a 45 year-old Ugandan female researcher living in Sogndal. As terrifying but terrific as this idea was, I regret to say I was unable to support my friend – we were travelling away for that Easter weekend. Needless to say, the event was a big success!
In the moments I describe above – an understanding of this man and his bigger-than-life personality began to emerge. I quickly learnt, and through subsequent events, the dedication of a man, who, on retirement – choose, not to lay back, relax and enjoy the comforts earned through many years of hard work, but instead roll-up his sleeves, reach out and submerge himself in bettering the lives of less fortunate people thousands of miles away in Uganda. His target was orphaned children and their destitute, widowed HIV/Aids-infected mothers.
Bjørn refers to the 190 orphans at Kazinga Community Infants School as ‘My children’ and himself as a proud father. The childrens love is reciprocal. They call him ‘Dad’, a notion, emotionally packed, given that kids have no real life dads. He knows each and everyone of them personally. He is involved in every structural and organizational and personal development of the staff, children and School. He has a hands-on approach from making sure they have scholarstic materials, to mosquito nets, to atleast 2 meals a day to fostering sound structures for running the school. Today, he just oriented me on how he has his hand on solar lamps for the children to do their homework – since electricity is a problem.
“I managed to get these at 30% discount, how great is that! Now my kids can do their homework! and they will recieve these as Christmas presents on Sunday at the Graduation ceremony” he enthuses.
Yesterday, he made a deal with Bata, a local shoe company to obtain 200 pairs for his kids at 40%. ‘ This saves us alot of money that we can then use to cover the other necessitites. He argues.
In Norway, fundraising campaigns have attracted about 150 sponsors from Sogn, where 21 of these are from his home town of 130 inhabitants.
His work in Uganda also includes collaborations with several ministries including: Tourism, Finance, Agriculture and Forestry and several Parliamentary committes including Nutrition among others.
My visit to the Kazinga kids was an uplifting experience for these kids reminded me of me at that age. Despite the challenges, these kids had at twinkle in their eager and curious eyes and in that moment I was certain, they will do their best to attain bright futures.
I know this piece of positive reflection about Bjørns work completely embarasses him 🙂 but what I saw is very good and a tap on the back is in order. Just one or two last embarassing things – A recent survey done by a Tanzanian education body ranked Kazinga Community Infants School one of the best achievers (grades and pupil happiness) in East Africa – just a reminder that a) no amount of support is too little and b) the fundamental values of love, humanity and hard work can be great recipes for success – even in the face of the worst advacities.
For Bjørn though, advacity means opportunity. So when we drove (or rather he drove) from Ntinda towards town, I felt, as a Ugandan, I should offer some (tour) guide services. So, I shared: Bjørn, right here is the New Vision Publishers where I worked for several years before going to Norway. To which Bjørn answered: ‘I know’. Okey. Here is the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Bjørn: ‘I know, the Minister is my friend and I have been there many times’. This weird exchange continued for a while. At which point, I resigned and asked to exchange my new role as tour guide – which Bjørn happily and so informedly executed to our sheer amusement! Kjære Bjørn, you are a Ugandan!