Esther Kalenzi is not one to sit back and relax when her well-laid work plans are delayed or disrupted.
Her conviction will always get the better of her as it did when an idea of starting a charity to reach out to orphans and vulnerable children flickered in her mind.
Today, the 40 Days Over 40 Smiles foundation that started as a small flame, has grown into a big fire of compassion and selflessness. Kalenzi is the founder of the youth-led charity organisation commonly referred to as 40/40.
It is committed to helping vulnerable children and communities access quality education and entrepreneurial training aimed at self-sustainability. From its two-year existence, the lithe, soft-spoken Kalenzi has learnt several lessons.
“If you are successful, you will win some true and false friends, but succeed anyway. What you spend years building, someone could try to destroy overnight, but build anyway; give the world the best you have although it may never be enough; give the best you’ve got anyway,” she philosophises.
Since her childhood, helping vulnerable children live confortable lives has been a thing close to her heart. This desire was reinforced further when she watched Oprah Winfrey help others. She had long realised that the choice was between remaining as dormant as a doormat and wishing less while acting. Kalenzi did the latter.
In March 2012, just before the Christian lent season could begin, she was inspired with the idea of putting a smile on the faces of vulnerable children over the 40 days of lent. She thought of collecting useful items for them; and to help raise the necessary materials, she took to social media. Thus the Facebook group, ‘40 Days Over 40 Smiles’ came into being.
“I started by adding my friends and they in turn added their friends. However, many people merely ‘Liked’ the page and nothing more, and it all came to no effect,” she recounts, with eyes demurely downcast.
But in a twist of fortune, one of the boys she went to school with at Aga Khan High School, surprised her with a cash donation of Shs 500,000. In just one week, Kalenzi and a team of supportive friends had raised Shs 3.1m. The money was used to buy food and clothes for 150 opharns and vulnerable children in two orphanages, God’s Grace in Kyebando and Make the Children Smile in Nateete.
In 2013, Kalenzi resigned her two-year job as an accountant executive at Captiva Africa, a business development firm, and took to full-time charity work. 40/40, after growing by leaps and bounds, is today a fully-registered entity with 20 volunteers, driven by the slogan, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’
On the foundation’s very first fundraising event dubbed ‘Croak and rhyme,’ a poetry meet held at Sheraton hotel in July 2012, Shs 5m was raised. This was channelled towards building a dormitory for the children of Happy Times Junior School in Luweero.
“Babies, infants and adolescents were sharing a meagre space on the old ‘dorm’ floor. The school needed Shs 28m but I did not know where the money could come from,” says Kalenzi.
Stirred up by the situation, she took the fundraising campaign online and this time, it was dubbed, ‘Buy a brick.’ Within eight days, another Shs 10m had been raised and construction began in earnest. The new dorm with a 210 bed capacity was officially opened in March this year.
The foundation has also had over four fundraising basketball events dubbed ‘Hoops for grace’ in which players contribute Shs 10,000 and fans 3,000 each. This year, the Hoops for grace event will be held at Bush Court along, Lugogo bypass, on October 4.
“Proceeds from the event will be used to create a play area for the children at Akiba Bless a Child Foundation, a home for children undergoing cancer treatment,“ says Kalenzi.
For November, the foundation is planning a medical camp at Kibuli. It also holds monthly breakfasts for needy children.
Esther Kalenzi is the last born of four children. She went to Nabisunsa girls’ school for O-level, finishing in 2004. She then joined Aga Khan High School for A-level, doing History, Economics, Geography and French, completing in 2006. She then joined Uganda Christian University, Mukono, for a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication, graduating in October 2010.
Challenges, way forward
The foundation’s towering success has not been without challenges. Kalenzi says there are lots of naysayers who are always looking to punch holes, even in good causes, and there are the selfish ones who are always looking out for profit.
“The last experience that made me a stronger person was when an organisation promised to fundraise for the children only if I would give them a cut! But I couldn’t compromise my integrity and asked them to keep the money to themselves. This was a real test since we needed money urgently at the time,” she laments.
For the future, Kalenzi and the 40/40 team are looking to involving as many Ugandans in community development as possible.
“Kalenzi is very organised, considerate, kind and committed. She won’t start something unless she is going to finish it. My wish is that all her dreams come to pass,” Patience Nambogga, Kalenzi’s friend for over 10 years, says in appraisal.
During her free time, Kalenzi loves to dance, listen to music and write short stories.