They say, “Beggars have no choice”. So, I guess I am not part of that lot!
Why should anyone define themselves as beggars, anyway? Just because one is looking for paid work, does not make you a beggar. In any case, I think it is of strategic importance for “beggars” to have choice, lest they accept any and all toxic addition to their lives. Which seems true for many beggars: they pick their target audience carefully, typically around a busy intersection or subway; they hold well-written placards asking for donations visible to even motorists inside their AC SUVs, and advanced beggars know to offer something in return – “food in exchange for any kind of work” or “god bless you for helping feed me and my children”.
In my case, I want paid work that works with me, in terms of my schedule, my life and my responsibilities. In fact, I have achieved most of my career success taking this stand -of job, academics, personal choices that work with me. It might not have come without pain, agony, sweat, disappointments and endurance, but what else doesn’t? No one wakes up to run a marathon (although I have kind of done that a few times); everything requires dedicated training and commitment.
Similarly to most of my career advancements based on taking unconventional risks and making unpopular decisions, that have amazingly served me well! I have travelled the world, learned new subjects over and beyond my formal and informal classroom experience, made new friends, influenced plenty of people and mentored generations. I am fortunate to say that my previous employers have outstanding memories of me, however short-lived my work experience with them was. They will tell you that I am the most indefatigable, creative, imaginative, wittiest and personable colleague they have had the privilege of working with. I, too have fond memories of my employers, my professors and my colleagues. They taught me so much about professional commitment, they allowed me to venture out into new territories and trusted me with their work; they allowed me unfettered time for career and personal growth, on their clock, and mentored my writing, research, advocacy and activism. Beside, they supported me with time, money and personal resources, opening up their “binders of VIPs”, from which I tapped in advancing my professional, scholarly and academic careers. I think I have returned the gratitude by mentoring others, giving and dedicating myself to committing to unconventional work.
Among my most memorable employer is the women who introduced me to the world of refugees, to which I was oblivious hitherto. Although, I was born in a country that hosted generations of refugees from before I was born, most of us grew up not making much of ‘foreigners’, unless they were white or Indian. True, she paid me peanuts, but allowed me to travel the world and attend seminars for my career advancement, all on her time, and still paid me a monthly salary and sometimes gave me a travel allowance. As her personal assistant, she positioned me in places with high-level international dignitaries, who later secured me scholarships for international training. She taught me to write for public audiences, using the print press, and fundraising proposals to donors. She sowed the seed in me as a grantseeker, by taking me to fundraising meetings with international funders. She gave me the tools to become an institutional memory for establishment and sustainability of organizations, when she made me co-creator of a successor body to our project on refugee rights. She made me feel very special, when she said I was the first Ugandan woman (then I was still a young girl) she had met who was not shy, who knew and perfectly stood for what she wanted, because I walked into her office and asked for a joy even though there was no job advertisement posted. When she asked me if I could bring my resume in two weeks when she was back from Oxford, to her shock I had my cv on a floppy disk in my bag, that I handed over to her to print out immediately! Just like that, I got my first ‘higher and long-term’ paying job while still a university student. Not only that, I successfully negotiated with her to work part-time and allow me use her office space and equipment to type up individual cases of prison inmates from a student volunteer project I headed, and in exchange investigate if there were any refugees on our visits to detention facilities!
Prior to that, I had had the privilege of being mentored by a distinguished law professor and scholarly activist, who stated a human rights center at the university with a component of practical training of student human rights activists. I was paid for three months as a student intern and sent to an NGO to learn practical skills of human rights activism and office work. The rest is history! Soon, I volunteered to coordinate student interns and the center staff, then I mooted and effected the idea of founding a prisoners’ human rights project, which I headed until I left the country. I convinced professors at the law school to donate pro bono time teaching human rights activism to university students beyond the law school, recruited student interns and volunteers to take visit places of detention, interview inmates and staff, and document conditions in prisons and prisoners’ human rights abuses, and partnered with legal aid and human rights organizations to take up court cases of incarcerated persons pro bono or help in family tracing, petitioned the government human rights agency to release persons on undue detention indefinitely or automatic bond, and ran radio and TV talk shows discussing conditions in prisons. At a time when human rights activism and student internships and volunteering were literally unheard of within universities, i grew the prisons project into the most popular student initiative on the university campus and among organizations and government human rights bodies. I was the “energizer bunny” back then, in all things voluntary service to the community, including spending December school-break fundraising and building a primary school for children in rural Uganda. The rewards were hefty, including fully-funded international travels and training, unlimited access to glowing letters of recommendation, unsolicited nomination to roundtables on national, regional and international human rights concerns, respect and admiration among my peers, and everlasting mentorship and friendships that I enjoy to date.
Due to the strong foundation and mentorship never to be afraid of engaging on unconventional wisdom, I have been able to venture into terrain that I might never have chosen in the first place. For instance, while motherhood was nowhere on my “to-do list”, I took up it up, and challenged myself to have my baby all natural without any pain-relief medication or epidural during labor. I achieved my wishes due to disciplined pre-natal preparation using the tested “Bradley Method of Natural Child Birth”, and delivered a health baby. I stuck to the same kind of discipline, post-delivery, making sure that baby comes first alongside work, good health, proper feeding and all social engagements. Although I “played-pause” on “formal employment”, l re-enter a career later on that facilitated being a single traveling mother/scholarly researcher/community mobilizer.
I have not had a typical 9-5 job since having my son, yet I have been able to deliver above and beyond to all my professional employers and colleagues, and left everlasting memories. In any case, I have always worked beyond the usual eight-hour day shift, putting in late nights, very early mornings and weekends not because I do not have ‘a life’ – after all, I have traveled on vacation with child, run everyday, joined my social groups to weekend runs and out-of-town get-aways, and fundraised as a resource mobilizer and donated to worthy communities and individuals, and trained rural communities to monitor and demand accountability for public service delivery, especially in areas of child health, education and social infrastructure, and challenged communities and my social networks to mobilize and donate own physical, monetary and in-kind resources to re-build our communities instead of waiting for perpetual empty promises from central government or handouts from international groups.
Now that I am back to my other geographical space in America, and I am sinking my hands, faith and hard work in “finding paid work that works from me”. That is, accepting of my status as a single mother, raising a toddler, and committed to being in his life. My plans for my child and career ambitions do not allow me the luxury of being in the same space with his daddy nor the support of my larger family. I know I have to make it work, like all single mothers do – working two or three jobs while striving to put food on the table for their kids, clothes on their backs and books and educational materials. Yet, I know one-size does not fit all. On my part, I am good at selling my services to achieve professional satisfaction and fulfillment, which is the approach I seek to pursue in order to earn an income, while allowing me time to raise and grow with my son. I would like to afford the opportunity to attend my son’s school activities, take him to weekend sports activities, education trips and holidays, make him meals at home and prepare him for school while at the same time not sacrificing financial and professional accomplishment. Observing children raised by maids with an age disconnect from the children or goal disconnect from their parents, makes me shudder, when they spend most time raising children on TV and indoors, as opposed to allowing children to create their own play through imagination and outdoors activities. Since my son has a restrictive diet, which is not very compatible with mainstreamed feeding and eating habits of ‘fast foods and snacks”, taking over most children’s diets in our society.
These might seem trivial issues to plenty out there, but I strongly believe that they are central to a child’s upbringing. I observe in my geographical space, many couples have chosen to dedicate one parent as a “stay-at-home” or “work-from-home”, especially the mother, while the other [especially father] goes off to formal office 9-5 career. This affords their child[ren] a stable presence and full engagement of a family member. I am already talking to several colleges and university, who might be interested in developing partnerships for student international training and study abroad. I also have my eyes on international fundraising for grassroots community development, a field so dear to my heart and central to my professional and scholarly experiences.