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Friday, August 2, 2013

Planting seeds of ambition


The story of Alice Nkole suitably captures the common expression that what does not kill you makes you stronger. As she traverses Ugandan schools spurring young people to higher purposes, it is difficult to accept that at the age of 14, she was falsely accused of something that nearly shattered her life.

It started with rumour spreading wildly through the school that little Alice, at 14, was HIV/Aids positive. This was in 1993 when the stigma surrounding the infected was extreme. How was a Senior Two teenager supposed to defend herself?
Alice Nkole in Dallas
Nkole decided that silence was going to be her defense. For eight years, she kept quiet while the countdown (to her death) was on: “To make matters worse, every little sickness put me down because of the emotional drain. By the time I completed high school in 1997 at Immaculate Heart Girls Secondary School Nyakibaale in Rukungiri, I looked like a typical HIV/Aids patient. The only thing I did not display was mental sickness.”

Finding herself
It is this mental strength that kept her in school despite the resentment, stigma and rejection. Night after night, tears drenched Nkole’s pillow. She prayed for death that never came, but later realised God knew she was innocent and intended to use her experience to help others discover their true worth in spite of the debilitating circumstances they might have encountered.

The empowerment of others however did not begin immediately. Nkole went to Makerere University to study Social Sciences, graduated in 2000 and could not find a job until 2002. For three eyes, she toiled away in an Indian shop for a salary that could barely meet her basic needs.

With mounting frustration, she decided she was better off suffering in a foreign country where no one knew her than staying in Uganda. She filed an application to the University of Dallas in Texas for a Master’s degree in Business Administration. Luckily, her expansively-hearted brothers and sisters chipped in and got her a ticket and part of the tuition.

Thus one day in 2007, she found herself on a plane for the first ever time, with only Shs60,000 in her purse, and an incomparable excitement, for she knew that somehow things would work out for good.

Taking a leap of faith
In Dallas, her first mission was to find a job, but heard that international students were not being hired anymore. “But I believed in exceptions, so I confidently approached Melissa Ellis who was in charge of Graduate Assistantships and told her I badly needed the job otherwise I would die.”

To Nkole’s delight, she was granted an interview. The first question was if she had a car. Texas has no walk-ways. Everyone owns a car. The panel was worried how she would be getting to work. She told them her strong legs were her best car, and reassured them to sack her the day she reported to work late.

“What had began as a laughing matter at a Ugandan girl who walked to work ended up being the inspiration as other students began to believe in their ability to walk too,” she says mirthfully. “The 30-minute walk became a treasure that I would forever cherish as it turned out to be my refilling moment; the only personal time with God I ever had off the busy schedule.”

A job in Disney World
After her Masters, she landed an intern position at Walt Disney World in Florida: “This is the largest single site employer in North America with more than 70,000 employees. So I gave it my best. In addition to getting valuable experience in business management, I wanted to paint a new picture with a pleasant colour that black people are not lazy, but that we are in fact very hardworking, professional and honest even in small things. I wanted to show everyone that we have goals and dreams to achieve just like everybody else.”

For her outstanding performance, Nkole was within three months promoted and appointed to handle one of Disney’s entities: the Disney Publishing Worldwide where the girl all the way from Bugangari in Rukungiri had great experiences competing with the cream of America’s professionals.

Arousing abilities
The four challenging albeit rewarding years of her life abroad were all she needed to fully discover her purpose in life. In 2011, she returned and founded the Sense of Value and Purpose International Network, to help those who have lost their sense of value and purpose get it back. With the ability to identify with all kinds of people and backgrounds, nothing was going to stop her.

“We are busy arousing people’s abilities and planting new seeds of ambition to a twakowa (tired) generation,” she says. The Network has so far been to 18 schools including Gayaza High School, Comboni College Kambuga in Kanungu and to Makerere University among others, where she has been shocked by the fears and insecurities of the unloved.

Alice inspiring students of comprehensive college
“Many youth have been left to figure out life on their own; they are not told what to expect or how to face this challenging life optimistically,” she says. “The youth are not getting inspiration and the emotional support to believe in themselves, be positive about life and understand that making mistakes is not the end. And that is the gap I’m trying to close with the little that I am doing.

To reach out to as many people as she can, Nkole recently released a book titled Seeds of Ambition rallying all to rise above life’s obstacles and refuse to be entangled in the rat race of meaningless, superficial, empty living, but rather to quickly find the authenticity, determination and enterprise that distinguishes the great.

“Work like you are the top-paid person in the organization; work like you earn USD 100,000 a month; work like a manager of your own enterprise – giving it the best you can,” she advises fervently, “and never even ever think of quitting because quitters are never winners!”

--Sunday Monitor, July 21, 2013