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If there is a problem with a machine, no worries, Mukwasibwe is here to help
Thursday, 30 October 2014 Written by Dejan Anić

When one of the machines that students use in our schools in Kivumu malfunctions, or when those machines are simply in need of regular maintenance, then – Mukwasibwe comes to the rescue!

Valeriano Mukwasibwe, machinery mechanic

Valeriano Mukwasiibwe is a Ugandan machinery mechanic, a tailoring teacher and a friend of the schools in Kivumu. But Mukwasibwe and his life story are also an example of how through hard work and effort things can be turned to one’s advantage.

He was born in Kabale, southern Uganda 36 years ago. Problems started even before he got to know life. First abandoned by his father and then also by his mother, he spent the first ten years of his life with his grandmother in the town of Mbarara. Then his mother showed up promising a better future, and so he moved to Kabale with her and started attending primary school. But just three years later his mother cast him away once more, and so he had to go back to his grandmother who once more took him under her protection. He finished fourth grade of primary school in Mbarara, and then he had to quit school because his grandmother wasn’t able to raise money for him to continue his education.

Without a chance to continue his education, Mukwasibwe had no other choice but to start working as a teenager in different parts of Uganda and to fight for his own existence. And he wasn’t picky. He dug, he worked on other people’s houses, he made bricks, he transported bananas and generally did the hardest jobs for a very modest salary which bought him just one simple meal per day, sometimes not even that...

The first ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ in Mukwasiibwe’s unfortunate life appeared in 1995 when he met Mary Moran. She gave him a chance to study at the tailoring school she ran in the village of Nyamitanga just outside of Mbarara. And so Mukwasiibwe, now an 18-year-old, after years of hard physical labour, was once more sitting in a classroom!

By now he was living with his aunt, and how much this opportunity meant to him will be even clearer if you know that each day he rode his bicycle 40 kilometres to school and back! Moreover, even his school years weren’t without hardship, since he had to continue working in addition to his school obligations in order to survive.

Nonetheless, Mukwasiibwe was a fighter and he didn’t allow any obstacle to slow him down. In addition to the tailor’s trade and his job, he also worked hard to learn English, and despite all the hardships and sacrifice three years later he successfully completed his tailoring training.

During his education two things happened to Mukwasiibwe that would leave a huge mark on his later life.

The first of those two things was meeting Valerie Kae Ken, a Canadian clothing designer who at that time was working at the school in Nyamitanga. Valerie helped him to master tailoring techniques but also taught him a great deal about life. And in the end he got a first real life opportunity: upon graduating from the school it was Valerie who suggested that Mukwasiibwe ought to remain working as a teacher in the school. His first real job! The young tailor embraced the opportunity wholeheartedly and has continued working in the school for the past fifteen years.

The other fateful thing that happened to him during his school days came as a result of curiosity. Besides tailoring and sewing, Mukwasiibwe got interested in mechanics as well. He spent hours upon hours watching craftsmen who would come to repair the sewing machines. He observed, he absorbed the knowledge and, as the time passed, he tried to gather as many tools as he could, and then finally got up courage to start fixing machines himself! And that is how besides his official tailoring trade Mukwasiibwe learned yet another one – mechanics.

This young, intelligent and above all persistent young man managed to turn his difficult childhood and adolescence into something very positive through hard work and endless sacrifice and thus created a better and more certain future for himself.

A new phase in Mukwasiibwe’s life began thanks to his acquaintance with fra Ivica Perić. When in 2005 fra Ivica embarked on a large project to improve the Padri Vjeko vocational school in Kivumu, Rwanda, a project which among other things involved getting new sewing machines from England, he remembered the hardworking and persistent young man he met in Uganda. And that is how at the end of that year, Mary, together with fra Ivica sent Mukwasiibwe off to faraway England where he was to attend a one-and-a-half-month sewing machine maintenance and repair apprenticeship. The young man, who ‘only just yesterday’ struggled to survive and get a little bit of food, was now on his way to see the world and to learn and improve his knowledge and skills.

Mukwasiibwe remembers his days in England as one of the most interesting periods of his life. He stayed in Enfield and worked in Wimbledon where he stood out as one of the best apprentices, but where he also learned a great deal about life.

He met a lot of new and interesting people; he learned to be punctual and respect time, which is not common among Africans; and for the first time in his life he was able to taste European food. He has a lot of fond memories and stories from that time.

One of those stories is related to a nearby restaurant he used to eat at during his apprenticeship course. As the story goes, Mukwasiibwe found a cheap restaurant and there he tried pizza for the first time and liked it a lot. So he decided to make it his everyday meal. Cheap and tasty. But each day he would remain thirsty, since he couldn’t afford a juice with his pizza, although the waiters kept offering him a juice every time he came there to eat. Mukwasiibwe would always decline their offer and put up with the thirst because he knew he couldn’t afford the drink, and only when he was bidding farewell to his newfound friends at the end of the time there did he find out that if you order a pizza you get the juice – for free!

He also remembers how at the same restaurant he asked the waiter where he could make a short call (the usual way of saying you need to go to the toilet in Uganda), and the waiter told him “No problem!” and took him to the – phone!

He also smiles as he remembers how, during his course in Wimbledon on one occasion, he managed to repair a large industrial machine while all the other much more experienced workers had given up saying that it could not be repaired...

He also used his stay in Europe to visit the Irish family of his benefactor from Mbarara, Mary. He remembers Ireland for its cold weather, for his first visit to a pub in his life, but first and foremost he remembers Ireland for the welcoming and warm people he met while there.

Upon returning to Uganda, the little money he had managed to save, and once again -with a lot of help from fra Ivica, Mukwasiibwe managed to build a house for himself. For the first time in his life he had a place to call his own. In the meantime he became a family man, got married and by now has fathered three children. He is still equally ambitious and persistent, and he managed to open a small store in his house, which is nowadays run by his wife. Meanwhile, he has devoted himself to his trades - teaching tailoring, as well as taking in sewing jobs and repairing electric machines in his home.

His friendship and cooperation with fra Ivica is still very much alive, and at least once every couple of months, Mukwasiibwe comes to Kivumu to service the machines, and to fix what has broken since his last visit, and spending any free time hanging out with his Rwandan friends.

Because of his assistance, the machines at the schools in Kivumu are working at full speed. Young people are taught tailoring and sewing, welding, carpentry, electricity and plumbing. The village itself is humming from all the machines and appliances – as well from children’s laughter. And if there is a problem with any machine, no worries – Mukwasibwe will come and fix it!

Because of his work ethic, Valeriano Mukwasiibwe can be a perfect role model for the youth of Kivumu, and the whole of Africa. He is an example of how the biggest hardships and problems in life are not insurmountable and can be overcome if you are hardworking, persistent, devoted to learning and working and you know how to appreciate and use opportunities that are offered to you in life.

Translated by Branimir Mlakić
Edited by Valerie Kae Ken

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