Pros for Africa founder Reggie Whitten (third from left), visits with Ugandan students Richard Kirabira (second from left) and Charles Mugabi at the inauguration of East Central University President John Hargrave (left). When the Ugandan men refused compensation for helping Hargrave during a Pros for Africa trip to Uganda, the organization offered to pay for their education at ECU. They have completed the first year of working toward master’s degrees.
‘OUR IMAGINATION HAS BEEN SPARKED – WE CAN DO BETTER,’ MEN SAY
To the grateful American, their good deed deserved a reward.
To the two Ugandan men who waited three days at the airport for the American’s lost luggage, then drove five hours to deliver it, no reward was expected.
“When he offered a tip, we don’t see the reason,” said Charles Mugabi of Uganda. “They came to help us.”
But the American, East Central University President John Hargrave, found another way to show his appreciation. He had traveled to Gulu, Uganda, in March 2010 with Pros for Africa, an Oklahoma City-based organization that aids disadvantaged African children, to drill water wells, provide doctors and medical care and teach life skills.
“People at the airport were telling me someone would bring my luggage to me like in the United States,” Hargrave said. “Others said that’s not true. If they did bring it to me, it would be empty. Nobody would take luggage on a bus for five hours through a civil war area.
“But Richard Kirabira and Charles Mugabi showed up three days later in a city they were afraid to come to. I couldn’t believe they spent three days standing at the airport knowing that, if they weren’t there, someone would steal it.”
Gulu is in northern Uganda where rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army fought government troops for years and brutally terrorized defenseless villagers, regularly seeking children to replenish their military ranks. They also kidnapped girls, forced them to become sex slaves and often mutilated or killed them.
Hargrave said he tried to compensate Kirabira and Mugabi but they wouldn’t take money. Instead, Hargrave told them if they could get their airfare, Pros for Africa would provide them with an education at ECU.
“We were surprised to know he was the president of a university,” Kirabira said. “We thought he was an ordinary man in a t-shirt. But we would serve him no matter who he was.”
Kirabira and Mugabi were following what they had learned at the Cornerstone Leadership Academy in Uganda, a two-year boarding high school that works to mold young people from poor families, various religious backgrounds and different tribes into future leaders.
They “learn to live together as brothers and sisters in the spirit of Jesus” despite their differences, with the hope of working across long-standing divisions to build a more peaceful and prosperous society, according to the academy’s website.
“The people of Africa occupy the same continent but the cultures vary from village to village, not just from country to country,” Hargrave said.
“The school,” Kirabira said, “taught us some principles that we treasure and use wherever we go.”
Principles such as servant leadership, integrity and honesty.
“We want to help our community,” Mugabi said. “We want to be servant leaders. It would be a betrayal to say he gave us money.”
Kirabira had a degree in small business management from Makerere University and wanted to earn a master of business administration degree, but couldn’t afford it.
“Then here he (Hargrave) comes. It was a miracle to me,” Kirabira said quietly.
The two young men just completed their first year at ECU and have gone home to see their families. Homesickness was a struggle every day, they said, because of living in such a different environment and confronting new challenges.
They will return to ECU for at least one more year. Kirabira is working toward a master’s degree in accounting. Mugabi has taken pre-requisite business classes and will earn a master’s degree in human resources/administration.
“Back home, there is a challenge with accounting professions,” Kirabira said. “People take advantage of peoples’ ignorance. There is a lot of fraud. I want to change that. With my master’s degree in accounting, I’ll be able to work in a big accounting firm. My dream is to run my own accounting firm and serve my community.”
Mugabi has a bachelor’s degree in education and had mentored kids from the streets in Uganda.
“These are young men of the highest character and integrity and the kind of quality that if you want to give somebody a break in life, these guys are very deserving,” Hargrave said. “These young men mean a great deal to me.”
At ECU, Kirabira was captain of the ECU Soccer Club and Mugabi was vice president of the International Student Connection Club and president of the African-Carribean Student Association.
They traveled to see the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and other parts of the United States during Christmas and spring breaks. Kirabira was invited to the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., and met President Obama.
“This blessing came out of helping others,” Mugabi said. “It’s something we never thought would happen.”
They have learned great lessons, they said, and have been “entirely changed by the experience in a short time.”
They were surprised to meet students from so many other countries at ECU.
“I’ve learned from other cultures,” Mugabi said. “I’ve learned lessons on how people view the world and how to live with them. It prepares Richard and me to face bigger challenges and be leaders. We learned to shift our mindset, to get rid of the stereotypes of different people that we had.”
The men have experienced a paradigm shift, he said, and can look at ways to improve their country based on a bigger picture of what other cultures have achieved rather than just what has been accomplished in Uganda.
“The way we view things now is not just from inside the borders of our country, but globally,” he said. “Our imagination has been sparked. We can do better than what we have done.
“We’ve been exposed to a robust economy. All the lessons from this country create a conflict and cause us to think we can do more when we go back. We are excited to go back home.”
Mugabi paused a moment.
“We are symbols of success to our families. We are objects of emulation to young people. There are many who would like to be like us.”
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