By Vision Reporter
FAR OFF in a ramshackled house in Mbale, Stella Natondome nowadays is able to smile after years of tears and suffering.
While in Primary Six, her father died. Left behind as orphans, were five other children, under the care of their mother. “That seemed the end of her education.
The future seemed bleak. We would plead for school fees and family upkeep from relatives. Family friends deserted us,” the 17-year old Natondome says.
At the brink of getting married, luck came her way. She got financial support from a good Samaritan in the area, Samuel Watulatsu who has done a lot to transform the society.
Nowadays, Natondome is confident of a bright future. “I am not afraid of tomorrow,” says. Watulatsu studied under the sponsorship of a nongovernmental organisation, Christian Children Project.
He became the first graduate in his village. Being the only boy in the family, he had to work hard to sustain the family.
After graduating, he looked for jobs, but failed to get any. It was then that Watulatsu decided to become self-employed.
He sold the family cow and a piece of land, with the consent of his mother and opened up a project to help the needy. A dream he had nurtured for years.
Established one year after his graduation, the Foundation for Development of Needy Communities (FDNC) is now one decade old.
He was inspired by a message of the then Vice Chancellor of Makerere University, Prof John Ssebuwufu, on his graduation day in 1995. “In this world, many people are imitators and very few people are innovators, therefore whenever you are, never fear to pioneer...”
Two years later, President Yoweri Museveni met Watulatsu and recognised him as youth innovator of the year, at the International youth day celebrations.
“I am grateful that these words stayed with me because when I returned to my home village in Mbale, I was again confronted by the realities of poverty, “ he says.
Watulatsu’s work is out of bad or hard experiences in his life. His colleagues know him as an aggressive, committed and persistent man.
“Samuel is very hardworking. He extracts results and pushes forward to get all that he wants. He is truly an innovator,” the FDNC executive director Justin Silbaugh says.
When people talk of Ashoka Fellows, they should not forget that there are also Ford Fellows. He is also a Ford Fellow.
The Ford Foundation International Fellowships Programme was launched in 2000 to provide opportunities for advanced study to exceptional individuals who use education to become leaders in respective fields. This is meant to further development in their countries and greater economic and social justice
worldwide. “We are grateful to Watulatsu for its support. Five years ago, I could hardly afford even sh500 in a week. Now I earn about sh5m every season from my produce,” 50-year-old woman in Bushika village says.
Bushika is just one of the 28 villages covered by the project. The residents have established farms and plantations with the help of Watulatsu.
In Mbale, apart from food scarcity, the other greatest problem they have is water shortage. Watulatsu has so far implemented the construction of boreholes in the area.
“Watulatsu has so muchhope and desire for his community. He enjoys working with people. There is so much potential in the development of this organisation ,” explains one of the staff volunteers.
He started a brass band as a strategy to channel the energy of street children and idle youth into productive activities.
In 1999, the UK-based Camberly Youth Wind Orchestra donated more than 50 percussion instruments to the band.
“I love this band. It has always worked as solace after the death of my parents. I have also learnt to lend a hand to the needy, to pay back for the love shown by Watulatsu,” a 10-year-old band member says.
With money the band has made playing at community functions, the foundation has paid for some students’ school fees, supported families and covered administrative costs. “We are involved in animal rearing and crop growing. Our children are supported by Watulatsu. We can now earn good money,” a beneficiary says.
Watulatsu has built for several orphaned, abused, and vulnerable children a vocational school. He has also constructed a school for children with special needs. Children from about 28 villages have benefited from his organisations. As of now, he has enrolled close to 73 students.
Watulatsu strives to build self-reliance and sustainable development in the most impoverished communities of Eastern Uganda. The organisation has a vocational training centre, community health programme run by 30 volunteer health workers, a special needs education programme for the disabled children and provides paralegal advisory services for prisoners.
About 20 pupils with disabilities sit in one of the well-furnished new blocks of Isaac Kisakye Memorial Centre for Disabled Children.
Watulatsu’s desire to help the needy is rooted in his suffering as a child. At the age of four, he lost his father. He became an orphan, alongside four other children. Watulatsu suffered, but persevered under the guidance of his mother who was a teacher.