By Nigel Nassar
When Kenneth Mugayehwenkyi two weeks ago started walking his 400km talk from Kabale district in western Uganda, destined for Mukono, another district in the central part of the country, even he had his doubts.
Would you challenge yourself to walk 400km for a cause? Well, Kenneth and his team did. GRAPHIC/Brian Sekamate
Because many he had earlier told about his planned walk had all gone like: “Are you crazy?” Well, at least those asked. Some actually just declared: “Kenneth, you are crazy!”
But the grand mothers and grandfathers of Muhanga, Kabale, knew better than to doubt their son, who has for the last 10 years been their father.
To the grannies, this 45-year-old was a man who had promised 10 years ago to take care of them, and had never faltered even one bit.
First Mengo Boys and Girls Brigade Brass Band ushered the walking man into Kampala
To them, he was the man holding their lives in his hands by the grace of God, and so it was time for them to support him do what he said he was going to do.
And on September 28, the villages of Kabale woke up early, and several grannies were seen early morning on the roads.
They were seen sauntering to the flag off point of their son; to bless him and send him off on his quest to walk the talk that had been going on for some time.
This walk, they had been briefed, would raise awareness about issues affecting them (the grannies), and perhaps turn up some money in donations to equip the two state-of-the-art health centres he has set up to take care of their health needs.
And so, on the morning of September 28, the Reach One Touch One Ministries (ROTOM) health centre in Muhanga, the organization under which Kenneth takes care of the grannies, was chockablock on them, grannies.
They had a sort of grace about them, walking stick in hand and very big grins on their faces. They danced the famous ekitaguriro dance of the Bakiga, in the build up to departure.
Even the area church leaders, people who are to be taken seriously at all times, were on hand to flag the young man off on his quest. I am talking the Venerable Reverend Edward Mwesigwa, the archdeacon of Nyaburerema archdiocese, representing Kigezi Bishop George Katwesige.
I am talking Muhanga Church of Uganda Parish Priest Reverend Canon Christopher Rwankutahe. Even Muhanga Town Council mayor James Twijuke, came to flag the son of his soil off. How could he fail?
“Man, this is it! I don’t know what lies ahead, but I know by God’s grace, we shall make it,” Kenneth whispered to me as we set off, a slew of grannies and youths literally on his heels, plus children from Nyikunama Primary School playing their little hearts out, using their squeaky, off-key school band instruments, also accompanying him.
In a nutshell, several people to disappoint if he failed. Many dropped off as the journey progressed, but they had given him their blessings. Things went as you have been following them in the updates, and along the way he picked up a moniker: Kenneth The Walking Man. Everything else is now history, and looks like a “happily ever after” kind of story.
The walk into Kampala
And by God’s grace, The Walking Man and his then 17 companions, on Monday October 14th, got up at a motel in Kyengera on the outskirts of Kampala, having covered 353km so far. But on this morning, The Walking Man and his entourage was to take one of the most interesting strides on this walk, strides into Kampala, the busiest and third-last lap of his 400km walk.
This was the team’s 17th day walking.
Sheikh Murshid Luwemba of UMSC welcomes Kenneth The Walking Man and his team.
“This is it,” he said to me again as we converged for breakfast, but this time in a stronger voice, not the other day’s whisper.
Everyone on the team of walkers, impressed with themselves on how far they had come, was upbeat, especially the three grannies (two women and a man).
At Watoto West in Kyengera, more people joined us. Some grannies from the ROTOM headquarters in Mukono, officials from Uganda Reach the Aged Association (URAA), led by their board chairman David Obot, HelpAge International country director Joseph Bitature and his entourage, and several man-on-the-street walkers, joined in the fray. And it was just to add their voice that the elderly are important and deserve to live dignified and fulfilling lives, ROTOM’s mission.
And just as the grannies fine-tuned their voices to sing all the way, just like they have done throughout the winding roads, a van showed up. In it, a full brass band. And we knew the party had just started.
First Mengo Boys and Girls Brigade Brass Band, an amazing instrument players’ outfit with boys and girls adept at their craft, played the music. The dancing started, along with the procession, guided by traffic police officers specifically assigned by the Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura to protect and lead safely The Walking Man on his quest.
Out there on the walk, it really felt like “This is it”, just like Kenneth keeps saying. What seemed so small out there in the sprawling hills and winding roads, with just a handful of us 15 walkers, had suddenly grown into a big procession into Kampala.
Weaving in and out of traffic to sights of busy traders giving up on what they were doing just catching a glimpse, the procession of banner-hoisting elderly women and youngsters snaked its way on.
Through Wakaliga and up to Rubaga Cathedral, the match was on, the brass band summoning all attention to it. At the cathedral, the walkers were welcomed, and Father Joseph Sebunya, chancellor Kampala Archdiocese, blessed them and sent them on a safe journey, which also made a sojourn at the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council mosque, Old Kampala.
Though Sheikh Shaban Mubajje, the Mufti was busy prepping up for Eid Adhuha prayers the next day, he delegated. Sheikh Murshid Luwemba, the secretary for religious affairs, blessed the walkers and sent them on their next stop.
As the procession approached All Saints Church in Nakasero, the day’s destination, the brass band, as if on cue, played Oh When the Saints.
That came in handy – everyone, like a saint, matching in. Waiting at the entrance were grandmothers and grandfathers from the fellowship of the church’s older persons, led by Mama Esther Kalimuzo, the chair lady of the fellowship, and Reverend Canon Frederick Balwa among other clergymen.
It was a grand welcome, with everyone wanting a piece of Kenneth, hugs doing the rounds. “Oh my God, Kenneth! You have made it this far? Clearly Mukono is now just a stone’s throw,” said a delighted Kalimuzo, hugging The Walking Man, adding, “I am so proud of you.”
Busega Roundabout: The walking man leads his team into Kampala.
In fact, a thanksgiving service was held immediately, with speaker after another loading praises on The Walking Man and his companions, not just for the walk, but also the cause behind it.
By the time we were ushered to the sumptuous meal the church prepared for us, it was all clear how noble a cause resuscitating the elderly is, with bible versus to that effect read out. And the accommodation at one of the church clergymen’s home was one of the most comfortable we have had since we started walking.
Yesterday’s walk, which happened to fall on Eid Adhuha (Tuesday October 15), turned up over 40 additional walkers, the second biggest number after that on kick-off day. It was the 18th and second last day of the walk, kicking off at All Saints in Nakasero, with a number of ROTOM partners from Canada and the U.S on board, having landed into the country the previous day.
Someone else, who by the way has been doing her own walk around Mukono since we started, also joined her significant other’s walk. Miriam Mugayehwenkyi, no need of further introductions, walked with the team from All Saints to Nelson Mandela Stadium in Bweyogerere. “I was blessed to walk with my wife Miriam who has been missing in action since we started,” The Walking Man was to update his Facebook profile later.
His son Andrew and other members of the family, including his sister Adela, uncle and aunt Kaana, cousins, and OBs Peter Karecera and Emma Baganizi, were all out there on the walk with him.
Also, Diana Nkesiga, top of the clergy at All Saints Nakasero, joined the walk. And just when we thought that was all, the retired Archbishop and ROTOM trustee, His Grace Dr. Livingstone Nkoyoyo, suddenly joined us at Nakawa in what caused a momentary stampede, with all and sundry filing up to say hello and express gratitude.
The appearance of The Walking Man’s friends, Mark and Becky Landry from Texas and their sons Nathan and Philip, was a pleasant surprise for Kenneth The Walking Man, so much so you traced a tear spec in his eyes upon seeing them.
Patrick Mugenyi, the incoming chairman of ROTOM Uganda Board was also on the walk, while ROTOM Board chair Kenneth Senior, showed up at the stadium to exchange pleasantries.
Esther Kalimuzo, chair of the fellowship of older persons at All Saints, loads praises upon the walkers
On the whole, there were several people from all walks of life, including those from the NGO fraternity and social protection platforms, plus the elderly Orach, a well-known fighter for older persons’ rights, who by the way joined the walk earlier in Kyengera.
The last lap
As you read this, the last lap is on from the stadium to the ROTOM headquarters in Namubiru, Mukono, with pretty much everyone from yesterday, save for Nkoyoyo, who is in the habit of surprising us, so you never know.
In a few hours, we put the last nail in the coffin of the 400km walk. So, every naysayer out there better prep up a good rope for thyself, for it seems The Walking Man wasn’t crazy after all.
“It seemed so far, now we are here. But don’t get caught up in the frenzy,” he warns. “Take a moment to do something for the ageing of this nation, for where they are, you are going. Let this walk remind you of that. Don’t kill them before their time, resuscitate them. For us at ROTOM, we are going to do our best not to disappoint the trust and support you have given us on this walk.”
Watch this space for updates on the grand celebration to mark 10 years on Saturday, which will entail a procession from Mukono town to Namubiru village on the Mukono-Kayunga Road. Justice James Ogola will officiate.
The Walking Man, together with a dedicated and determined team, made it all the way from Kabale to Kampala. . . on foot!