Lost Co-Founder Climbs Back in the Window (Kampala 2010)

This is the tenth instalment of a weekly series that marks 20 years of Edirisa and 10 years of the Gorilla Highlands Initiative. Click here for Part I.

It was 2010 when Miha, in his characteristic adventurous spirit, approached me with a request. He wanted us to make a video documentary on how to transform Uganda’s education, from the classroom up. It was called Creative Guides and I was to be the narrator.

I like to keep in the background of things. I like the peace of working in the kitchen. But it also happens that I have some skills serving the meal, though I don’t like doing so. I therefore took the challenge of playing the core character in the documentary because it touched my core interest in the entire vastness of the field of education.

This has always connected me with Miha.

You may have heard the rumour in the corridors that I am the lost co-founder of Edirisa. Indeed, once upon a time I reportedly played a significant role in the birth of the organisation. This article will hopefully be able to unveil to you aspects of Edirisa’s history you may not have known before, and explain its radical philosophy.

Every text has a context and every story has a history. Here, I would like to paint for you a bit of the tale behind my love story with Edirisa. It all started in 2000 when the youthful Miha Logar came all the way from Slovenia to chase his postgraduate studies dream at Uganda Martyrs University. I had just completed the same course Miha had enrolled in, Masters in Development Studies, and had been retained as a junior staff member.

Apparently, Miha read my fresh master’s dissertation and found some powerful ideas that resonated with his own thoughts. I was talking about the way people saw themselves as poor and powerless — and found myself in the field of psychology that few other writers about social and economic development paid attention to. From there, it was a natural step for Miha to come up with Edirisa’s focus on cultural self-respect. He engaged me in conversations that eventually led to an invitation to be the African co-founder of the organisation.

I accepted the call, but in all honesty, I did not care much about the organisation. I did not even care to understand its operations, despite Miha’s characteristic efforts to keep me over-dosed with information concerning all aspects of Edirisa. The truth of the matter is that I quickly became an absentee co-founder. Even in situations where I was deeply engaged, it was because of my fascination with the ideas I was being required to share, the intersection between Edirisa’s needs of the moment and my intellectual passions.

Fond Memories & Great Lessons

I carry with me fond memories from my intermittent engagements in Edirisa’s work between 2001 and 2011. I learned a lot and was greatly inspired by working with Miha. By approach he was very daring, open-ended, and non-structural. His innovation had the advantage of greater global exposure and skillsets that helped stretch my imagination and sense of possibilities. His journalistic nature blended well with good working competencies in multimedia production. This combination showed me how branding and utilisation of the worldwide web were key in modern marketing, 20 long years ago. I marvelled at how this Slozungu was making a simple crazy Edirisa idea popular beyond Uganda.

I wondered why this young man had decided to name the organisation Edirisa, which in many of the local languages means “window”. Miha explained that from what he had realised, Africans had the wrong impression of the rest of the world while the rest of the world also had a very distorted view of Africa. He therefore wanted to establish something that would be like a window through which the rest of the world would see Africa for what it truly is and for Africans to see the rest of the world as it truly is.

This concept fit very well within my analysis of Africa’s problem. I had, earlier in 2000, published my first book, Self-Discovery and Self Development: Remaking the Youth. Owing to the ideas in my book, I was then invited to Cambridge as a speaker at an international conference on educational transformation. So I had gained some level of confidence in my conviction that Africa’s major problem is the paradox of poverty amidst plenty.

In my view this was a result of a faulty sense of self-concept and a very limited awareness of the value of our environment. I put the blame largely on the education system which largely functions as an alienation machine. By the time Africans graduate from school they have been mentally disoriented and functionally castrated. These ideas were reflected in my masters dissertation and resonated with Miha’s thinking. In fact, it is Miha who popularised my dissertation by uploading a big chunk of it onto Edirisa’s website.

Let’s forward this a couple of years.

Ambrose and Edirisa volunteers at The Gardens

In 2005 I resigned from my position at Uganda Martyrs University and relocated from Nkozi to Kampala. Back in the village I had established the enviable Eucalyptus Gardens, a leisure ecotourism space with a bar and restaurant embedded within a eucalyptus forest. I had given it the slogan, “sanity in the wilderness”. It was neighbouring the university fence and was a popular eatery and entertainment place for the university community. But years had passed, people had changed, and in 2007 Edirisa took over the management of the struggling Gardens.

In 2009 Miha began to establish the Studio Edirisa team on the site, now called The Gardens of Edirisa. It is here, at the place I created, that I would serve as a guest sharing audio content on career guidance. They had business partnerships with some mainstream radio stations, so these productions would be aired widely. I remember Moses Rudende, then a business student at Uganda Martyrs University, interning as my guest host. Unsurprisingly to me he went on to become one of Uganda’s iconic radio presenters!

A year later Miha got me involved with the Creative Guides project we started this story with. The project, supported like the radio show by the United World College of the Adriatic, was about empowering teachers — the titular “creative guides” — with hands-on insights, strategies, techniques and tools for implementing learner-centred education. A booklet was printed to mirror the video, helping those teachers that would not have access to required technology to watch the documentary. We also produced a workbook that would help teachers reflect individually and in groups on how to develop thoughts and skills for better practice.

Fitting its name, the project focused on nurturing creativity among Africa’s children. I have always perceived creativity as the missing digit in the life phone contact given to Africa’s learners. When they finally graduate, they often can’t get through when they attempt to make the phone call to the business and labour market. They need to try other methods of accessing the missing digit.

The reunion of Ambrose and Miha in Kampala in May 2021

Platform to Live My Dream

In conclusion, did I do all this because I was so passionate about Edirisa? Clearly not. What Edirisa did was to provide a platform for me to live my dream of making myself useful to humanity through the pursuit of my passion. In the final analysis therefore, in Edirisa I found a perfect fit.

Would I do it all over again if asked to? My friends, on 24 July 2021 I crossed to the 50th floor of my life. Jesters say age is just a number. But the body system follows the natural laws, not the rhetoric of entertainers. I do not have the same energy levels as I had then when I would instantly jump on the 1am bus to Kigali and drop off at Kabale by 6am, ready for engagement in an Edirisa project by 9am. Oh, and that was before Doreen Metta came into my life as permanent neighbour, with our children Gabriella and Francesca clamouring for their father’s attention.

As for my son Manuel? He is no longer a factor in the physical realm. He contrived with God in a surprise movie plot, and abandoned his body in 2020 at 11 years of age. He liked mystery and science fiction. I guess he is reading this tale hovering from above and smiling. He knows my spirit is hungry to make a difference in people’s lives. But if you asked him, he would tell you Dad can no longer work as hard as he used to a decade ago. Sometimes the TV watches him, instead of the other way around. So I am not sure how productively I could engage with Miha’s gang again. But that which I can, I will.

Click here for Part XI of the series or check all Edirisa/Gorilla Highlands history stories out.