Hive Uganda – A Sweet Success

Picture of Ojok standing outside in front of trees under a blue sky.
For our final update from the 2017 Holman Prize winners, we hear from Ojok Simon. The founder of Hive Uganda. This social entrepreneur established the organization to train fellow blind and low vision people of Uganda to create self-sustaining businesses through bee keeping and harvesting honey.

We hear about the relationships made during the year, the impact Hive Uganda is having on the community and the challenges that come with his success.

Listen, subscribe to the podcast and then holla back! Rate and review the podcast on Apple Podcast. Send your feedback to me directly at ReidMyMindRadio@gmail.com. I’d love a voice recorded message that I could include on a future show!

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Audio: Honey Bee, Lucinda Williams – Heavy guitar intro

What’s up Reid My Mind Radio.
It’s the final episode of the 2017 Holman Prize Update.

That means there’s only one way to get this started.

Audio: Vocals come in… “Oh my little honey bee!” Lucinda Williams.

TR:
We’re kicking this one off with some real energy.

My name is T.Reid. I’m your host and producer of this here podcast.
First time here? I hope my energy doesn’t scare you.
I’m just feeling good because that’s my choice.

Like producing this podcast is my choice to focus on presenting people and topics I find compelling. Every now and then I drop some of my own experiences from my personal adjustment to blindness.

For some my energy right now may not fit what you think about being blind, having a disability.

Well that’s cool. Give me a bit of your time and just maybe something here can expand your mind.

You see, right now we are in the final episode of our look at the Holman Prize winners.

These are the 6 blind women and men to date who have received the $25,000 prize awarded by the San Francisco Lighthouse to implement their ambition.

It’s awarded in the memory of James Holman. A blind explorer in the 1800’s who travelled independently to all 6 inhabited continents.

If you haven’t yet checked those out I strongly suggest you go back and take a listen.

So let’s get this started!

Audio: Heavy guitar and drum backing track moves into lyrics, “Oh my little honey bee”
Audio: Reid My Mind Intro Music

Ojok:

First, thank you to the Lighthouse. Congratulations for the new winners of the 2018 Holman Prize winners.
And I’m ready to give my updates to the listeners.

TR:

That’s Ojok Simon. The third of the 2017 Holman Prize winners.

Before we get into his update let’s go back to the beginning of his story.

First, it starts in Uganda.
Ojok:

I am from the Northern district of Gulu.

I was a child growing up in a rural community. I used to play a lot with all my fellow peers. We enjoyed hunting for wild honey . We liked playing hide and seek games. I used to have a lot of friends.

TR:
His beginnings as it relates to blindness, well that’s a much more complicated story.

Here’s a summary from the 2017 episode.

TR in narration from 2017 episode

during the late 1980’s
Joseph Kony came into power and his Lord’s Resistance Army
terrorized Northern Uganda.

The LRA is Known for forcing children to serve in their army and
all sorts of brutal atrocities.
At 9 years old, Ojok’s home in Gulu was the site one such incident.

Ojok:

They found me and my mother were still in the house. And they thought that being a child I was going to run away. So they started to beat me at the temple of my head using the butt of the gun. I fell down with a lot of pain. I didn’t know and my parents didn’t know that there was that kind of internal injuries of my sight. After three years they started to realize that my vision started deteriorating and there was no medical attention that I could seek because everybody, every area was in war. The doctors live in fear so you can’t get medical attention.

TR:

Sometime later Ojok left his home and went to study at a school for the blind.
Returning home for the holidays, Ojok explained in 2017, is what lead to him being stung with a prize worthy idea.

Ojok in 2017:

While I was pursuing my studies one day during holiday… Remember I told you that we are also in the war torn area, people then were taken to concentration camps. I was now walking around our broken home where we used to stay. Now while I was walking around there, bees were stinging me from all directions. Then with my poor vision I was trying to run. The direction where I was running that was where the bees were coming from . Then I came across an abandoned clay pot. it was just on the ground. There were bees in that clay pot and I said wow now what can I do.

TR:
Create opportunities for himself and other blind people in his community through bee keeping and harvesting honey.

As we’ll hear from Ojok, these opportunities are more than life sustaining entrepreneurial ventures.

Since we last spoke in 2017, Ojok traveled to San Francisco to claim his prize.

Ojok:
It was my first time in San Francisco.

I stayed there for one week.

TR:

A week full of activities which included meeting the other two prize winners.

The trip gave Ojok a chance to share how blind people live in Uganda.

His presentation of bee keeping was not only to show how this can be performed by a blind person but also to prove its viability as a vocation.

On top of all that, he says he had the chance to learn.

Ojok:

… About how people keep the environment clean.
The connectedness with different human creatures – create friends, you meet with friends.

TR:

These informal networking opportunities Ojok explains inspire new ideas and thoughts. Meeting the people was just a part of what he found appealing.

Ojok:

I love the environment. The surrounding waters. I love how considerate and how they take care of different citizens from different part of the world. It’s so so amazing. I love San Francisco so much.

TR:

Following the week of activities in San Francisco, Ojok return to Uganda where he began implementing his ambition.
Training blind men and women to own and operate agriculture businesses through bee keeping.

Ojok:

Through the Holman prize, it has been amazing!

We were able to strengthen our foundation base by training 6 master trainers who help a lot to enlighten about self-employment of blind people through bee keeping.

TR:

From our initial conversation with Ojok in 2017, the trainings include much more than bee keeping. Orientation and mobility along with leadership training are a major component.

Ojok from 2017:

Now something I could not provide they can advocate for their own needs, because bee keeping might not answer all their problems. But it’s just like a spring board.

TR:

Ojok initially anticipated training about 16 people this year.

Ojok:

These master trainers were trained by Hive Uganda where they will be able to run more training whether Hive Uganda exists or not.

We were also able to reach right now 36. Imagine 36. Which is a big impact and this is not the end of the project we ar4 still moving forward.

TR:

At the time of this recording, Ojok had an additional 10 people to receive training. Bringing the total trained to 46.

That’s 46 individuals. Multiple families and communities directly impacted.

Ojok:

For instance, one person is called Okot Thomas who started bee keeping after the training. And through his effort of bee keeping he managed to change the life of a young person who is not disabled to come and work in the area of environmental conservation of bee keeping with the blind people.

TR:

The implications are social. Impacting the entire community.

Ojok:

The neighbors accept him as a blind person And then the neighbors understand how important to involve blind people in agriculture especially in bee keeping. And how sweet it is to work in the same environment with different abilities.

TR:

That positive effect has even reached the government – which Ojok says traditionally hasn’t done much for those who are blind.

Ojok:

They were monitoring our training. They were so amazed how we are promoting bee keeping for people with disabilities especially blind people. How we are promoting inclusion to the families. And how we are trained to promote extra abilities of blind people into agriculture and self-employment.

TR:
This development is quite significant.
It’s more than recognition, the government has provided assistance in the form of specific support including;

Ojok:

Inspecting the bee hive, pest control. They’re not giving money to Hive Uganda, but they start including visually impaired persons in their program when they return to the community.

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]

It’s making them official business where at some point it was a “charity”, but it’s moving from that and now they are even more officially entrepreneurs in the eyes of the government. They’re seeing them as entrepreneurs.

Ojok:

Exactly, exactly, exactly!

TR:

That shift in how the government views the bee keepers is not just symbolic, Hive Uganda has been tasked with registering their graduates as businesses with the local government.

Ojok:

So that they can easily ask the local government directly minus Hive Uganda.

TR:

You may have noticed that was the second time Ojok mentioned Hive Uganda in the past tense. As in a time when he is no longer training or supporting other bee keepers.
I’m happy to report, he has no plans of going anywhere anytime soon, rather it’s just a sign of a strong leader with good planning.

Ojok:

I am still 24/7 working with Hive Uganda. Actually, I’m looking at the sustainability at this age of mine. So that when I reach my retirement or when I say ok, let me sit down Hive Uganda should continue.

TR:
In case you’re not familiar with the terminology…

Ojok:

24 hours a day

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]
Mm hmm! (As in agreeing)!

Ojok:
7 days a week.

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]
Do you ever get any people with other disabilities who want to participate outside of blindness?

Ojok:

Through the last training that we had, that was in July, we had to force people to go back because our target was to train 16. But people were demanding the services. They are people with disabilities. They look at that as an opportunity. Just waiting for the opportunity so they can also jump in.

TR:

While Hive Uganda’s focus continues to be supporting those who are blind and low vision , future increased resources
could enable their expansion.

Hive Uganda has already developed cross disability partnerships.
As Ojok explains, the value goes beyond economics.

Ojok:
To build strong advocacy system we need to also bring other people so that when we are talking to the government , when we are going to speak to other development partners we will say yes, this is the need for people with disabilities.

TR:

Expanding Hive Uganda’s reach also means geographic.

Ojok

Remember we are in Gulu. Uganda is a big country. Where we are is less than ten percent of the population. It’s not even more than five percent of the population, but the need is still too much. We want to reach other parts of the country.

TR:

Extending the reach of Hive Uganda is now more possible with the training and deployment of the six master trainers.

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]
This all started [from] a tragic situation. In terms of how you lost your sight and then how you almost literally stumbled upon the idea. How does that feel when you look at where you come from brother? How does that feel for you?

Ojok:
When I look at where I came from and where we are sometimes I have mixed feelings. Yes I’m helping . I’m trying to show to the whole world that yes, out of sight is not out of mind. Should I be the victim of my own success? When I say the victim of my own success, yes I’m doing great what is that reality that will make you self-sustaining If the project of Holman ends, which is coming to September, what will happen next? You . You have raised a lot of expectation, you have proved that you are able to do it, are you going to continue? So that makes me do so much concentrated fundraising , trying networking with others so that we can all together come and say yes.

TR:
Yes to the future of Hive Uganda.

That future right now could be summarized based on their 5 years strategic plan.

Ojok:
One, continue training of blind people around Uganda as well as if possible East Africa.

Also, continue doing value addition to honey and wax products supplied by blind people because we already have a production unit. And then continue advocating for inclusion and participation for people with visual impairment into agriculture livelihood especially in the rural setting. And continued mobilization of resources because all of this to be done, Hive Uganda is in a developing country where everything is not the same. You have to fundraise, look for possible partners, share your ideas so that you’re able to be self-sustaining.

TR:
Strategic plans look forward. Sometimes there’s value in looking back.

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]

At some point along this whole journey of yours, you have to reflect on the lives you touched. Hive Uganda is already a success.

Ojok:
Laughs, yes that is true!

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]
You changed people’s lives. You have and so I salute you for that You know, you are the man to do this 24 7and I’m happy to see that’s what you are doing.

yeh man, don’t put too much pressure on yourself Laughs… because that’s what it sounds like.

Ojok:
Laughing, yes thank you, thank you… thank you for encouraging me.

TR:
He’s the one doing the encouraging.

Whether it’s the students of Hive Uganda or those who are exposed to his story. Ojok’s passion for creating opportunities for people with disabilities through bee keeping is infectious.

During an interview with New Vision a local newspaper in Uganda, Hive Uganda Master Trainer Francis Okello Oloya describes the programs beneficiaries as
“change agents in their communities.”

It’s as if the new entrepreneurs are out spreading the message that blindness alone is no real barrier for participation in any aspect of life. Sort of pollenating the community with the hopes of reaping a sweeter life for themselves and others.

While back in San Francisco reporting on their progress during what is the conclusion of their Holman term, Ojok plans to visit bee keeping friends in San Diego. This is just one of the relationships established as a result of the prize.

Ojok:

We congratulate Lighthouse for coming up with such amazing idea.

Whether with the Holman Project or not we will remain in collaboration with the Lighthouse.

I have to remain.

TR:

To stay up to date or find out how you can support their mission visit HiveUganda.org.

Once again, salute to Mr. Ojok Simon and yes, may you remain!

Audio: “Honey, Honey” Fiest

By the time this podcast is published December 4th, I believe the 2017 Holman Prize trio would have met for their final reports in San Francisco.

I really did consider trying to make my way out there to meet them all in person. Unfortunately, personal obligations and finances in that order didn’t permit that from happening.

First of all, it would have been nice to just give them a hug or shake their hand. Ah, forget that, everybody would get a hug!

Of course I would bring you the listener along. I think it would make for a great episode and I have the feeling you all grew almost as fond as I have of these three.

That’s Penny Melville Brown, Ahmet Ustenel and Ojok Simon.

Shout out to the San Francisco Lighthouse and everyone responsible for the Holman Prize including the judges,
Jason Roberts, author of the biography A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler.    

Shout out to Lucinda Williams on the opening track Honey Bee and Feist for Honey Honey riding underneath us right now.

Shout out to you the listeners. I truly hope you enjoy these episode because I have a good time producing them.

I hope to have another episode to finish out the year. I’m not sure if my daughters are taking over the podcast this year for the last episode. My oldest is 21 and the other 15. If not I think I have a good way to wrap up the year.

You know what’s a good way to wrap up this episode…
Subscribing to the podcast! You can use Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Sound Cloud, Stitcher, Tune In Radio or your favorite podcast app.
You can always slide on over to ReidMyMind.com and sign up for the email notifications

You know, I would love your feedback. Either

Rate the podcast on iTunes if you like it of course. If you don’t like it I’m not sure why you are still listening. I have no plans on doing anything differently at this stage in the game.

You can even leave a review there.

Send me direct feedback at Reid My Mind Radio @ gmail.com.
If you feel up to it, you could even record a message on your voice recorder and send that over. That would make my day!

Plus my daughter doesn’t believe anyone listens so it will help me convince her! Yawl think I’m joking’?
She says like all the time. I’m talking’ 24/7
Ojok:
24 hours a day

[TR in conversation with Ojok:]
Mm hmm! (As in agreeing)!

Ojok:
7 days a week.

TR:
Peace!

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2 Responses to “Hive Uganda – A Sweet Success”

  1. Seeley Quest says:

    let your kids know: i’m a sighted person and Love just learning about and starting to listen to your podcast! your work got shouted out in a US-CA conference in Montreal last weekend on disability arts. one of many new fans here!

  2. T.Reid says:

    Wow, I’m so honored I got a shout out in Canada. I appreciate you sharing that and so glad you found the podcast. Welcome to the family Seely!

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