As I sit here mulling over a freshly brewed cup of coffee in the suburbs of Birmingham, I’m finding it really difficult to set the tone for this blog, as so much has happened in the past twelve months. It has perhaps been the most enthralling year of my life, but at the same time the most difficult. Over the course of a year I’ve got engaged, moved into a beautiful apartment and started my own business. Yet hearing the news of Herbert’s death, almost one year ago today, is still the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. As I write this, it sounds so selfish. How can I sit here and feel so terrible about the death of a friend, when his children have lost their father, a wife has lost her husband and a community has lost its leader?
Yet the reality of the situation is that Herbert was so much more than just a friend. He truly inspired me to change my perception and outlook on life. His humility, his willingness to do so much for others with so little expected in return is a trait that you so rarely see in a person, particularly in this day and age of self-promotion and self-preservation. We often spoke deeply about the purpose of our work in Uganda. Everything for Herbert was about opportunity. He wanted to provide people with opportunities to do things. He wanted the people of his community to have access to decent healthcare. He wanted to provide people with the opportunity to become educated. He wanted to provide people with income generating opportunities to improve their lives and build a better future. When I really understood Herbert’s vision for his community, I was so humbled and I wanted to be a part of it.
His infectious attitude and positive outlook on life, intertwined with his insatiable thirst for development and creativity, drove The Zuri Project from an idea into a reality. He brought people together around his ideas and vision, and invited Martin and I to be a part of his dream. We had an amazing few years together and we achieved a lot to be proud of. But the suddenness of his untimely death really tore us apart, both emotionally and literally as an organisation. We were left without a Plan B. Without closure. Without a goodbye. In the blink of an eye, we had lost the man who changed our lives and inspired us in a way that we never thought possible.
For me personally, these past twelve months have been so difficult. I have always struggled with anxiety and depression, but I’ve really struggled recently, with intense bouts of heightened depression and a difficulty to see the way forward. Interestingly, I wouldn’t say that this is a result of losing Herbert. In a strange kind of way, I find solace in the fact that I was privileged to have called him a friend and grateful for sharing a small part of my life with him. When things do get tough, I remember the times that we spent together in Uganda with great fondness and unparalleled warmth. It’s comforting to know that he is as inspirational in death as he was in life.
You might have noticed that we’ve been a little quiet over these past 12 months, particularly across social media. It’s not that we haven’t been doing anything, far from it actually. It’s just been a long process of re-building for us. We have restructured our team in Uganda and have intensified our fundraising efforts in the UK. There has been a lot of soul searching and a lot of questions raised about the future direction of The Zuri Project. But I must admit, I am so excited about what the future has in store. Under the guidance of Monica Agaba, The Zuri Project is growing and continuing to achieve wonderful things with the people of Kihembe. Martin and I are still grateful to be a part of it and will continue to do everything we can to support the work that Herbert started.
Although it’s been an incredibly tough year, on the anniversary of Herbert’s death this weekend I will be raising a glass in celebration of his life. Although he’s no longer with us, his legacy is being built by the people who knew and loved him. And to be a part of that makes everything worth it, even when times are hard.
Here’s to the future.