By Trina Ankunda
Esther Kalenzi is a Ugandan social entrepreneur and founder of 40 Days Over 40 Smiles, a charity organization that supports vulnerable children and helps them access quality education. In 2013, she won the Young Achievers Award in the Heroes category. Esther Kalenzi in previous interviews identifies herself as a believer who chases her dreams at all costs. She did a degree in Mass Communications at Uganda Christian University (UCU) and worked in Public Relations, Marketing and business development in the past. She outlines her hobbies as being dancing, sipping tea at any time of the day and listening/telling stories. She is always happy to listen to people’s stories whether she is close to them or will never see them again. “There is always something to learn or simply laugh or cry about.” She says.
40 Days over 40 Smiles is a youth led charity organization that supports orphans and vulnerable children, that started with a Facebook group opened on February 27, 2012 with the aim of giving back to the less fortunate in society. According to Esther Kalenzi, the plan was to use the 40 days of Lent to collect food stuffs, toys, clothes, beddings, books and other material that she would give back to children and hopefully create more than 40 smiles.
The purpose of 40 Days over 40 Smiles is to make children smile. “Our target is those children that society often forgets, whom life has dealt some pretty hard blows.” Esther Kalenzi said, in prior interviews. “If a playground will make them happy, we shall put up one. If they need a roof over their heads for those cold nights, that is where we come in. There are several issues affecting children in Uganda and more-so those ones who come from poor backgrounds or have no parents . We come in to ensure they have a childhood that is memorable despite their conditions.”
Part of the inspiration for Esther’s first drive during Lent was drawn from her background in Muslim High school, where she admired the discipline of Muslims and giving to the poor during and after Ramadan. She later realized that the needs of the children became her needs and she was determined to get funds for “her new family” as she called them.
Impressively, the drive that was initially meant to be a one-off but discovering the needs of the children led Kalenzi to raise even more money for them leading her to resign her job in 2013 and take on charity as a full time commitment. She took on more children, from the rural district of Luwero and through social media raised Shs28 million to construct a dormitory for them. In 2015 4040 won 20 million shillings from the NSSF Torch awards, under her stewardship. The funds were used to set up a library at the same school in Luwero. Today 4040 works with children in Community schools, directly and engaging them in reading and writing activities for 6 weeks every term. Together with her team, Esther brought together Ugandan writers who wrote 4 story books with 18 stories under the theme “For the children that we were. “This was after identifying a gap in books which adequately represented the Ugandan child. These books have been donated to over 1,500 children across Uganda.
Esther Kalenzi once said that her urge to help was possibly nurtured by her upbringing. Her parents; Simon and Grace Kalenzi always welcomed people into their home.
“I am at my best when I am doing what I do. This is my purpose and that isn’t something one gets tired of and says ‘Hey, please hand me another one, in purple please..’ Even when I hand over the mantle of team leader to someone else, I know I will be involved in charity work for as long as my strength allows.” Esther Kalenzi