Hey everyone! Today in the 12th edition of Real People, Real Stories we have with us an inspirational story. When I came across their work, I knew I just had to have them featured in the next edition of the Real People, Real Stories series.
Did I just say their work? Yes. Dana Mateju along with her husband founded the Change Tomorrow NGO in Uganda.
They were both living in Glasgow working long hours in our jobs with no time to enjoy life. After much consideration, they decided to sell everything to pack their things and volunteer around Uganda for 3 months. To know more about their endeavours, keep reading!
If you are new here, following are the previous posts in the Real People, Real Stories series:Real people, Real stories - 1 ( Anant Saini, Greater Noida, India )Real people, Real stories - 2 ( Alessio Grassi, Sarzana, Italy )Real people, Real stories - 3 ( Martijn van Steenbergen, Netherlands )Real people, Real stories - 4 ( Peter Dijkgraaf, Netherlands )Real people, Real stories - 5 ( Mumal Mustafa, Pakistan )Real people, Real stories - 6 ( Dinesh Kumar, Pune, India )Real people, Real stories - 7 ( Ahamed Yaaseen, Kerala, India )Real people, Real stories - 8 ( Thomas Sanderson, Ljubljana, Slovenia )Real People, Real stories - 9 ( Yann Seiller, France )
Real People, Real stories - 10 ( Joanie Simon, Arizona) Real People, Real stories - 11 (Nastasia Yakoub, Iraq)
Name: Dana MatejuLocation: UgandaWebsite: https://www.changetomorrow.co.uk/
A little introduction about yourself and what you do
My name is Dana and I am 30 years old and I am now living in Uganda with my husband Jonny who is 28. I am from the Czech Republic and my husband is from Scotland. We met 5 years ago whilst working together in St Andrews and we got married exactly 1 year ago. Now we are operating our own charity here in Uganda called 'CHANGE TOMORROW'. We own a primary school with a nursery section in a rural village and run a program called 'Stand up for Women' designed to empower local women who have been abused, widowed or are just single parents and struggling.
What incident/event made/influenced you to set up this NGO?
We were working in hospitality managing hotels, conferences, events and restaurants. We were working every day of the week and sometimes for 18 hours. We finally reached our limit and decided there must be more to life than this. We were so unhappy and woke up every day with a horrible feeling inside us because of these jobs. This was when we organised our first every volunteer trip to Uganda. We came for 3 months. We collected water and showered outside, we made a fire to eat food, we lived in dirty conditions, there were rats, bats, cockroaches and we had some illnesses. There was no electricity and no home comforts and the first week was difficult. However, after one week we knew that this was where we were meant to be. From this point, we dedicated ourselves to researching Uganda, what is most needed, how we can help and we began to set up our own charity and NGO.
What was your mission at the outset?
Well, our charity motto is 'changing the future of many starts by changing the future of one'. We always knew this was going to be difficult, we knew that the chances of being a big organisation are very small, we knew we could never have the money to build lots of schools or hospitals and so we are not naïve in what we can do. Our mission has always been to start small and even if you change just a few lives in a single village it's still better than nothing. We dedicated ourselves and the charity to education. Education of children and adults through school, programs, courses, apprenticeships with the end goal of employment to help relieve them of their constant daily struggle. Our mission has always been about changing the future of as many as we can.
What were the obstacles, if any, and how did you overcome them
There have been so many obstacles I could talk forever so I will try to keep it short. The first major obstacle was working out a plan of sustainability for ourselves. We take no money from the charity and no salary so keeping ourselves in the country is not easy. We try to make extra money by helping tourists with airport pickups and organising parts of their trips etc. Mainly we are living from our savings until we are able to make some money here in the country probably through farming. One of the biggest obstacles is once you reach Uganda. You need work permits, registration of your NGO, land documentation, surveyor's reports etc. These require a lawyer and many trips to government offices and getting these things done is extremely difficult. There are reasons it is hard that I wouldn't really say on paper and also many people here are trying to steal from you in many different ways. Lawyers will run with your money as everything here is paid up front, they will give you fake documents and keep the real ones, steal land titles, sell land that is not for sale, forge your signature and much more. The only way to overcome these things is to try to know the right people, if something sounds too good to be true then it is, gets as many receipts as possible, doesn't let other people handle your documents, doesn't give out originals and lots of other things. Really you need to be smart, aware and use your head all the time.
What are you most grateful for and to what do you owe your success?
I think I am most grateful to my husband's family especially his father. Without him, none of this would have been successful. He supported us from the minute we started and without his help we would never have had the capacity to own our school and we would never have been able to meet the monthly costs. Once a charity is established and has functioning programs and are making a real difference than finding funding and donors becomes easier. When you are just starting no one has trust in you and finding funding is almost impossible. Our success is down to him. His support allowed us to start and after the first year, we are now slowly able to find small amounts of donations to help our work.
What projects have you taken up recently?
Our most recent project is a women's group called 'Stand up for Women'. We have set it up for all the disadvantaged, widowed or abused women in the community. It starts with attending a simple bible study along with an hours English lesson. Whoever has high attendance, shows commitment and shows that their heart is in the program will advance to the next stage which is the pig project. Every lady will receive a pig and be taught how to raise them properly. They will keep them on our land and feed them using our funds. When their pigs are old enough and become pregnant they will give one piglet at the time of birth back to the school, one to another lady advancing into the program and the rest are for her own income. The next stage after this is a small micro-loan scheme. Once we build up trust we will then have a scheme where these ladies can borrow money to set up a small business and pay it back at a very low rate over a long period of time. This is our latest project and the women meet every Thursday afternoon.
How can people reach out and help you in your endeavours?
People can help us in many ways. The most obvious way is to donate which can be done straight to our account, via our website www.changetomorrow.co.uk or through PayPal. You can follow us on Facebook https://web.facebook.com/changeKidsLife/ or look up Change Tomorrow and watch our story progress. You can sponsor a child through our sponsorship program or you can even donate a pig to our new project all through the website. You can choose to come and visit us and do some volunteering or even just get involved in some fundraising activities back home. There are so many ways to get involved and help even just by sending us a nice message so we know that people are behind us can really lift our spirits on our tougher days.
If you had one piece of advice to someone wanting to start an NGO, what would it be?
My one piece of advice is don't do it unless you're sure and you thought about it at length. It is incredibly difficult and the first 2 years you have constant setbacks. If you decide it's definitely for you then my advice is never to give up fighting. Every day is a fight for something and nothing is easy or handed to you. Every morning you wake up you need to be ready to fight for what you want and never give up when you receive bad news or get knocked down.
What Were Your Greatest Failures and What Did They Teach You?
I must be honest that in terms of our charity we haven't had something which I would call a huge failure. We have had lots of setbacks and lots of bad news but so far in my eyes, we have never failed. Things that set you back are people promising things and then never doing it like donating, helping, volunteering etc. and you're counting on these things. During application processes you're always missing a document, you have forgotten a document, the right signature is not there and things end up taking a long time with a huge struggle in order to be completed. However, none of these are failures and so far we have only had success and I really hope it continues.
What Drives You to Keep Going When It's Really Tough?
My family are the ones to drive me to keep going every day and during the toughest times. My husband's dad is visiting next year and I really want everyone to be proud of what we have achieved. I think many people (not so much family) didn't think we could make it or achieve what we have and every day I am fighting to show myself, my family and everyone else that you can achieve anything if your heart is in it and you're committed to hard work.
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