Reviews & Profiles
He gave up a well paying job to look after children with cancer
Posted Monday, October 7 2013 at 00:00
Brian Walusimbi was living the dream life, earning a good salary and travelling far and wide. All that changed when he made a visit to the Cancer Institute at Mulago. Now he has put his energies in helping children suffering from cancer and he finds it more fulfilling than anything else.
12-year-old Emma Serwambala has large expressive eyes and a shy grin. The Primary Three pupil comes from Buju village, Masaka. When asked who he would want to be like when he grows up, he first falls silent and for a minute, I think he has not understood. Turns out he was thinking long and hard about it. “Uncle Brian! I want to be Uncle Brian when I grow up,” he says, then flashes his crooked smile drawing attention to the scar on the side of his cheek.
Several weeks back, it would have been impossible to see Serwambala smile. A tumour took up most of his face, disfigured the innocent visage, and drew all attention from the eyes that are really his best feature.
So who is Uncle Brian? Emma volunteers what he does and why he so admires him.
“Because he buys a new ball when it bursts and he buys us food!” is the boy’s simple answer.
He wants to be the man who has dedicated his life and time to care for him and other children like him at Bless a Child Foundation, a home that cares for children recovering from cancer. The man is 33-year-old Brian Walusimbi or Uncle Brian as the children affectionately call him.
First thing I notice is how impeccably put together he is, even in a button-down shirt and dark casual pants. He flashes his teeth in a wide most welcoming smile and I can see why the children are smitten with him. I am smitten and he has not even bought me a ball or food. He looks like a man you would expect to have lavish tastes. Turns out he is not. His office is modestly furnished with a table, chairs, laptop and a black and white picture of his family smiling down on us from the wall.
I feel inclined to ask what it was like growing up, to try getting a place to start understanding this man, his cause and what drives him. “It was pretty normal. I was raised by my grandmother and my mother on Kampala Road. They had a shop and we lived in the back of the shop. The bombed out buildings on that street were our playground,” says Walusimbi.
He went to Nakasero Primary School and St Mary’s Kitovu for high school before leaving the country in 2000. He did an IT course in the United States and came back to Uganda in 2002. “I had an idea of what I wanted to do and it was back here,” he says.
His big idea was to start Fun House a children’s parties company.
“I was the first clown in Kampala. It was a new concept and it picked up really fast. We dominated the industry for a long time. We were doing parties for almost every major organisation in the country. We did some across the border in Kenya. At one time we employed around 100 people on part time basis,” he says.
With the growing company came success and that brought money and attention on Walusimbi. Indeed, on one other side of the wall is a magazine cover with a beaming Walusimbi doing his best CEO pose, arms crossed looking straight into the camera, evidence that as a young entrepreneur, he was living the life of many a young man’s dream. Every once in a while, he put aside some money to donate to charity, but he did not put too much thought into it.
What he did not know was that all this was all going to come together and he would be doing children’s charity, that fate would play one of its tricks and he would find himself devoting his life time and resources to something few his age had ventured into.
“I have never had cancer, no member of my family has had it as far as I know,” he says taking the question right from my mind – I was about to ask why cancer of all causes he could take up and braced myself to hear a harrowing tale of loss and how he chose to help others to beat the disease as a way of coping.
A visit that changed his life
Instead he says he was more or less dragged to the Cancer Institute by a couple of friends who wanted him to throw a party for children with cancer. “As far as I was concerned I had done my good deeds for that year, I was not looking for more charity work. But they persisted and I found time to go the institute before making up my mind,” he shares.
What he saw there shocked him into action. “I had never seen so much pain and suffering and despair in one place. Children with tumours growing out of their eyes, out of their mouths, it was nothing like I thought cancer would be, like I had ever seen,” he recalls.
He remembers a mother approaching him as he stood outside, wiping tears from his eyes. She was asking for transport back home for her and her son whose tumour was yet to get treatment after a month’s stay at the hospital. I did not even think twice, I reached into my pocket and gave her all I had,” he says. He was later able to contact a doctor and find out what was needed for the boy to get treated. “I knew I could not save the whole world but I had saved a desperate situation,” he shares.