How would you describe yourself to a stranger?
I am the lady that you meet and suddenly you think you know everything about me when honestly if I gave you my shoes and said walk a mile, you might find it difficult to take one step.
What drives you, and to what end?
I am standing under a tree that amazing hard-working men and women fought so hard to make sure they could plant so that it would grow and one day give me the shade I am enjoying today. If it wasn’t for the hard work and resilience as well as the faith and hope of my amazing parents, grandparents, great parents, and all that came before me, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do today. I hope to one day look back and say I did their legacy proud because I helped someone achieve their dream or picked someone up off the floor when they had lost hope or most importantly encouraged someone to chase their dreams. I am so proud to be a Muumba and I hope when my child say they are Muumbas, it will mean something.
At what point did you get drawn into architecture?
Now, this is a fun story. I went to Greenhill Academy so many years ago before it had two campuses. And for those that know the Kibuli campus, there is a white building that students call the New building which housed the primary school when I was there. When I was in Pre-primary, that building was just being built. I watched that structure come up from its foundation to the building we know today. I saw it take shape and become a home to the educational journeys of some of the most successful Ugandans in the world today. When I got to upper classes, I remember my school work being displayed on the walls of this building.
I learned about the anatomy and physiology of the human body in this building. But I also danced at the end-of-year school concerts in this same building and watched my brother get crowned the youngest Sportsman of the year. Most importantly, I took my PLE exams in this building. The entire foundation of my schooling and social and emotional learning happened in this architectural structure. I lived the power of architectural design for seven years and I just knew then that I would be an architect. But looking back now, the thing that surprises me the most is that this building was the manifestation of Mrs. Gladys Wambuzi’s wild imagination and vision for education in Uganda, and that made it even more special.
How do you marry education and your architectural profession?
All my life, two things have always been constants. My passion for design and my zeal to give others access to an education of some sort. I dedicated five years to hone my design craft and become more knowledgeable in the way to shape the built environment. And I have chosen to take time to learn how the learning process works and my role in making that a fruitful and enjoyable experience for the next generation.
Now I am ready to dedicate time to foster the way people learn and why they learn in those specific ways while exploring how design can influence that process. Finally, I have found a way to integrate the two things I love. I am educating children through what is known as the design thinking process. Most creatives know this process because it is used to evaluate our work while in school. But this process can be applied to any learning process if it is intentionally applied by the educator.
I work with students every day to build prototypes that can solve social problems we face in our societies and communities today like food insecurity, pollution, among others. I love designing on a small scale such as science (design and build) projects or on a large scale like research projects and designing culturally appropriate architecture in developing countries. No matter the scale, as long as there is a purpose for the design, I am happy to teach and lead on that project.
What satisfies you?
The fact that every day that I leave my workplace knowing that I have impacted a life. It never gets old how much joy I get every day that I walk into a classroom or that I make one change in the design of a space to make a child’s learning more fruitful.
What is your advice on choosing a good mentor?
Look for someone who inspires you in all aspects of their lives, someone you respect and someone that you know will take their role as your mentor seriously. It’s very easy to see someone speak or read about them and think they are the right fit. Research about this mentor. Are they the right fit for you? Do you share similar beliefs? Would you be able to resolve conflict effectively? Is there mutual respect and understanding? Just because you are asking someone to mentor you doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to hold them accountable in their role. Do not short change yourself. If you believe that someone is meant to be your mentor, ask them. Do not assume they will decline because of your own insecurities and fears. One step in living a fearless life is asking for what you want.
Work on yourself as well. What can you teach your mentor? Sometimes we look for mentors when we are not ready to be mentees. This is where a lot of conflict stems from. Are you ready to learn, ask the difficult questions, be vulnerable? It is okay to take one step back and build the person worthy of a certain mentorship. You want to be a person whose mentor looks back in time and is forever grateful they got to impact you in some way.
What drew you to look out and support young immigrant Ugandans in Massachusetts?
I was born in Uganda and lived there till I was about 15 or 16. After which I moved to Newton, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston. Nothing in this world could have prepared me for the journey of acclimating to the United States as a 16-year-old in a predominantly white neighbourhood with one of the best public school education systems in the country. I moved in the year when all standardised exams (SATs and ACTs) are supposed to be taken, college visits are supposed to happen and building of a resume for college applications is supposed to take place. These seem like easy things to get done if you have had your whole life to prepare. I had not more than 12 months to get “my life” in order.
How I made it all work to land in the number one school of architecture in the country is a story for another day but all in all, the one thing that I had that many others do not have is the privilege of having is a great support network of mentors that literally gave me the blueprint of how to navigate the American education system and later on the workforce. I have been very fortunate in my education and career so far in this country but I cannot attribute it all to mere luck. There was a group of people that kept me on the right path, answered the difficult questions and renewed my hope in the possibility of a life I had never lived before.
One of those mentors shared with me a quote that she lives by: “To those that much is given, much is expected.” This statement made a lot more sense to me as I came to the end of my undergraduate experience at Cornell University and I was asked the big questions, “What next?” “With this education, how do you hope to make an impact in this world?” I found myself in a place where I had all this knowledge that I had been gifted and chose to take it and share it with other immigrants so that when faced with the same path, they do not make the same mistakes I did.
Engage Inspire Empower is my way of giving back just like many did for me. I don’t need people to give me anything when they get to the other side, all I need people to do is reach back and help another person. I have supported many people around the world. It is one of the reasons I go to bed with a smile on my face daily.