By John V Sserwaniko
Veteran Rotarian Emmanuel Katongole’s opening remark was a reference to his own humble background. To drive his point home, the Quality Chemicals tycoon said his was a poor childhood characterized by great deprivation but he was able to overcome all that adversity and transform into a useful citizen because of the timely intervention two Rotarians made to make the difference in his life. Speaking as guest speaker at Dennis Jjuko’s Rotary Club of Kampala Naalya weekly fellowship meeting on Tuesday, Katongole recalled struggling through primary school in his native Singo County (Mityana) whereafter he was able to join the prestigious Namilyango College purely because two Rotarians envisaged a bright future for him and paid his school fees. Katongole was addressing close to 50 Rotarians at Ndere Center in Ntinda who included comedian Pablo besides several eminent citizens. Contextually, reference to Katongole’s own humble beginnings made a lot of sense because two earlier speakers had referred to him as one of the greatest and most successful men in Uganda. “Some Rotarians don’t want to tell their background but for me let me share a little bit about mine because I’m not ashamed of it. At home I was the first person to go to school. My siblings, my father and mother couldn’t read and write. They were like deaf and blind. I started primary in a village school in Singo. It was remote but from there I joined Namilyango College because Rotarians contributed. I later got a Bachelor’s degree and eventually a masters,” Katongole said. He is now a much revered Rotarian who after school proceeded to start what became Eastern and Central Africa’s most successful pharmaceuticals manufacturing enterprise. And this is CIPLA/Quality Chemicals which he founded years ago and is now Executive Chairman for. In the Rotarian spirit, always seeking to make life better for others, Katongole told the Ndere gathering how he has been able to produce anti-retro viral drugs and anti-malarials and thereby positively impacting millions of lives. Many who would not have accessed life-saving medicines by virtue of being very expensive and unaffordable can now afford because CIPLA local manufacturing here has increased affordability and access. This proximity has benefited not only Ugandans but the entire Great Lakes region which is home to some of the world’s poorest populations. In the Rotary movement, this is a month of giving and this exactly is what Mr. Katongole, who is one of the most illustrious Rotarians, was here to talk about. He indeed delivered a powerful message within such a short time. “The future of Rotary belongs to young people and it’s very fulfilling to see many of them here in our midst,” he said before proceeding to explain that Rotary is about sacrifice and selfless giving for others to lead better lives. “Rotary Foundation [which is about charity] is the engine that drives Rotary. It’s like the engine that enables the vehicle to move. And doing good is the foundation of Rotary. It’s important for our young people to grow up knowing that in Rotary it’s about starting small but scaling up fast,” Katongole said recalling this being late Archbishop Mpalanyi Nkoyoyo’s personal motto. He illustrated his point by referring to Rotary Foundation, which began with merely $26.5 more than 100 years but has now grown into a multi-billion dollar foundation. He reflected on the various life-impacting projects that the Rotary Foundation currently runs with what started as modest fundraising efforts in Chicago in 1902. For the last three years, he noted, Rotary has remained the world’s 2nd best rated Foundation in the world. “All these billions being collected from people willing to do good are put in projects that do good to humanity,” he said explaining that Rotarians don’t have to contribute much in order to save lives. He gave the example of what he told Kasangati Rotarians recently that by taking one beer less every evening, they would be able to contribute towards funding immunization programs and save millions of children’s lives. “I saw Rotarians [in the Kasangati meeting] were busy taking beers which is okay but I asked them wait a minute. How much does each cost? They said Shs6,000 and I said it’s sad that you can take so much in a day yet you have never given even a dollar to the Foundation yet it’s about everybody contributing,” said Katongole who Pablo in a subsequent joke teasingly told “May God suffocate you with his blessings for all the good things you have done in the name of Rotary?” Katongole, who is admired for the $250,000 (roughly Shs2bn) he contributed to the Foundation years ago and became Arch Club member, urged young Rotarians to start out by at least annually contributing $100 (roughly Shs400,000) which accords them the rank of sustaining membership. He said this is something many can afford for the start and can gradually be built upon.
WHAT ROTARY DOES;
Katongole explained that the Rotary Foundation will be strengthened to impact on humanity more powerfully once everybody takes to the structured way of giving. Giving the example of world Polio (that was overcome largely because of Rotarians’ concerted efforts), Katongole illustrated the difference it makes to make modest contributions. As of 1988, over 350,000 cases of severe Polio existed globally prompting the Rotary Movement to intervene. “That year 1988 was very critical for us in the Rotary movement for many reasons. Our own Sam Owor was district governor and it’s the same year when the decision was taken to wipe out Polio. And today, 30 years later, there is no Polio globally except in Pakistan and Afghanistan and even then, it’s very minimal. Uganda was declared Polio-free once 5 years passed without any new cases being reported. This must be a source of pride to every Rotarian,” Katongole asserted. Yet that isn’t all. Rotarian interventions have seen humanity overcome adversity in 6 other priority areas including water & sanitation, basic education & literacy, conflict resolution, disease prevention, maternal & child health. In his submission, Katongole had an elaborate experience to share on each of these priority intervention areas.
On education he said he has been exemplary by ensuring that the endowment fund resulting from his $250,000 contribution goes to educating the very poor children with little or no chance to ever make it in life. “I’m proud two children whose parentage isn’t even known to me, are benefiting to access education as a result. One is in Gulu and the other in Kalangala,” he said. “Education is so dear to me because of the circumstances surrounding my own experience and background.” On Water & Sanitation, he referred to the Vero Mineral water initiative (named after his mother) which he said is reflective of his concern for millions of children and mothers that can’t access clean and safe drinking water in the 3rd world countries. He commended the Rotary fraternity for the WASH project which finances the construction of water reservoirs in Northern Uganda. As for the Rotary contribution under Peace & Conflict resolution, Katongole made reference to the participation of Rotary Peace scholar Okello who actively participated in the negotiations ending Kony’s LRA war as part of Betty Bigombe’s delegation. He created excitement in the room when he referred to the 5 Peace Centers the Rotary movement runs at leading Universities in the US, UK, Japan and Sweden. “The good news is a 6th Peace Center is being added for Africa and the competition has now reduced to two finalists as to who should host this Center. It’s now between Uganda and Kenya other countries having dropped out. I was in Kenya the other day and spoke to the Rotary President and I can tell you Uganda’s chances are very high. If all goes well, our very own Makerere University might have the honor to host this Peace Center which will be a very good thing for Uganda as a country and it will strengthen our voice and influence in Rotary at the global level,” Katongole disclosed to deafening applause.
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