In November 2007, Cotton On Group Founder Nigel Austin first visited Mannya, Southern Uganda after being approached to support the completion of a health centre in the village.
It was during this trip that Mannya community leader Father Nestus Mugisha presented Nigel his vision for the future of the community and its long term sustainability, a project which had been dubbed ‘Mission Impossible’ by the local diocese.
Inspired by the character and ambition of Fr. Nestus, that trip became the impetus for the creation of the Cotton On Foundation and a new way of doing charity.
Eight years on, led by Cotton On Foundation General Manager Tim Diamond, real and measurable change has been made in this small village in Southern Uganda. Schools and medical centres have been built, community infrastructure established and over 5,000 educational places created.
At the centre of it all is the unique relationship between Tim and Father Nestus. Since meeting in 2007, the two have not only shaped a vision for the Mannya community but become lifelong friends along the way.
I remember meeting Nestus for the first time in Mannya Village. I’d just spent time in Nairobi, and after a fairly challenging and confronting week I flew into Uganda and arrived in Mannya. Mannya was the total opposite to Nairobi, a small rural village, yet still facing very similar challenges.
The community and Nestus welcomed me with open arms – literally, open arms. My first encounter with Nestus was a massive hug. Ever since that special moment, each time I see him, I get the same welcome as does any other visitor to Mannya.
Our first challenge in Mannya was getting feedback from the community on the development we were going to undertake. Nestus already had a great blueprint, with Nigel backing him 100 per cent to make it a reality.
Importantly, it was then that collaboration was needed to build that blueprint into a vision. So it was up to us, a Ugandan priest and muzungu (the African term for white person), to gather as much information as we could to come up with the first steps of the Mannya and Cotton On Foundation relationship.
Thanks to our Cotton On Group team and customers across the globe, we’ve made real change in the community over the last eight years. Two health centers and 70 new classrooms have been built, 1,500 students have been sponsored through the Group’s sponsorship program and over 13,000 people have been tested for HIV. We’ve set up important infrastructure like water tanks and pumps to give access to fresh water.
Additionally, projects like Mannya Trading Co., our own premium coffee brand, is helping local farmers build a sustainable, long term income for themselves and their families.
I’m proud to know we are changing lives. I’m seeing children that I met in their primary school when we started (there was hardly a school standing) who are graduating secondary school and moving onto university, vocations or a job – that’s inspiring.
We’ve got a really great journey ahead. We’re now taking our work beyond Mannya, being strategic but adventurous, to achieve the mission of 20,000 educational places by 2020. I remember we spent a lot of time debating and discussing the plan and I asked Nestus “Do you think we can do it?” He replied, “Yes, we will do it!”
Nestus has great strength, his life is incredible. The struggle, resilience and perseverance as he grew up is a common story across Uganda. But to come through with the sole focus to help people overcome these issues is inspirational. He’s a great leader and a great man.
Father Nestus Mugisha
My first impression of Tim was that he was a man whose heart was out there with a great feeling for others. I saw compassion and a person who gives courage and hope. Tim is a special friend, a man of compassion who is down to earth, and understands the real life of people.
Meeting him in 2007 was a great joyful moment for me and the whole community. It was a moment when I began to think how lucky we are that a muzungu can come and be with us and begin to talk and plan for a better future for the Mannya community.
Our first project was to purchase the medical centre laboratory equipment and other supplies that the health centre urgently needed for proper operations. After that was the renovation of the old priests’ house to become the nurses’ accommodation.
(Since the partnership with the Cotton On Foundation) there has been a change of people’s mindset and attitude to more positive thinking. The creation of hope for a better future encourages people to get involved in productive activities, education and to seek medical care.
My friendship with Tim is life-giving. Friendship gives life meaning. There is nothing more beautiful than sharing our life together. Friendship is like blood in a human body. Life lived with no friends is like a human body with no blood. Life is worthy lived when lived in friendship. This is what I see of my life with Tim.
This is an extract taken from the new Cotton On Group publication “The Issue”. To read the full story and other company initiatives, click here to download the first issue!