Moses Kibirige lifts weights at his Gym at Layibi Center in Gulu Municipality. Credit: Patrick Uma
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I was abandoned by my UPDF father, but now I’ve rebuilt my life

2 July 2017 - 20:07

Moses Kibirige has survived being abandoned as a child by his UPDF soldier father during the war in northern Uganda as well as life on the streets. Using a gym he has created in Gulu, he now says he wants to bring hope and unity for other youth affected by conflict in Uganda.

“There was a lady who stayed near the upper barracks. One of the soldiers who had been sent to patrol the place found her bathing at night and raped her near the bath shelter. After raping the lady, he told her to pick her basin and go back in the house. Then he continued with his patrol towards the center.”

This is one of many survivors experience of conflict-sexual violence that perpetrated by government soldiers in northern Uganda during the war here. Initially known as the National Resistance Army, the Uganda People’s Defence Force underwent many changes throughout this period and many have acknowledged the many gruesome acts perpetrated by soldiers towards civilians.

Some of them impregnated women and abandoned them with children at the heights of the insurgency. One such case is that of 25 year old Moses Kibirige, a former street kid whose father is still a serving UPDF officer. Moss, as he is commonly known, says his father abandoned him and his brother with their mother when he was only five years of age. His mother later passed away and he was forced to come to the streets to fend for a living for himself and his younger brother.

I first met him at a film audition early this year where we had both gone to audition for an acting role in a film depicting the war. You would mistake him for being nightclub bouncer because of his muscular body but when I later learned his story I was humbled.

Moss, is currently the proprietor of the Chain of Hope Bodybuilding Gym in Layibi, Gulu where he trains very many people in bodybuilding and exercises to keep them fit and healthy. I asked him how he started the gym that is bringing hope and unity in that area.

Life on the streets

“Living in the streets was not my intention and when I see people criticizing and abusing street kids, I get very hurt. I went to the streets because I had no home. I was born in Gulu to a Muganda father and Acholi mother. My father who is employed with the UPDF abandoned us, me and my younger brother. We sought refuge at our maternal uncle’s place after the death of our mother but we were badly mistreated and the only option left was find solace in street life.

I was on the streets for seven years from 2003 to 2010 surviving on petty theft and selling tins until one day in 2010, I decided that what I was doing was not right and I left street life with my brother and I have never gone back again.

I later started hawking bread to earn a living and later I got a part time work with the Gulu abattoir as a butcher which I [still] do up to now.”

I have managed to rebuild my life

“I started this bodybuilding gym in March of 2014 with very little capital. Most of my friends could not believe that I can start a bodybuilding center at my age but I was very determined and focused. Opening the center was very hard because I even got so many remarks from some community members [saying] that I was now training youth to cause mayhem in the society but this was not my intention.

My bodybuilding center has achieved so many things and I have managed to rebuild my life and the lives of my brother and the community because of this gym. Very many people now come here for exercise including women and girls and they [say they] appreciate my service because it’s very affordable to the common man. I get roughly 10,000 shillings every day from this business

My gym was also nominated for the Pakasa Youth Award in 2016 hosted by Vision group Uganda and I was among the ten winners out of the over 400 businesses that were nominated. I was later rewarded with 10 million shillings with which I later bought land and also added some training equipment at my gym.”

First have a plan and a vision for the future

“I was taken with ten other youth winners for a learning tour in South Korea for two weeks and I learned so many life skills that I plan to pass onto my fellow youth in Uganda. My trip to South Korea in September 2016 was a life changing moment as we were taken through various trainings on entrepreneurship and business. One of the key things I learned from South Korea is that young people are very united and they normally first have a plan for their future before having children and getting married.

I urge my fellow youths in northern Uganda to first have a plan and vision for their future before engaging in early marriage so that they can be able to take good care of their family and children. Youths should also learn to visit other parts of the world so that they can learn what other people in different areas are doing to improve on their lives.

I also learned that the South Korean government has set up big training centers where youth are trained on various vocational skills for three years before they are passed out with a capital to start their own businesses. I appeal to the Government of Uganda to specifically to set up a fund to support innovative youths projects so that the high level of youth unemployment can be reduced.

My biggest plan is to establish the biggest bodybuilding center in Uganda that can bring together all bodybuilders and also create employment and bring health and wellness to the society.”

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