Aganze Mugomaka: Artist, Teacher, and Entrepreneur in Kampala, Uganda

08 July 2023|Chloe Gunther

Aganze Mugomaka teaches students in his refugee community.
Being around many people who are happy, that is my favorite part of my days...that’s why I love to teach.
Aganze Mugomaka

Aganze Mugomaka, an artist and entrepreneur, had just finished hosting an art exhibition to celebrate World Refugee Day when he sat down to share his story with JRS/USA. Aganze and his family fled to Uganda after they were forced to flee their home in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Though Aganze hasn’t seen his parents since they left, he has his two siblings to lean on. All three of them have participated in livelihoods courses through JRS.

The exhibition he hosted shined a spotlight on the diverse talent in the JRS Uganda community and artists had the chance to sell their products.

Aganze himself specializes in making jewelry and when he is not working on his craft, selling his goods, or spending time with his family, he can be found teaching over 40 children how to make their own art. His face lit up talking about every Saturday and Sunday he spends with his students.

“Being around many people who are happy, that is my favorite part of my days.” said Aganze. “That’s why I love to teach.” In his workshops, Aganze not only instructs the students how to make jewelry but also how to paint and make bongos.

He makes sure that each student holds onto their creation so that they can treasure the results of their hard work. They can also follow in Aganze’s footsteps of entrepreneurship and sell their products if they so choose. Aganze just wants to help bring joy to his community in any way he can.

Despite the significant loss and challenges he has experienced throughout his life, positivity and kindness emanates from Aganze.

“Some of the people here call me Happy,” he said, with a huge smile on his face.

Aganze is a perfect example of how to love others as one loves themselves. He explained that teaching has allowed him to gain more confidence.

“I’ve learned to be myself,” Aganze said about his experience as a teacher. “I love being myself and being kind to others, you know?”

Aganze did not shy away from addressing the challenges he and other refugees experience. “Being a refugee, you feel you are not a human being, but we have the same heart,” he said.

“I don’t say, oh you are Ugandan or oh you are Congolese…you are a part of my community,” Aganze said, noting the sense of shared humanity he feels to the people around him regardless of ethnicity, culture, or other factors that have historically provoked division throughout the world.

Aganze does his best to instill hope in the people around him. “I know life is very hard but don’t stop following your dreams…I say to people just keep going.”

Aganze’s dream is to open his own community center for both refugees and Ugandan people. His goal is to continue supporting children and single parents through his art.

As the conversation wrapped up on Friday afternoon East Africa Time, Aganze was heading home to start preparing for his classes the next day. He said he loves to research new designs and plan new projects for his students. But, with insufficient resources, his biggest challenge right now is finding enough materials to support the projects.

When asked if there was any message he would like to send to the JRS/USA community, Aganze spoke earnestly. “I would just like to say thank you…I am humbled to have this opportunity.”