Board games helped me find myself

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When I started talking about mental health, my brother pulled me aside and said, “You want to tell people you’re crazy?” Here in Uganda specifically, that is a big taboo. My name is Emily Banya, co-founder of Utalii Creative.

Around 2019. when I had been two or three years out of university, I was still struggling with personal identity and just figuring out what my mission and my vision is for my life and I had no idea what it is.

Then I started developing a lot of anxiety and I got to a point where it was starting to affect my physical health because I h ad also developed an eating disorder out of that. I went to the internet in search of solutions.

Actually, I bumped into a lot of YouTube videos and there’s this kind of packaging that they gave me, which made sense for me. They were like: ‘The brain is a problem solving tool and it is either in the past with regrets or it’s in the future with anxiety.

So your job is to bring it into the now by finding little problems for it to solve, so that it doesn’t keep going either back or forth. Give it mind games, crossword puzzles, something for it to keep itself in it now.’

When I went out to get board games for myself, I had a hard time finding board games with African tourism detonations. I bought the Trevi Fountain one because it was really beautiful and I started putting it together.

After a week of finishing it and I felt so much better and it had really calmed me down and kept me in the moment. I went and asked that shop attendant: ‘do you have any puzzles of any African monument?’ You can give me something – just pyramids, Tables mountains, anything.

She brought in the manager and the manager says, ‘Sorry but we ship everything from Europe and America, we don’t get anything from Africa.’ And I was really shocked. Then I asked her: ‘If a Ugandan company manufactured puzzles, would you sell them?’

She responded, ‘If they’re really good quality, why not?’ So that’s where the idea came into play just right there.

Utalii Creative has three main missions. First promoting tourism in Uganda. We are so blessed in the country and people don’t understand how beautiful this country is. We want our own people to even acknowledge it themselves and then go there and see it themselves, before we bring in outsiders and tourists to come and see it.

The second one is to destigmatize mental health in Uganda and ultimately the rest of Africa. So we want to help people feel comfortable to actually talk about these things.

The third one is to rebrand Africa using souvenirs and media. At Utalii Creative, what we do is we want Africans and Africa to be number one in our thoughts. When we are creating a product, we want to create it for the African first and then for the world.

Emily Banya is the co-founder of Utalii Creative, a Ugandan-based souvenirs manufacturing company. She had gone through a period of mental anxiety and turned her experiences into a business opportunity.

Psychologists explain games can help to stabilize the mind.

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