Until World AIDS Day on December 1, New Vision will publish HIV-related stories daily. Today, Agnes Kyotalengerire explores the plight of an HIV-positive widow in her quest to secure a better future for 15 orphans left behind by the HIV scourge
Teddy Ojambo, 49, a resident of Kigiko village, Ntenjeru sub-county in Mukono district sits lost in thought on her veranda.
She stares at a heap of sugarcane for sale on the veranda, later shifting her attention to a group of children playing in the courtyard. Shortly after, she is jolted out of her contemplation by an ear-deafening cry of a five-year-old girl, who has tripped over a root of a tree in the courtyard. This girl is one of the 15 orphans under her care.
Six years ago, Teddy's husband Paulo Ojambo, who was a fisherman at Katosi landing site, died of AIDS.
"I did not know we were HIV-positive until my husband was admitted at Mirembe Hospital in Mukono after a long spell of sickness. Unfortunately, he died a week after admission and I was left to take care of our seven children," laments Teddy.
The cruel hand of death was not done with Teddy. Within two years of her husband's death, she also lost all her siblings to HIV. Altogether, her siblings left behind 11 children, who Teddy took under her care.
"Apart from food, accommodation is another big challenge. Although three of the orphans are grown up and now live on their own, there is a house help, which raises the number of dependants to 16. I have to squeeze the children in a three-room house," Teddy explains.
When she had just started taking care of the orphans, Teddy was overwhelmed by the burden and her health deteriorated. "I was weak and my CD4 count was as low as 51 (A normal CD4 count can range from 500 cells/mm3 to 1,000 cells/mm3). I did not know what to do and I contemplated suicide," she confesses.
Teddy is one of the hundreds of widows at Katosi landing site in Ntenjeru sub-county, who are weighed down by the burden of caring for orphans, whose parents died of AIDS.
According to the 2011 data by Uganda Bureau of Statistics, Katosi landing site has an HIV prevalence of about 47%, which is far higher than the national figure of 7.3%.
Jolly Namutebi, a nursing officer at Kyetume Katosi Outreach Health Centre III, blames the high HIV prevalence on the high rate of commercial and casual sex among the fishing communities.
A new lease on life
Teddy says she owes her life to Kyetume Katosi Outreach Health Centre, an organisation that cares for orphans and vulnerable children.
"The staff of Katosi outreach visited me and encouraged me to begin treatment when life seemed meaningless. I was started on septrin, which was followed by ARVs a month later. A few months after care and treatment, I gained weight and my CD4 count improved," Teddy recalls.
In June 2009, the same group gave Teddy a heifer to provide milk for her family and sell the rest. She was overjoyed by the offer and named the heifer Mukisa, which means good luck in Luganda.
"After the heifer calved, I would get 16 litres of milk per day and sell 13 litres at sh700 per litre, which gave me a daily income of sh9,100. I would save part of the money to pay school fees and buy scholastic materials.
"Life was good until tragedy struck again," she explains.
Teddy says when life was looking up and her heifer was in calf (at three months), it died. This happened two months ago, leaving her with no source of income.
"It is going to be difficult to provide for the children. I am worried about raising school fees for the next term," she laments.
A ray of hope
Determined not to give up, Teddy, who dropped out of school in Senior Three and was once a nursery school teacher, chose to bank on her experience to start up a nursery school.
She constructed a temporary three-room structure in a plot adjacent to her home and started Kigiko Nursery School.
Today, there are 70 pupils in the school, which has classes up to Primary Five. Parents pay tuition fee of sh15,000 per child per term.
However, due to the financial constraints at the landing site, most parents are unable to pay school fees in time.
Teddy does not regret starting up the school because the orphans also study there. However, her major concern is where to enrol the current Primary Five pupils when they join Primary Six next year.
To earn an extra penny to support her family, she also sells sugarcane. "I buy the sugarcane from swampy areas and sell it on my veranda. I get a profit of sh100 on each sugarcane, which enables me to buy vegetables to supplement my diet," she says.
Cry for help
Lack of permanent structures for the school is one the stumbling blocks in Teddy's path of success.
"There is potential for a bigger number of pupils to enrol at the school, but I do not have money to put up permanent structures," she regrets. "I cannot register it as a primary school because I lack the required structures."
Besides, the roof of two of the classes was recently blown off by a heavy downpour.
Teddy also appeals to well-wishers to construct for her a bigger house to accommodate the orphans.