3 December 2012

Uganda: Facing the Dilemma of Early Parenthood

Betty Nalukwago had kept her illness a secret from her children. It was only Jessica Semambo, now a worker of Phoebe Educational Fund, a non-governmental organization that cares for the elderly, who knew what was ailing her mother.

Her grandmother had confided in her that her mother had HIV/AIDS. "This hurt me because being the first girl, I thought my mother would confide in me.

We had been best friends, but she was ashamed of talking about what was ailing her. The only thing she said was never to take her to a witchdoctor, which we honoured," Semambo recalls.

While other people would have feared to touch an HIV/AIDS patient without gloves, it was not the case with Semambo. "My mom became very sick and I whole heartedly cared for her. I handled her carefully," she says.

Semambo adds that she was very annoyed with her father, who she accused of infecting their mother with the virus.

" The poor woman always stayed home working hard to support her family. Our father never did anything at home, except drinking alcohol," Semambo says, adding that it was painful to watch an innocent person die.

Putting all sentiments aside, Semambo took care of the home when her mother was bedridden. She would go to the garden to get food for her siblings, fetch water and also encourage them to study. In 2001, two weeks to her S4 exams, Nalukwago died.

"That was the worst period in our lives. Our mother had been our anchor. Since she was gone, we had no one to support us," Semambo recalls. "After burying our mother, the worst happened. We were distributed among the relatives.

Patrick, the oldest, went to live with our grandmother, I also lived with one of our uncles, while Florence lived with my aunt and Catherine, the youngest, who was in P4, lived with another uncle," she adds.

But living with relatives was challenging as Semambo and her siblings always suffered discrimination and abuse.

After sometime, they all decided to relocate to their mud and-wattle house, which was falling apart. Before that, the family had received a condolence of sh500,000 from Compassion International.

It was that money that Semambo entreated to their cousin, so that he could construct for them a four-room house.

"The money was enough because my cousin, being an engineer and a builder, had some left-over building material that helped us, plus the irons sheets we had on our mud-and-wattle house," Semambo narrates.

When the house was complete and they started living in it, Semambo and her siblings had to find the means to survive.

Fortunately, they had some food in the garden and her two young siblings' education was partially being catered for by the Kabowa Children's Centre and Mulago Child Education Centre.

In order to finish their education and meet the basic needs at home, the orphans had to work hard. "We would fetch water for people and also dig in their gardens," she recalls, adding that during holidays, they would knit table cloths, mats and baskets and sell them.

When both Florence and Semambo finished their S4, their aunt connected them to a non-governmental organisation called Nile Vocational, which sponsored them to do a course in secretarial studies.

"I completed S4 at the same time as my younger sister, because I had dropped out of school for some time because of lack of school fees. It was then that my sister found me in the same class and we studied together," she says.

In 2004, before finishing her final papers, Semambo got a job at Nissi Secretarial Service. She was being paid sh80,000.

She was staying in Bugembe at the time. "I was overjoyed because I could finally take care of my little sister Catherine. I was also able to pay for my expenses."

Semambo also managed to take care of her siblings. In 2005, her salary was increased to sh100,000. With that, she saved some money and went back to school to get a certificate and when she was through, she started getting sh150,000.

Later, her sister Florence got a job at Kampala International University. At that time, my brother got married and the woman he married did not want him to support Catherine. "Whenever my sister called she was crying.

I decided to to bring her to Bugembe to live with me," he says. Despite the death of their parents, the four siblings, Patrick, Florence, Catherine and Jessica managed to make it in life. Currently, they are all well-off.

Jessica is happily married to Semambo and working while Catherine is studying at Kyambogo University.

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