Mariam Nakitto, 87, can no longer walk after she suffered a stroke in 2009. "I would have died after the stroke because there was no one to take care of me. My children abandoned me, but Hanifah Kakoma nursed me back to good health.
I will turn 100 soon because of her kind heart for the old people. Kakoma offers me food and clothes, something my children do not do.
She cleared my hospital bills and has never asked for a refund," Nakitto recalls. Kakoma was born in 1956 in Lweza, Wakiso district. She trained as a councillor, a profession that prepared her to be the mother of the old, the disabled and the orphaned.
One afternoon as Kakoma was returning home, she saw an old woman struggling to go to the latrine. "Children were making fun of her as she tried to prevent them from following her. I helped her to get to the latrine.
However, as I returned home, I kept wondering if she had any children," Kakoma says. The next day, Kakoma visited the old woman, who told her that she had children who, although were employed, had abandoned her. She added that her children had sold almost all the land and had left her with only a small house.
That sad tale inspired Kakoma to find ways of helping her and other elderly people in the community. When Kakoma returned home, she went to the local council chairman and inquired if there was any non governmental organisation helping the elderly.
She discovered it existed, but was not serving its purpose. Kakoma then approached the area woman councillor, Justine Kyewalyanga and broached to her the idea of helping the elderly in Kitende, off Entebbe Road.
Kyewalyanga agreed to partner with Kakoma and got for her a venue where the women would meet. Kakoma bought a black book and set out to search for the elderly in Kitende. "There were so many elderly people who were suffering.
Some of them were on their deathbeds, others lived in abject poverty, while others were taking care of their grandchildren, who were orphans or disabled.
"I was so touched by the plight of the elderly that I quit my job to look after them. I brought those who could walk to the chairman's place where we got some necessities for them," Kakoma recalls.
For the elderly who were sick, the LC chairman and well-wishers raised funds to take them to hospital. "Today, many of these people are healthy and they can walk to the chairman's place to attend literacy training and crafts making, among others," Kakoma says.
She also welcomed children into the organisation because she discovered many of the elderly were looking after orphaned or disabled grandchildren, who had been abandoned by their parents.
In 2010, Kakoma named the group Ssasi Sub-county Elderly, Orphaned and Disabled Foundation, which she registered at the district as a community-based organisation. The organisation has 82 old women and 19 old men, aged between 63 and 101 years. It also has 33 orphans and disabled children. Initially Kakoma raised funds for the group's activities from well-wishers.
However, over time, many of the wellwishers stopped supporting the group. She then went to the district requesting for funds in vain.
Kakoma had to look for alternative sources of income. Her first venture was to encourage group members to make tablemats from banana fibres.
They sold these and used the proceeds to meet the needs of the elderly. Today, in addition to the tablemats, the group also makes soap, candles and other crafts.
"I had never celebrated my birthday until last year when I turned 78. The group bought me a cake and they sang for me. I felt like a child again and I will never forget that day.
I also learnt how to write my name yet I never went to school. I can now greet in English. I hope to go to school and acquire a degree.
I know Kakoma will teach me," says Agnes Kakoma Nakamanya, a group member. Nakamanya adds that she now operates a charcoal selling business in her compound. She also grows vegetables in her compound, which she sells.
Officials from the National Agricultural Advisory Services also visited the group and donated 200 layers (chicken) that they now rear.
The eggs are sold and the money used to buy necessities for the old people. "I introduced a savings culture among the group members because I had seen most of the able-bodied women make a living. We bought for each of them a sack of charcoal from which they were earning income, so
I asked them to bring sh500 every time they attended the meeting." "The group members obliged and now we have saved over sh170,000.
I ensure that everyone knows how much they have saved every time we meet," Kakoma says. She adds that when she gets money, she brainstorms with the group on ideas that can bring in more money. Regina Nazziwa, one of the members, says Kakoma gives her food and counsels her.
"I have a lot of pain, but Kakoma has helped me overcome it. I can now make baskets," says the 74-year-old. Nazziwa lost all her property after her son sold their land.
She had no where to go until Kakoma got for her accommodation at the LC chairman's place and it's from here that Kakoma supports her.
Kakoma's biggest challenge is transport. She has to move to almost every elderly person's home to remind them of when they are supposed to meet because they forget easily.
Given that the members are aged, some take hours to walk to the meeting place and when they get there, they are tired. This necessitates that they are given time to rest before classes can begin.
The group also faces a challenge of lack of market for their crafts. Often, they are forced to sell their crafts at a cheap price, yet the raw materials they use are expensive.
Kakoma plans to set up a poultry farm and also buy a cow to provide them with milk. Kakoma also adds that when she gets the money, she plans to set up a building where she can look after the elderly.