My transition from aspiring candidate Nakawa, Division to aspiring candidate for Woman MP, Mbarara District is complete on paper. The transition from urban to rural – semi-urban mind set, will admittedly take a little longer but I will get there.
There is a myth that everyone from Mbarara District, the land of milk and honey, is wealthy. It is simply not true. You will encounter poverty in Mbarara, perhaps not at the same frequency that you may find it in Northern Uganda, but the burdens of poverty are the same everywhere: Disease, illiteracy, workload, hopelessness and despair. Women carry their share of this burden and in many cases it is the bigger part.
The human stories of poverty are often lost in the indifference of statistics so I talk to people in order to bring indifferent data to life. Last week I met a young woman, we shall call her Rose, from Kyarwabuganda in Kashari. She seemed too young to be a mother but the baby she was holding was her fourth. Rose told me she was just a housewife, which I immediately understood to mean that she wakes up in the wee hours to light a fire and cook breakfast before going out to till the fields, collect firewood, do the laundry, tend to the children, cook again and clean the house before her hungry husband returned from work.
I probed her gently to learn her story and that is how I came to learn about her Nigina group. The group, one of many in the neighborhood, has 30 women participants who contribute 10,000/= each weekly and gift it to one of their members on a rotational basis. The women work hard to make sure they contribute so that when their turn comes round they walk away with 300,000/= shillings to do with as they please.
I loved this self help story and wanted it to have a happy ending. I asked her what the women did with all that money after months of waiting and she told me that most of them pay school fees and hospital bills. The women with spouses have found that Nigina makes their men abandon household bills because they know their wives will soon ‘harvest’ from the group. Some greedy men even demand a share of the money to spend in bars. That was not the ending I had hoped for.
After I empathized with her disgruntlement she continued without prodding to tell me another story. Rose’s father died when she was only a child and her mother sent her to live with a cousin, a headmistress of Rutooma Integrated Primary School; so that the little girl might get an education. She was only nine years old. Her cousin, a single mother with only one child, treated her badly. When she was not in class, Rose was tending to her cousin’s household chores even during break and lunch time on school days. One of her chores was to boil the fresh milk that came in daily. The poor girl lived in fear. She sat on the floor at mealtime while her cousin and benefactor shared the table with only her biological child.
One day Rose’s attention was distracted and some milk spilt as it started to boil. Fearing the punishment she would get, she tried to fill the milk pan by adding some water. The headmistress caught her and without uttering a word, she poured the boiling milk down Rose’s bent back.
The next day Rose went to school with her school uniform stuck to her peeled skin. Her teachers saw the blood and she told them what had happened but none would confront the headmistress. It took nearly one and a half months for her wounds to heal. When the term ended she returned to her mother and refused to go back to school until they found another benefactor at Kateebe Primary School.
Rose studied up to senior two and then got married. She now has a daughter and she says will remain in Nigina until her ten month old baby finishes school.
FDC Flagebearer, Woman MP, Mbarara District