Time check: 12.58pm, my name was read at Kampala International University (KIU)’s 19th graduation ceremony held on November 17, 2018. I was among the 108 students who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication.
When the ululation died down, I reflected on my late mother, Mary Kabonesa’s words. These words, in a way, were a prophecy about my graduation. A month before her demise, she told me how she was worried about the future of my education.
“This is quite a good report but retain your top position in class. I would at least sell whatever I have to educate you but I feel too much pain and I will die anytime soon,” she told me that afternoon of a day that has remained stuck in my memory.
This was after I had presented a Primary Six third term report, where I was in third position. When I joined Primary One, I made a name as one of the top performers. However, I was famous for vending snacks such as pancakes, cassava, popcorn and samosas.
In Primary Five, our mother became ill and our performance declined since she was the sole breadwinner. She battled a disease we had no idea about. At the time she was living with me, my twin brother, Peter Wasswa, our sister Florence Kizza and two other children she had had after separating with our father.
She would suffer on and off fevers and since our main source of income was selling snacks, she could not access good medical care. She depended on a few medicines she often picked from Kibaale Health Centre and shrubs she asked us to pick from bushes. She got confined indoors and we eventually became her caretakers. Luckily, we learned among other things how to make mandazi (doughnuts) and pancakes and continued running the business.
At the end of term I was the 27th out of about 120 pupils. My young sister’s academic performance declined too. Our mother noticed this. One day, she called us to her bedside and she urged us to focus on our education. She asked my siblings to leave as she held my hand.
“My child you should know you are not studying to please me but for your betterment. I know you are worried about me but you should know I will be in a better place. Study up to university,” she advised.
One afternoon in 2002, she called us and we sat next to her sickbed.
“My dear children, I love you,” she said but with a feeble voice. She told my twin brother that she had left him in the hands of Virgin Mary. She then blessed my siblings and later turned to me. “You will make it to university,” She breathed her last the following day.
Benefactor steps in
In 2003, I completed Primary Seven but I could not join secondary school because I had no school fees. I walked to Kibaale District headquarters where I asked to meet the district education officer. I cannot remember his name. “Young man, are you not supposed to be at school? Why are you here?” I remember him asking me. I narrated my ordeal and he then led me to Uganda Women’s Efforts to Save Orphans offices where I met a woman who I later learnt was Hedrick Mbazira.
I filled in the forms to benefit from the orphans grant but when the shortlist came out, I did not receive the message because I had no means of communication. Someone else was offered the place. The following year I was given a second chance and I joined Buyanja Secondary School where school fees was Shs41,000 per term. This was eventually increased to Shs95,000 in second term and I had to look for the balance to stay in school.
I started vending mangoes, white ants, and firewood for bakeries in addition to stone quarrying. When I was about to fill forms for Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE), my head teacher told me that I had to clear registration and school fees balances in three weeks or else I would be discontinued. I immediately left the classroom and headed to a quarry. I asked God to protect me because the quarry was infested with snakes but I found soft stones. This enabled me to make two Isuzu Elf truckloads of stone worth Shs100,000. I made three trips in 13 days and I sold them off.
Meeting our father
When I was about to complete secondary school, my halfbrother, Steven Kayemba, who had seen my mother and us leave Kasese District and head to Kibaale District where my father met our mother, came searching for us. He found that I had gone to work at a construction site as a porter. He offered to pay my school fees and took me to our father’s home in Masaka in 2009.
I was speechless and fearful when I reached Bulalo village, in Bukomansimbi District. It was my first time to leave Kibaale District. I had a million questions to ask my father but I had language barrier. He spoke Luganda and I spoke Runyoro. I told him that I needed school fees.
“I have no money at the moment but I will support you as soon as I get the means,” he promised. I asked him to say a prayer for me and I promised to tell my siblings about him.
Distress strikes, my job hustle
Kayemba lost his job as a technician. I did not give up but got even more determined to pay my school fees until I completed my secondary education.
Afterwards, I left Kibaale and joined my halfbrothers in Kampala since I wanted to join university. All the admission forms I picked from Makerere, Kyambogo, Nkumba and Kampala International University (KIU) universities required me to pay more than Shs1m tuition per semester.
One afternoon, I walked into Monitor Publications offices and I asked a receptionist what one required to get a job at the company. The woman told me to attain a bachelor’s degree. I walked out feeling demoralised. However, I swore to myself as I walked through the Wabigalo stretch that I would one day get the degree and work at the Daily Monitor. I went home and told my brother about my attempt. He laughed it off.
One evening, Kayemba asked me to inquire about YMCA Comprehensive Institute fees structure. I picked it up and I told him I wanted to study journalism.
“Go and study but make sure you don’t waste my school fees. Make sure you don’t waste my money. Don’t go and start playing. We are broke,” Kayemba insisted.
Beating the tuition nightmare
Kayemba paid for my first two quarters and abruptly informed me how he had got some problems and could not support me anymore. At the time I had just started teaching at Vine Parents School in Wabigalo which became Child Promotion School. My first salary was Shs47,000 but it was later increased to Shs100,000 and then Shs170,000.
I hardly spent a coin from my salary since I needed it to pay for my diploma tuition. In second year, I applied for internship at the Daily Monitor and I was called for interviews where I met dozens of students from universities. I passed the interviews and I was placed in editorial department for a two-month industrial training.
Since I needed money for my two last quarters, I joined Multiplex Company as a ticket collector and I used to earn Shs160,000 per month. I took the decision to join Multiplex after we had gone three consecutive months without salary at the school. Nonetheless, I kept going to Daily Monitor even after internship until I became a full time freelance reporter in October 2014.
I enrolled for a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication at Kampala International University in August 2015, on private sponsorship. I wrote my last paper in May and graduated on November 17. I have lived my late mother’s dream of attaining a bachelor’s degree.