By Hope Mafaranga
Every year New Vision, in its Woman Achiever Awards, recognises the unsung heroines, those women who have gone an extra mile to improve the conditions in their communities. In the ninth edition, New Vision, in partnership with UNFPA, is recognising women who have made tremendous contributions to education, especially helping girls who have dropped out of school due to pregnancy or other reasons, to go back to school or attain any form of skills training to better their lives
Some call her mother, counsellor and others the protector of girls and the marriage institution. That is Dr. Canon Mary Mujinya, the president of Mothers Union of the Province of the Church of Uganda and the Principal of Ankole Western University of Science and Technology in Sheema district.
She has fought tooth and nail to prevent girls in Buhweju district from getting married at a young age and has helped many others to stay in school by paying their school fees.
One of the women Mujinya mentored is Rev. Josephine Musiime, who says had it not been for the canon, she would not be where she is today.
“Mujinya is more than a mother, a mentor and source of my strength. She took care of me when I was young. When I got married, she was there to support us and even when my husband passed away, she never abandoned me,” Rev Musiime said.
Edida Natumanya, another girl Mujinya mentored, says, “I would not have wished God to give me a better mother and mentor than Dr. Mujinya,” she said.
Dr. Canon Nathan Kalema, Mujinya’s colleague, also notes that she is a hard working, trustworthy and down-to-earth woman. She has contributed a lot towards improving the girls education and has given her heart and energy to the church.
Extending a helping hand
Whenever Canon Mujinya would visit her village in Kibarya, in Burere sub-county in Buhweju district, she was alarmed by the high rate of teenage pregnancies and the number of girls being married off at a tender age.
The picture is equally grim countrywide as data from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics indicates that one in four Ugandan girls aged between 15 and 19 years is already a mother or pregnant with her first child.
This horrific picture tugged at Mujinya’s heart strings.
“I was moved whenever I would see young mothers who did not know how to take care of their babies and husbands. Many girls looked so young and I chose to help them,” she says.
Mujinya’s first step was to teach such girls about hygiene, cooking skills, how to respect their husbands and to be responsible mothers and wives.
The high teenage pregnancy rate aside, Mujinya was inspired to help girls because of her background. Her father passed away when she was six years old and her mother left home. Mujinya grew up as an orphan and she experienced the pain of growing up without parents to fend for her.
She says, this strengthened her resolve to prevent children in her community from suffering the same misery.
“Growing up as an orphan was hard. Therefore, I never want to see a child suffering or lacking parental care. I made up my mind that when I am independent, I will fight to see that children are raised by their parents,” she resolved.
When her husband was posted to Bweranyangi Girls’ School, the students would come to their home to borrow items to use in their home economics lessons.
Mujinya took this opportunity to listen to the girls’ problems and counsel them about making wise decisions to prevent them from becoming teenage mothers.
“I realised that many girls fall victim to early marriages and drop out of schools due to lack of guidance,” she says.
Mujinya does not only counsel girls to stay in school, but also teaches them life skills, as well as checking up on them to ensure that they are responsible mothers and wives.
Her desire to help girls was strengthened further when she joined the Mothers’ Union.
“When I joined Mothers Union, I had teen mothers at heart. It has helped to shape my future and raise a generation that is concerned about vulnerable people, especially teen mothers and orphans. Whatever skill I learn from Mothers’ Union, I use it to transform the society,” she says.
As if to reward her effort, in 2006, Dr. Mujinya was elected the president of Mothers Union in Church of Uganda and she is the first woman from up-country to hold that position. All previous Mothers’ Union presidents were from Kampala.
Mujinya prides herself in mentoring young people and changing girls’ attitude towards life.
Training women in nutrition, transforming her community spiritually and economically and living by example are some of her greatest achievements.
“My heart leaps with joy when I see healthy children and homes with backyard gardens, enabling families to have a balanced diet. I am also happy that the women I have sensitised about the dangers of having malnourished children have heeded my advice,” she notes.
Source of income
Mujinya has paid school fees for a number of vulnerable children. At the moment, there are 20 under her care. Mujinya and her husband use their personal funds to take care of the children under their wings.
“We do not drive expensive cars or wear fancy clothes. We, instead, save the money and cater for the needy children,” the clergy woman says.
Mujinya says her greatest challenge is limited funds that prevent the couple from taking in more needy children. In the same breath, she castigates wealthy Ugandans who are unwilling to extend a helping hand to the needy.
“If the rich and middle-income earners in Uganda chose to help people in need, we would not be depending on donors for aid to help our own needy people,” she says.
Mujinya also points a finger at couples, who have children before they are ready for that responsibility. She says in such cases, it is the children who pay the price as their parents cannot take care of them, including sending them to school perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty and the high school dropout rate, which stands at 75% at primary school.
“Many young marriages are breaking up today. The marriage institution is facing a big challenge because many young people get into unprepared. If we do not follow up the young couple and help them through the challenges they face in marriage, we will continue seeing single parents, street children and irresponsible citizens,” she adds.
Mujinya says many of her beneficiaries are taking up her ideas and inculcating them into the community.
“Most Mothers’ Union members are being an example by duplicating what I have taught them. I am sure my dreams will live on for generations to come,” she says.
WOMAN ACHIEVER AWARDS 2014: Women in education
Do you know any woman who has mobilised or used her own resources to spearhead programmes aimed at promoting girls education, especially helping girls who have dropped out of school due to pregnancy or other reasons, to go back to school or attain any form of skills training?
Nominate her by sending her name, her telephone contact, her area/community of operation, what she has done/is doing and your name and telephone contact to Woman Achiever 2014, New Vision, P.O. Box 9815, Kampala.
You can also email: email@example.com; or by SMS type achiever (space) her name and telephone number, and send to 8338
The orphan who became a mother to teenage girls