By Emmanuel Twesigomwe
The road to Gladys Matama Kabonesa’s home in Kibiri, Busalaba, is laced with retail shops on both sides. The trading centre is serene, with scores of people going about their business, while others sit on the verandah, waving away the dust raised by speeding taxis. This is the place Kabonesa has called home for the past 43 years.
Born in 1945 to the late Yohana and Esteri Kyomya of Kyegegwa, Katente, Fort Portal district, Kabonesa grew up in a home where hard work was strongly respected, probably the reason her hands have lost all their smoothness. This unique gift is largely attributed to the mentorship of her no-nonsense father.
“Growing up, our father used to insist we must learn how to do all chores, irrespective of sex. I think this is what made me what I am today,” she says.
Her childhood was punctuated by hard labour, which included chopping firewood, digging and running errands for her father, among other activities. Despite all this hard work and responsibility, Kabonesa managed to study and obtain a certificate in secretarial studies.
In December 1963, she came to Kampala and settled in Katwe, where she met and married Phillip Kabonesa, then a technician. In 1970, the two bought land and settled in Kibiri, Busabala.
How she started
In 1995, Kabonesa, a mother of 10 children, attended an agriculture workshop with 19 other women. The workshop was organised by Africa Network 2000 to teach women about improved agricultural practices. After the training, 10 of the women who passed the test were given pigs, goats and sh13m to share among themselves. Kabonesa used this opportunity to kick out household poverty, not only in her home, but also in the neighbouring homesteads. She mentored women in agricultural practices to help them increase crop and animal output.
To effectively monitor the performance, Kabonesa formed Mpoobe AIDS Women’s Group, an association that brought the women together. The group started with 20 members, most of them affected in different ways by HIV/AIDS.
Every member contributes sh12,000 per month. Sh10,000 from every member is given as a loan to members, who benefit in turns.
“As a group, we choose who should be given the money at a time. The person who recieves money then has to wait until all the other members have got then she will be considered for another chance. This has helped us live in harmony with each other,”she says.
The group keeps the remaining sh2,000 from every member’s monthly contribution. This accumulated and they used it to buy 15 saucepans, 30 China cups, nine dishes, 200 china plates and 30 melamine plates. Group members use these items for public functions such as weddings and funerals for free, but hire them to non-members.
They use the proceeds to buy basics like clothes, soap, salt and sugar which are distributed to members. Kabonesa has managed to build a kraal where she rears two Friesian cows. The cow dung is turned into manure. She also owns five indigenous goats and a piggery.
Four years ago, Kabonesa lost 40 pigs to swine fever. She, however, managed to get over the loss and at the moment, she owns 24 pigs that earn her between sh250,000 and 400,000 every time she sells.
In 2009, Kabonesa had the honour of hosting President Yoweri Museveni who was visiting model farmers in the area. The President promised to compensate her for the loss of her pigs.
Kabonesa also owns a banana plantation. She acquired agricultural skills from Dynapharm, an organisation that teaches the modern skills of agriculture. “I joined this organisation in 2008 and I have learnt modern ways of improving yields. She sells a bunch between sh20,000 and sh30,000. She has also learnt to make liquid manure, which she uses to protect her crops from pests and also grow vegetables.
Beneficiaries speak out
Nuriat Nassuna, 42, a widow, is one of the beneficiaries of the training. She works closely with Kabonesa. Nassuna says with the skills she acquired, she now owns a banana plantation, Friesian cow and goats. She says she is also able to pay school fees for her children with the money she gets from the organisation.
She also heads a youth sex education programme in the group. After attending a conference on how to fi ght HIV from Mildmay Centre at Lweza two years ago. Nassuna realised there was a need to counsel the youth on the effects of irresponsible sexual behaviour.
“When I shared the idea with Kabonesa, she encouraged me to share the information with the public especially after losing her son to the virus,” Nassuna says.
They traversed churches teaching the youth about HIV prevention and distributing condoms to them. Israel Sentongo, 56, a part-time emcee and a teacher, is the only male member in the group. “Men perceive me as a weakling because I am in a women’s group.
To me, what matters is what I will gain from the group. Through training and sharing experiences, I have learnt to save and invest my money,” he says. Ssentongo, a father of 10 owns four cows, five goats and over 150 chicken. He has worked with Kabonesa for over 15 years. He describes her as a high spirited fighter with an urge to succeed.
“She sometimes uses her own resources to help women in this village, especially the widows,” he said. One woman who owes her success to Kabonesa is Rebecca Kalebu, 38, a widow who lost her husband in August last year.
“After the death of my husband, Kabonesa encouraged me to save with the group,” Kalebu says. Currently, Kalebu takes care of her two children and pays school fees for them.
As the area leader, Ssentongo says their biggest challenge is poor funding and attitudes of the men. “If we could get more funding from the Government, we would ably cross the barriers,” he says.
Kabonesa plans to develop her group into a full scale organization that looks after widows, offers financial and psychological assistance to those people living with HIV/AIDS and teach the youth the dangers of early and irresponsible sexual behaviour.
Currently she spends her free time taking care of her husband.