By Agnes Kyotalengerire
The clouds are gathering and the children run about the courtyard playfully. The slightly older girls probably in the teens are busy picking clothes from the line while others wash the utensils.
Upon seeing me the children quickly alerted their guardian. “Akiiki you have a visitor,” they all sing out like they had rehearsed. One of them leads me to the kitchen where their guardian Akiiki (as addressed by the petty name) was.
In the kitchen another group of children; toddlers and infants surround and expectantly stare at the old woman mingle maize flour.
She is using grass to cook instead of firewood which leaves the kitchen filled with thick smoke that nearly chocks me.
To my dismay, the children seem not disturbed. They only giggle in intervals at the flash of the camera while one of the toddlers screams in fear.
“Firewood is hard to come by and getting dry grass to prepare a meal every day is a miracle,” said 70-year-old Thereza Katuku while pushing in the remaining grass to prevent the fire from dying out.
Through a conversation Katuku a resident of Nyangahya southern ward in Masindi town council says she has no relationship with the children.
They are orphans and abandoned children she volunteers to take care of.
However, Katuku laments that lack of fire wood comes secondary. Her major challenge is feeding the children. She says digging at such delicate age is difficult; she only depends on the older children who grow some food.
Livelihood project under threat
Katuku’s only source of income has been poultry rearing until recently wild animals and bigger birds like eagles have rendered it extinct.
Katuku had saved sh200, 000, money she got from well-wishers and bought 40 Kroilers; a hybrid of chicken from India which she reared for livelihood. She would sell the eggs and a few birds once in a while to raise money to take care of the children.
But because she lacked a chicken pen and was rearing the chicken on free range method, they have gradually disappeared. Her biggest worry now is how to money to fend for the children.
In addition, Katuku says the children fall sick often which presents her with medication challenges.
Aside, among the orphans, two of the children are HIV positive. Though the children are on ARVs, Katuku says they often fall sick especially when they do not get proper nutrition yet she does not have money to meet their nutritional requirements.
Starting to care for the orphans
Katuku opened her heart to caring for the orphans in 1986 when she decided to care for a one day old baby boy whose mother died immediately after giving birth to him.
“By then I did not know that people die often. After accepting to take up the new-born baby word spread like a bush fire and people started bring orphans to me.
Some relatives return and take them away while the total orphans remain.
Katuku does not stop at feeding and providing shelter for the orphans. She goes a long way to ensure the children attain education with her meagre resources.
She has enrolled five of the orphans in school; one boy is in senior two at St Dominics S.S.S and another in primary two at St Dominic Boys primary school while the other three girls study at St Thereza girls’ modal girls’ primary school in Nyamigisa.
Though the children are enrolled in schools are all under the universal education program, Katuku gets at cross roads when it comes to providing scholastic materials like books, pens and uniform.
Caring for the elderly
Katuku’s passion to care for the needy transcends beyond just orphans. When I enter the house away from the heavy down pour, I notice an elderly man in his late seventies lying on a bed in the first room at the entrance with a cat besides him.
I had mistaken the man for a relative but later Katuku narrated how the partially blind Patrick Wamukoko is her 11th dependent.
Wamukoko who used to reside in the neighbourhood before he moved in to stay with them once worked at the Ssese-fly control offices as a porter before he was retrenched.
Eventually Wamukoko became blind and had no one to care for him.
As a gesture of kindness, Katuku would instruct the children to take him food and fetch him water until one day the children carried his belongings and brought him at Katuku’s home.
“I did not protest and gave him space to sleep. Up until now he shares with us the little food we have,” Katuku testifies with a grin.
Support from well-wishers
Katuku is grateful to individuals and organizations that avail her support. She says recently, Rotary club members visited her and donated clothes to the children.
Cry for help
Katuku appeals to well –wishers to help her set up an income generating project. It could be a grocery shop to generate daily income.
Alternatively, someone could volunteer to equip her with skill on how to make quick money like mushroom growing.
“Some of the children are grown and can actively participate in running the projects,” she said.
Katuku says the four roomed house is not enough to accommodate the children. Her dream is to have the house expanded so as to accommodate more children.
“I want the project to continue even after I have passed on,” she says.
Her inspiration to care for orphans
Losing her only son at the age of nine does not justify Katuku’s decision to care for orphans. Her passion stems from her family background. A last born of nine children, Katuku was loved and pampered by her parents.
After experiencing the love filled childhood, Katuku grew to love children.
“Whenever I see a child being neglected I feel bad. Every time people explain they have problems and request me to keep their babies I never refuse,” she admits.
Just to affirm her confessions, while we still conversed, a neighbour carrying a baby about one year old knocked at her door.
Katuku excused her-self to attend to her and shortly returns carrying the baby.
This causes excitement to the other children who start chanting how they have brought another baby to stay with them.
Placing the baby on her laps, Katuku stares at me and explains how the mother has requested her to baby sit the toddler while she goes out to look for her young brother who had gone missing.
Who is Thereza Katuku
Katuku was born to Sebastian Mukooto and Martha Mukooto on the 25th of November 1943 in Bujumbura Hoima.
She attended St. Benardette primary school in Bujumbura Hoima for her primary and junior 1 to 3 studies.
After, she enrolled for a certificate course in general nursing at Nsambya hospital school of nursing.
Upon completion she was recruited as a maternal and child health demonstrator in Mbarara under the Makerere medical school project.
In 1969, Katuku quite the medical world and was recruited at Uganda shoe Bata Company as a shop manager until 1986 when she retired.