• Sun May 15 2011
  • Penniless 70-year-old gives hope to hapless kids

THE crying children go silent when I arrive. They keenly stare at the stranger who has disrupted their protests. From their faces, it is clear they expect the stranger to have good news – something to eat.
Vision Reporter
Journalist @ New vision
THE crying children go silent when I arrive. They keenly stare at the stranger who has disrupted their protests. From their faces, it is clear they expect the stranger to have good news – something to eat.
CHILD rights organisations in partnership with New Vision are honouring and recognising individuals, organisations and businesses working to improve the lives of children in Uganda with Tumaini Awards.

NOMINEE
Berna Nakijjoba


By ANDREW MASINDE

THE crying children go silent when I arrive. They keenly stare at the stranger who has disrupted their protests. From their faces, it is clear they expect the stranger to have good news – something to eat.

An old woman welcomes me. The ramshackle house is in a mess. It looks more of a collection point for dirty clothes for a launder than a dwelling place. But this tiny house, measuring about six metres in length and four metres in width deep in Katanga slum, is paradise to 23 abandoned children.

The old woman, Berna Nakijjoba, popularly known as Jajja (Luganda for grandmother), provides hope for these hapless children. They are not related to her. In fact she has no biological children of her own, but God has given her hundreds of children. And she has given all her life to supporting destitute children.

Born in Mawokota in Mpigi district in 1940, Nakijjoba dropped out of school in Primary Six on losing her father.

“Life became very hard in the village,” recalls Nakijjoba. “I came to Kampala in 1977 and settled in Kalerwe, where I worked as a babysitter,” she adds.

Nakijjoba soon got a man, but their marriage lasted only three years because she failed to conceive.
“I thought life had ended for me. You know what it means to not have children. But I did not know God was preparing for me many more children,” she says.
In 1979 she was influenced by one of her friends to start baby sitting in Katanga. It was a good idea because women working in the nearby Kalerwe and Nakulabye markets brought their children to be taken care of.

Nakijjoba had between six and seven children a day on average and could save up to sh3,000 in a good month. As time went on, she begun to save sh5,000 per day. With her savings, she bought a piece of land within the slum and erected a structure. This is where she is currently housed.

However, in 1980, three women who had brought their children for babysitting never returned to pick them up. Nakijjoba tried to trace them in vain. She later learnt that they were prostitutes.

“Since I had no children, I decided to adopt them. I thanked God for giving me children though I was barren. I also opted for another job of peeling fresh beans and cowpeas to boost my income in order to bring up these children,” Nakijjoba recalls.

A few months later, one more child was abandoned. When the number reached seven, life became hard since Nakijjoba’s income from babysitting and peeling could no longer support them.

“Since then, I have raised an uncountable number of children, many of whom leave and never come back after they have grown up, yet some are working,” she laments.

For the past 30 years, desperate parents simply slip in and abandon their children at her doorstep.

At 71, Nakijjoba is taking care of 23 babies whose parents she has never seen. The children are aged between eight months and 15 years. Her greatest challenge is feeding and clothing. Her kindness has won the hearts of many good Samaritans who provide alms.

Nakijjoba is grateful to the Katanga Local Council for their support, especially towards feeding and treatment. She also mobilises donations from well-wishers. Some Americans once donated five triple decker beds to ease accommodation.

Nakijjoba says her current house is too small for almost 25 people.

She wants to see the children educated but cannot afford fees after primary level.

“After Primary Seven, they either look for petty jobs or just stay at home with me,” Nakijjoba says.

Her greatest fear is the fate of the children if she dies. Her wish is to see the children settled in a decent place with caring people to look after them.

“I like children with all my life and it is death that will separate me from the children because I know even if I have no biological child, I cannot throw them away. My only worry is what will happen to the many abandoned children if I die,” she says.

PROJECT: Caring for
abandoned children
Location: Katanga slum
Motivational statement: “Since I had no children, I decided to adopt them. I thanked God for giving me children though I was barren”
Contact: None



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