RUTH Mirembe strolls into her compound on Katende Road, Bugembe, in Jinja. She is wearing a flowered blouse and a long skirt.
By Charles Musisi
RUTH Mirembe strolls into her compound on Katende Road, Bugembe, in Jinja. She is wearing a flowered blouse and a long skirt. She clasps a mobile phone in her left hand.
Jolly-looking children dash to her. They crowd around, giving her an enthusiastic welcome.
â€œWelcome aunt,â€ they say in quick succession.
â€œThank you,â€ she responds gently. She quickly dons a smile as she speaks to me.
â€œPleased to see you.â€ Our eyes meet.
Mirembe, a kindly dark-skinned lady of medium build, is a sickler. She has been ill for a month. She does not complain about her disease. Instead, she speaks of Godâ€™s blessing and her long struggle.
I ask if she is feeling well. â€œI will gradually get better. Recently, I went to Rwanda. Mosquitoes bit me. The trip worsened my condition,â€ she speaks in a friendly tone. â€œLet us go into the house.â€
We saunter into a spacious sitting room, furnished with a patterned sofa set. I sink into the chair. She slumps down onto another.
Aunt Mirembe, as she is fondly called by her charges, caters for 100 poor and needy children.
Presently, She narrates her story. â€œIn the early 1990s, I visited my mother in Budondo. I met two girls; Justine Bayanga, 16, and Annet Namulondo, 17. Their father disappeared during the 1986 war. The mother, a peasant, was unable to look after them. I was deeply moved by their plight.â€
The experience seems to have left an indelible mark of pity on Mirembeâ€™s psyche. She made a bold decision: providing for the youngsters.
â€œBy then I was working for the Youth with a Mission, a religious welfare organisation in Wairaka.â€ As she speaks, she leans forward, raises her voice and moves her arms. â€œMy brief included counselling people with HIV and TB, in Soroti hospital.â€
Mirembeâ€™s past was dogged by misfortunes. In 1990, disaster struck. Her brother died of AIDS. Two years later, another one passed away. In 1994, the third perished and after three years, Mirembeâ€™s sister also breathed her last. The warm-hearted woman assumed full charge of 14 orphans left behind by her siblings. Her adversity was a blessing in disguise. She realised where everlasting assistance was to be found.
In May 1997 she asked God for help. Then she fasted. Soon, her supplications were answered. â€œOne day as I lay in bed, around 2:00p.m, the Lord spoke to me.â€
â€œBetween waking and slumber, I saw Isaiah 58:6-7. Immediately, I knelt down and the verse reappeared like a picture on a screen.â€™â€™
She explains what God said. â€œHe told me to take care of the children. God showed me a mansion on Katende Road and ordered me to leave my job.â€
Mirembe says the last command was disturbing. She did not want to quit the job. â€œI enjoyed working with my friends,â€ she recalls nostalgically while waving her arms.
Does she remember Godâ€™s voice?
â€œI canâ€™t.â€ Quickly she recollects, â€œIt is a loving, comforting voice.â€ Mirembe speaks loudly, inclines towards me again for a moment and gestures with her hands, then slowly leans back in her chair.
The wider implications of Godâ€™s command did not dawn on her immediately.
â€œI realised the gravity of the issue later. It necessitated many sacrifices and patience,â€ she pauses.
â€œI prayed about it. Surprisingly, God had already spoken to one of my colleagues. He later confessed that God had ordered him to give me money. â€œOne day God told me to go to the man for the money. Instantly, I went to his home. He was not there. I left a message for him. As soon as he returned, he rushed to my house. I told him what God had said. The next day, the man gave me sh3.6m. That was in 1997. I was excited.â€
Mirembe acted promptly. The following day she paid the rent for the house, the lord had shown her. Immediately, she moved in. â€œI had 16 children and one widow,â€ she recounts.
Soon, she ran out of money. â€œI spent the money on clothes, bedding and plates for the children. I also paid their school fees.â€
Mirembeâ€™s task was not smooth. Nonetheless, she struggled on.
â€œMy brotherâ€™s widow sold some maize. The income helped us a lot during the hard times,â€ she says.
In 1998, Mirembe faced further mishaps. A crisis in Youth with a Mission forced her to leave the charity. â€œI began working with Miracle Centre.â€ She hastily corrects herself. â€œNot really working, just rejoining the church.â€
Shortly afterwards, a woman suffering from epilepsy left her three and a half-month old baby with Mirembe. â€œShe had been deserted by her husband. The poor woman was living in complete destitution.â€ Later, another baby abandoned at the Jinja Central Market was placed in her custody.
Was it difficult nursing babies?
She laughs, â€œI donâ€™t know. I did it. The children helped me to feed them.â€
â€œIn 1998, I linked up with like-minded people. We formed Bethesda International. Bethesda means â€˜house of graceâ€™,â€ she explains.
Mirembe works closely with Geoffrey Kironde, Dorothy Kironde, Mrs. Sarah Kagoda and Alice Kisolo, her associates. Where does she get the funds?
â€œWe use our meagre savings. Occasionally friends and well wishers donate to our organisation.â€
â€œWhat happens if there is no money?â€
She chuckles, â€œWe have never failed to eat. We may not eat well but we donâ€™t starve.â€
Mirembe loves children. â€œI try to help children realise their potential. They need care and love to do it,â€ she says staring at me thoughtfully.
Justine Bayanga, 21, one of Mirembeâ€™s â€˜â€™childrenâ€™â€™, sat her A-levels last year at Kiira High School. She cherishes Mirembe.
â€œThis is my home. Aunt Mirembe treats us like her children,â€ she lowers her eyes and wrings her hands. â€œI only saw my dad once. I guess he died.â€
Many residents of Bugembe appreciate Mirembeâ€™s generosity. Harriet Nakalule is a native of the area. She believes the foster mother is a model. â€œShe is so caring and loving,â€ says Harriet.
Mirembe was born in 1964 in Budondo, to Wilberforce Kanyinkira, a teacher, and Edinansi. She attended Buikwe Primary School, Kyomya Primary School, Narambai Primary School and Nakasongola Primary School before joining Bubulo Girls in1985.
She didnâ€™t complete her studies due to poor health. Four years later, (1989), Mirembe enrolled in Nkumba College of Commerce where she studied marketing.
â€œUnfortunately, I had to abandon school due to lack of school fees. The same year, she joined Youth with a Mission.
Mirembe is a spinster.
â€œMay be I am too busy,â€ she chortles with mirth. â€œI hope you wonâ€™t include this in your article.â€
â€œHow would you like to be remembered?â€
â€œI want to be remembered as a mother.â€ Her face lightens as she speaks. â€œMy real desire is to be part of building this nation by creating opportunities for helpless children. Even when they go out, I want them to know that somebody somewhere loves them.â€ The selfless woman is a remarkable
Bugembeâ€™s mother of the needy