TIRED of insults, Theresa Namusisi left her marriage because she was unable to bear children. However, this opened the way for her to start baby-sitting, a job she is proudly doing. At Ham-Mukasa zone in Mengo, where Namusisi lives, everyone calls her Jjajja (grandmother).
Namusisi suffered insults from her in-laws and her husband of over 10 years, until she decided to quit in 1975.
Having to start a new life from scratch, Namusisi was brought to Kampala by her aunt to work as a housemaid, a job she did for four years, before she decided to be self-employed.
â€œThe years I spent as a housemaid created a bond between me and children. Since we were not on good terms with my female boss, coupled with poor pay, I resigned and opened up a daycare centre in a bed-sitter, which I rented in Natete,â€ Namusisi explains.
Like most low-income earners in the city, Namusisi stays in a single room, with a curtain to separate the living room from the bedroom. There is a mattress in the living room, where the children rest during the day.
Namusisi says she started with one baby boy, whose father was a soldier attached to the then Army Shop in Rubaga (the current Buganda Royal Institute).
â€œThough I had a humble beginning, I have baby-sat over 100 children,â€ she says.
By 6:30am, Namusisi is already awake. This is the time parents start dropping their children to her daycare. She does most of the work herself, while the older children help her fetch water.
The youngest child joined her daycare at one-and-a-half months, but she is now three months old.
On entering the enclosure where Namusisi lives, you meet children playing, with Namusisi seated at the entrance of her room. She welcomes everyone who enters this enclosure with a warm smile. Other rooms in this enclosure remain closed during the day because they belong to students of the neighbouring higher institutions.
At 74, Namusisi is still strong enough to look after the children. Her exposure to children for the last 30 years has made her understand their behaviour and needs. She monitors the children from morning to evening and knows each oneâ€™s social habits and health status.
She keeps an eye on every child and when a childâ€™s health changes, for instance if she does not play well, she tells his or her parent in the evening.
â€œI usually insist on taking them for treatment. Childrenâ€™s health can deteriorate in just minutes.â€
Namusisi baby-sits children as young as a week old. Working parents have found her helpful because of the way she attends to the children. Most of the children appear healthy. She says when some parents take the children to other care-takers, they become malnourished, which forces them to return them to Jjajja. Some parents leave their children with her for a week and come back over the weekend to pay her a visit.
Namusisi charges between sh500 and sh1,000 per child per day. The number of children brought for the day determines her earnings. Currently, six children are permanently at her home.
â€œThis job has really helped me, especially in my old age. I only pay rent for the house. There are no other costs involved, apart from my energy.â€
Though her job seems easy, Namusisi complains about some parents who abandon their responsibilities towards the children. She says some parents tend to be good in the beginning, but after getting used to her, they burden her with all their parental responsibilities.
â€œI am faced with challenges like parents who abandon their children at my home for weeks and months without paying,â€ she says.
The experience she has in baby-sitting has helped her deal with most of the childrenâ€™s diseases. Sometimes when a child falls sick, she gives them herbs as she waits for their parents.
In 1999, Namusisi bought a plot of land worth sh2m in Bulenga, where she wanted to construct a house and stop renting. Unfortunately, there was some controversy surrounding the plot; the person who sold it to her was not the real owner.
In her free time, Namusisi sings to the children and tells them stories. In return, the children dance for her. This has created a strong relationship between the children and her. She is a staunch Catholic and her radio is always tuned to Radio Sapientia.
the children want her to carry them on her laps. Sometimes the older ones stop the young ones from burdening the old lady, saying: â€œDo not sit on Jjajjaâ€™s lap, you are hurting her.â€
Though she is a Catholic, Namusisi looks after children of different religious denominations and inculcates their religious cultures into them. She cannot allow a child to eat before praying for the food if the child is a Christian, and Bismillah for Muslims.
One of the pioneer children of Namusisiâ€™s daycare centre got married last year. Namusisi was invited to the wedding and was given a gomesi for her role as a grandmother.
Namusisi rarely buys food, sugar, soap and paraffin, since the parents bring these as gifts to her. On special days like Christmas, Easter and Idd, parents of her former children visit her with presents.
â€œI like baby-sitting because it takes away my sorrow of barrenness. These children give me company all the time and I forget about earthly problems.â€
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The grandmother who never had children