LIFE was good when her parents were still alive. But before she could complete P3, her mother passed on. Barbara was convinced her future and that of her siblings solely depended on their father. But fate clawed deeper, taking their father barely three years after his wifeâ€™s demise.
By 2006, Barbara, aged eight, had to fend for her family of three siblings. The children, left in a single room in Kakinzi village, Makukuba sub-county, in Mukono district, did not have any relative to turn to.
â€œOur mother died in 2003, when I was only five years old. Dad also passed away in 2006 due to AIDS,â€ a sobbing Barbara narrates. â€œOur parents left us with nothing. We did not have food and clothes. We were suffering. There was no one to support us,â€ she says.
But as Barbara thought the world had crumbled on them, a wide gate of triumph flung open. Hajjati Zaamu Nsubuga, a care-taker of orphans in the district, took them on and helped them resume studies.
The four siblings are part of the many orphans and children from poor families who have benefited from the 50-year-oldâ€™s compassion. Her centre, Nakifuma Voluntary Orphanage Home and Primary School, which began small in Nsubugaâ€™s six-room house in 1988, has given hope to thousands of children in Mukono and other neighbouring districts.
Initially, Nsubugaâ€™s aim was to rehabilitate the many orphans who roamed Nakifuma town after the 1980-1986 NRA guerrilla war. The children had lost parents during the war. So she decided to share her house with them.
â€œIt was meaningless for me to sleep in a six-room house yet hundreds of children slept on verandahs with no food,â€ Nsubuga narrates.
Afraid of keeping children without going to school, Nsubuga later hired teachers who attended to the children, turning her home into a school. By then, the school stopped at P4.
She used her meagre earnings from coffee sales to pay teachersâ€™ salaries and to meet the needs of the 200 orphans she began with in 1988.
The number went on rising, with some children coming from as far as Mbale, Jinja and Iganga. By 1996, she had over 400 children.
With time, taking care of the orphans became so expensive that she thought of closing down the orphanage, but her kind heart declined.
She sold off her car for sh800,000 and used all the money to feed the children.
â€œThe children were so many. At some point, I was forced to tear some of my clothes to get them pieces of cloth to sleep on or to wear,â€ Nsubuga reminisces. â€œIt is terrible to be an orphan.â€
To meet the orphanageâ€™s financial needs, Nsubuga ventured into weaving and doing odd jobs. She managed to raise some money which she used to build more classrooms and dormitories.
Anania Namusoke, a resident of Nakifuma, says Nsubuga has done them proud.
â€œShe had six teachers at the school, paying each sh80,000 every month. Their house was so small that some of the children used to sleep in the corridors. But we are glad she did not give up,â€ Namusoke says.
At the centre, smiley faces welcome any stranger. Although they all have painful backgrounds, the children look healthy and spend their free time singing and playing. Barbara, for instance, has not left the orphanage since 2006, and she is not bothered.
â€œAt home, I used to sleep on an empty stomach and I never attended school, but now my future is bright,â€ Barbara says.
Her source of inspiration
Nsubuga says her miserable past shaped her heart towards helping the disadvantaged.
â€œMy father died when I was in S3 and because my mother was illiterate, I did not get a chance to complete my studies,â€ she says.
Her mother married her off to a â€˜rich Muslim manâ€™, who already had other wives. The couple separated in 1994, with Nsubuga taking on the full responsibility of raising her six children. Children from poor families have also benefited from free education at the centre, courtesy of Nsubugaâ€™s big heart.
Nsubugaâ€™s compassion has earned her the title Jajja Mukazi (grandmother), not only from the children she is taking care of, but also among the residents of Nakifuma.
What dampens her heart, though, is the unending struggle to buy food for the children, especially now that she is getting older and unable to carry out business vigorously. She keeps praying for well-wishers to come to her rescue.
Mary Najjuma, the school matron, says the children always turn rowdy when the food is not enough. â€œLast week a boy kicked me because I had served him little posho,â€ she says.
She gave up her home to give orphans a future