A 28-year-old boy in Kayunga District is struggling to look after his six siblings after the death of his father eleven months ago in an accident.
Magidu Kasita claim that when his parents died, relatives and friends all came out and pledged that they were going to pay school fees to his younger siblings but none has fulfilled so he is left with a big gap.
“Ever since we buried my parents none of our relatives has been supportive. I have my own family and I also have my young brothers and sisters. I am really struggling,” he said.
Their mother, Zaituni Nangobi, according to the children, separated with their father three years ago after a domestic feud.
He said he has been making bricks to get money to feed the family while some Good Samaritans have also helped them but they have also stopped.
Kasita is not first sibling to adjust and fill the role of the guardian to make sure the family stays together when parent’s divorce, go to prison die, grow old or fell ill.
The acting parent - sometimes just a teenager him or herself is supposed to make tough decisions for siblings, pay bills and also handle his or her own grief and anxiety. How does this dynamic between a caregiving sibling and younger brothers and sisters influence them in later years?
Ruth Kamya, a family Counsellor at Nyango Medical center who was also raised up with a youthful brother after the loss of her parents says that it is not easy for a sibling to raise his fellow siblings.
“When my father died, my elder brother had finished university my mother could not look after all of us because we were all school going, immediately my brother stepped into the role and he was forced to grow up immediately, he did not have time and an opportunity to enjoy his youthful days even if no one stopped him. He had to forego the outings, dating and buying good things for himself to pay my school fees and maintain our home bills,” said Kamya.
Kamya says that time came when she feared to ask for pads from his brother because she realized he had a lot of his plate. So she became creative and started using cloth as pads.
“Siblings looking after others is not a good idea. Up to now, I fear my brother. We cannot sit and talk like siblings. I treat him as my father. I just share with him only serious matters but I cannot tell him something silly like a brother.
She says if a sibling has taken on the role of a parent, relatives should also not give up but be supportive.
Innocent Byaruhanga, the managing director of save street children, recalls of a situation in Busoga last year where a primary four pupils quit school to look after his fellow siblings.
“We have so many incidences where children drop out from school to become parents. If the child is a girl, then she is always abused by men in the process of looking for food for her new family. It takes away their right as children and gives them responsilbity that is not theres. These are some of the people who grow up and fail in life because there is a stage they missed,” said Byaruhanga.
Byaruhanga says that today’s aunts and uncle do not care that is why these young people jump out from school.
“When we were growing up, raising a child was a community role; we had a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Church leaders, family, traditional leaders and local leaders should play their part,” he said.
What should be done?
Edith Mukisa, a family counsellor says that if parents realize that they are going to die, let them involve their children and linking them to responsible and trustworthy people like church leaders, local councils or family members.
“Becoming a parent to your siblings is depressing but we advise parents to always talk to their children incase they are growing old or sick, that way you prepare them for anything. Even as children if one of your parents is sick and you are the only one taking them to hospital, you do not see anyone coming over to help, get prepared that if that parent dies, you will be in charge of the family so that it does not shock you,” says Mukisa.
Mukisa who says that she has seen parents who link their families to orphange, churches before they die, notes that if the church disappoints you, report to the family unit in police, women organizations like FIDA to help you incase family members are fighting for your parent’s properties.
Pastor Robert Matte of Nakilebe worship center says that if you take on the role of parents always seek for guidance and avoid taking too much responsibility. If you do not have money for school fees do not feel bad explain to the young ones they will understand.
“Most families headed by a sibling are failing because when the head fails, the young ones feels he/she is not doing enough. As you take care of your siblings, you need to know that they are your siblings so you need to still interact and laugh but they should also respect you so that when you command them, they listen and act,” said Matte.
Matte calls upon parents to teach their children to be independent and responsible because you will never know when you are going to die. It might be an accident.
“If you teach your children how to work hard, evenif you die in an accident or war, they will feel bad but will sit and divide responsibility. They will not mourn for long,” said Matte.
Joseph Musaalo, a counseling psychologist at Uganda Christian University, says that taking over the parent’s role is dramatic and painful because children grow up without security but whoever takes up the part should be ready to learn on the job.