By Gladys Kalibbala
THE red ants which invaded her room in the night worried Margaret Nakku. â€œI had heard of a woman who lost her three-month-old son after he was bitten by these insects and I was worried,â€ says Nakku, a 19-year-old mother of triplets.
Nakku says she had to use the little paraffin left in her paraffin candle (tadooba) to kill them. â€œI needed more paraffin and had no money so I begged a shop owner for some credit worth sh200,â€ she says.
But that was not the end of her problems. Nakku curses her poverty. Everyday, she and her three babies and four-year-old firstborn survive on sh1,000 she gets from her elder sister, Vicky Nalubwama. Nakku says she has to be tactical to survive.
She uses the money to buy water for laundry, charcoal and food. â€œI eat posho, mukene (silver fish) and dodo which I pick from my neighboursâ€™ gardens,â€ she says.
Nakku lives in a cheap unplastered house for which she pays sh20,000 a month. Previously, she and her children lived in Nalubwamaâ€™s one-room house until her husband complained that the babiesâ€™ cries were keeping him awake.
Nalubwama bought her a locally-woven mat (kiwempe) on which she sleeps with her babies. Nakku says she has no bed-sheets, blankets and clothes to keep her babies warm. She was a fishmonger, but stopped working in her eighth month of pregnancy.
Her husband, Joseph Serwadda, who was employed on a flower farm, lost his job. Nakku had no money as she had used all the capital from her fish business for treatment.
After she delivered, the family was evicted from their house after they failed to pay rent. It was then that Nalubwama took her and her children in.
When they were born, the triplets were small. â€œThey were tiny and looked like small rats. I was scared to bathe them, but my sister was always there for me,â€she says.
Nakku also did not have enough breast milk for the babies. A neighbour who learnt of her misery started giving her a cup of milk daily. A month later, the womanâ€™s husband put an end to this generosity. The babies had just turned one month old.
â€œI could not afford posho for porridge so I resorted to cassava flour and now the babies do not look so bad,â€ she says.
However, the triplets, two girls and a boy, hate the cassava porridge and she has to feed them forcefully.
The boy cannot sit up or stand even when he is supported. His head also seems too big for his neck to support. Nakku says she cannot afford to take the baby for treatment. She appeals for help from Good Samaritans.
Dr. Amone Abongomera, the acting director for labour in the gender ministry, says normal single babies are expected to breastfeed for at least six months. A healthy baby is expected to weigh between four and eight kilos by the sixth month, he adds.
He says in Nakkuâ€™s case, the situation is complicated as she has to breastfeed three babies instead of one. He says in this situation it would be advisable to give the babies maize, millet, soya and cassava porridge.
To this, sugar, milk, cooking-oil, groundnut paste or pounded Nkejje (small fish) can be added.
Abongomera says in the case of babies who are not yet six months old but have inadequate food like Nakkuâ€™s, a kitobero is advised although it is normally prepared for babies aged six months to one year.
Kitobero is made from mashed matooke, potato, cassava, rice, millet, posho and pounded nkejje with greens and beans. â€œThis can be served three times a day to babies who get enough breast-milk and five times for babies who do not, in order to prevent them from becoming malnourished,â€ Abongomera says.
As for the welfare of Nakku and her babies, he suggests that local leaders in the area where Nakku lives help her get assistance at the childrenâ€™s clinics at Mulago Hospital or Kampala City Council.