Vigilant sports woman in her earlier days, Kabenge has carved a niche for herself in the sports world and hopes to inspire the younger generation.
Her energetic demeanor oozes a person who thrives on action. And indeed she does thrive on action- the kind that comes with sport.
Peninah Kabenge, talks about sport the same way girls talk about new shoes or handbags- with the total and utter glee that puts a glow on the skin, and a glint in the eye.
“Sport is my passion,” she says, punctuating her words with laughter.
This passion stems from a family background of sport fanatics. Her father, who was a district sports officer, encouraged her to participate in different games, at a time when many girls were forbidden from taking part. And being daddy’s favourite girl, she listened.Born in a family of 11 children to the late Mr and Mrs Aligawesa in Luwero district, Kabenge was never short of playmates.
“I am one of five girls, but I fall right between four boys before me and two after me so I used to play with them a lot. And being boys, it is sports that we usually played,” she recounts. This close association with her brothers is part of what prepared her for her current work.
As the Secretary General of the National Olympic council, Kabenge is in a world dominated by men, a fact she handles with grace, assured that it is of no consequence being part of the “men’s club”.
“I opted for Secretary General because it is challenging, and I love a challenge,” she says, “working with mostly men did not intimidate me because all my life, my competition has been with men.”
And there are other positions in her life that prepared her for this part. She was an auditor with the African universities Sports Federation, a competitive position usually reserved for the men. She was also an executive board member with the International Universities Sports Federation so by the time she joined the Olympic committee, there was no reason for her to feel intimidated by her male counterparts.
Seated in her office at Makerere University, Penny as she likes to be called is surrounded by several trophies crammed on every available space. They are not her personal victories, but rather those that her students have accumulated over the years. As the principle sports tutor- a position equivalent to an associate professor in academic circles, she is proud every time her students bring home a trophy or shield- just as a good teacher always is.
She got her gift of being a good teacher from her parents who were both teachers, and homeschooled Penny and her siblings at primary level. “For my O’ levels, I went to Bugema Adventist College and to Namasagali College with Father Grimes for my A’ levels.
We enjoyed ourselves at school during his time,” Kabenge reminisces, adding, “after that I went to Makerere University where I stayed at the popular Box- Mary Stuart Hall and studied for a Bachelor of Arts.” Following in her parents’ footsteps, she pursued a post graduate degree in education, then a masters of education. She does not believe in doing things half way.
Away from work, Kabenge likes to relax at home with her family, and by relax she means joking around, and playing. “At home there are different sport activities. For instance there is a basketball hoop so I am always playing basketball with my son, if not we are in the small gym at home, or we go to the one at Club 5 in Makerere. So even in my free time I am playing,” she says, laughing in a way that seems to be part of her nature.
Spending time with her children is more than a past ime because they are her reason for working to get where she is today.
“My children Dororthy Nabasirye or Lovely, as everyone calls her, and Dale Sendagire are a great inspiration because I want them to live a good life, so whenever I think about them I go an extra mile to give them that.”
The work she does means that she travels a lot, and this is her greatest challenge since it keeps away from her family often. But she has learnt to strike a balance since her work brings her so much joy because it is interactive, and it enables her achieve things she only dreamed about.
“While I was in active sports I got only to the national leverlas an athlete, and a basketball player, but I never got to the big leagues like the Olympics,” she says. “My job now allows me to go for the Olympics, not as a player, but as an administrator so my dreams are coming true.”
Beside the Olympics, Penny has also got the chance to rub shoulders with prominence. So much so that she is on first name basis with the president of Tartastan, a European country. No small feat if you add on receiving phone calls from the president of China pleading with her to allow Chinese teams to play in Uganda.
For that she is heartened that she gets to make a career out of what some people consider a hobby, a career that has drawn the attention of the International Olympic committee, which is recognising her with an award this month in Los Angeles for her work with women, and sports.
•Kabenge was born on November 30, 1964
•She is married to Martin Kabenge
•She was among the group who popularised basketball in Uganda
•Kabenge played Basketball, Track Athletics, Badminton, Netball and Hockey but internationally represented Uganda in Track Athletics, Basketball and Woodball