For the love of GRANNY. One author wrote, grandmas hold our tiny hands for just a little while, but our hearts forever. This comes into play if you have met these gentle and poised people while growing up. Brian Mutebi brings you experiences of grandmothers and such people who have had a grandmother moment.
Veronica Nankya must lean against the wall of her dilapidated house to support her legs to walk. Her health is not the best, she is diabetic and walks with difficulty yet must fend for her household. “Bukirwa! Bukirwa!” she calls out. “Where are the children? They are out playing, oh children! Don’t they even know it is 2pm and we have not figured out where we shall get food?”
At 93, Nankya is the breadwinner for her grandchildren; three girls and one boy. The youngest, a boy is 11 years, the eldest, Harriet Bukirwa is 16. “My son died 13 years ago and left her under my care,” Nankya says pointing to Bukirwa. “She was too young to understand anything.”
The other two girls and one boy were born to Nankya’s daughter who, like her son – Bukirwa’s father – died of HIV/Aids. It is now seven years. “Raising them has not been easy,” she says. “I have had to struggle to look after them, teach them everything from toilet training to feeding and, everything else. Then, I was still strong and I could till people’s gardens to pay for their school fees. Now I do not have energy anymore. I do not know how they are going to survive.”
The task for Nankya is a tough one. A staunch Christian, Nankya has at times had to wonder whether God is really a merciful and loving God as the priest at her local church claims. “At some point I was so angry with God, for how he could let my children die and leave me with this burden – well, I shouldn’t say burden – but a huge responsibility of taking care of these grandchildren,” she says adding that she is a poor widow with no one to help. “It is an enormous duty and given that my health is waning and my house crumbling’, I do not know where they are going to stay when I die.”
It is not only Nankya in this predicament but Christine Namusoke. Namusoke, 58, and Nankya live at Bambula, Kikandwa sub-county Mityana District. Namusoke is a widow who takes care of her granddaughters; Mary Namisango,9, and Bridget Mbatudde,11. Mbatudde’s mother died of HIV/Aids. Her father resorted to drinking alcohol and abandoned the family. Namusoke had to take on the role of their parents.
Up the sleeves of these two women are tasks, taking care of HIV/Aids orphans. Yet such is not uncommon today in this era and generation ravaged by HIV/Aids. HIV/Aids is still a big problem globally and in Uganda. The scourge has claimed many lives especially young people leaving the responsibility of taking care of orphans to aging grandparents, especially grandmothers.
The HIV/Aids prevalence
According to the 2014 Uganda HIV/Aids Country Progress Report, Uganda had about 99,000 new infections and 32,000 HIV/Aids related deaths by end of 2014. In the same year, two million people were infected with HIV globally while there were 1.2 million HIV/Aids related deaths. Globally 36.9 million people live with HIV of whom 25.8 million or approximately 70 per cent are in sub Saharan Africa.
That is the reality that HIV/Aids scourge is causing. And in Uganda, with reports noting that the age bracket of 19 to 24 years are particularly prone, the story goes back to the millions of HIV/Aids orphans and those who take care of them.
Kudos to our grandmother
“My mother passed on when I was a little 10-year-old boy,” says Isaac Kirunda. “My father was a young negligent father who could not take care of his boy so I was handed over to my grandmother. It is she who has taken care of me since.”
On June 9, Heroes Day in Uganda, a day when indeed many Ugandans informally name who their heroes are, Kirunda, who is now 30 years old, posted on social media, “There is a special woman in my life. Without her, I would be nowhere. She has defined my life. She has cared for me since I was a little boy. She is my heroine. She is my grandmother.”
People such as Kirunda who celebrate grandmothers for the tremendous contribution they (grandmothers) had and or continue to have on their lives are many.
A book, “Grandmothers, Africa’s unsung heroes” was written with experiences of 30 grandmothers from Uganda, Kenya and South Africa in the face of the Aids pandemic. It will be launched in Kampala by Graca Machel, widow of Nelson Mandela, at the Grandmothers gathering. The gathering that starts tomorrow will bring together over 500 grandmothers in (mostly) Uganda, Canada, Kenya and South Africa to highlight the tremendous role and challenges of grandmothers in the face of the HIV/Aids pandemic.
Neither Nankya nor Namusoke’s story were captured in this book but the accounts of the grandmothers therein are not different. Edward Jjemba, Kikandwa village chairperson says there are many orphans in the area and most of them under the care of financially handicapped grandparents. This situation is not unique to Kikandwa.
In our fast ageing world, older people will increasingly play a critical role - through volunteer work, transmitting experience and knowledge, helping their families with caring responsibilities and increasing their participation in the paid labour force.
Already now, older persons make major contributions to society. For instance, throughout Africa –and elsewhere - millions of adult Aids patients are cared for at home by their parents. On their death, orphaned children left behind (currently, 14 million under the age of 15 in African countries alone) are mainly looked after by their grandparents.Kenneth Mugayehwenkyi, the founder of Reach One Touch One Ministries (ROTOM) and author of the book to be launched, says the biggest problem grandmothers face is poverty amid limited social support structures. “Over 64 per cent of grandmothers in Uganda live on less than $1 a day,” he states. “They do not have an income, have lost children who would have been their old age insurance, some of them are not only affected but infected with HIV, are food insecure and lack access to quality health and education services for the grandchildren under their care.”
This, Mugayehwenkyi says, is aggravated by the increasing rural-urban migration that leaves many older persons especially grandmothers with no support in the villages. Bambula is one rural village among many where grandmothers like Nankya and Namusoke wake up every day to the realities caused by HIV/Aids scourge. And it may not be an exaggeration to suggest theirs is a story of Africa’s ‘unsung heroes’.
I started living with my grandmother when I was a little baby. I grew up thinking she was my mother and some people thought I was her last born. I saw mummy when I was 14. Grandmother and grandfather loved me so much and everybody at home knew I was their favourite child. Yet she was welcoming to everybody at home. That is one of the good virtues I learnt. My grandmother and I are so inexplicably connected that even if I am far away from her but fall sick, she somehow senses in her spirit so I do when she is unwell.
I grew up with my grandmother and never saw my mum until I was in Primary Six. I was 11 years. She taught me everything from domestic chores such as peeling and cooking to being a good married woman. My grandmother is like my mother. I have never felt like I ‘m missing my mother. She did not only take care of me but today loves and takes care of my daughter.
I grew up with my grandmother since I was nine months. My mother was a medical student and it was very difficult for her to keep me with her yet my dad was probably unable to take care of the little baby so the option was paternal grandmother. She loved me; took care of me when I was sick including working so hard to give me an education, whenever I was at school, in a boarding school and she had something to eat, if it was not perishable she would keep it for me until I got back home for holiday. That how much she loves me. She is my heroine.
About grandmothers’ gathering
The gathering seeks to strengthen the social-economic importance of grandmothers and bring the issues affecting grandmothers to the national Agenda by ensuring the inclusion of grandmothers’ agenda in the national policy frameworks for HIV/Aids programming. The gathering will be opened tomorrow Monday, October 5, by the First grandmother, Janet Kataha Museveni and closed on October 7, by the First grandfather, President Museveni.
It is being organised by ROTOM, Reach Out Mbuya Kampala and Luweero, Nyaka Aids Foundation, Kitovu Mobile Aids Care Program, Phoebe Education Foundation, St Francis Health Care Jinja in partnership with The Stephen Lewis Foundation Canada and government of Uganda.