stick to the plan

Stick To The Plan

An Opportunity To Change My Life

In 1995, my wealthy paternal uncle came to my home village (Ngogwe, Buikwe) for a burial of one of the clan members. After the burial, my dad spoke to him about allowing me to live with him and his family. They lived in Kisowera, which is on the outskirts of Mukono Town. He accepted.

I was 11 years old and I was in Primary 3 as per my country’s education system. When I left home, I only had one bag that contained 2 pairs of shorts and three t-shirts. I  didn’t have much. I was born into a poor family; all of my elders had dropped out of school. So, even though I was young, I was excited about this opportunity to change my life. I wanted to get an education, and this opportunity would allow me to stick to the plan.

When I reached my uncle’s home, it was like heaven! I had never seen a house with electricity, running water, a cooker, a TV! These didn’t exist in my home village. The excitement quickly changed, though. Soon after I got there, I saw my uncle in a bitter disagreement with his wife. My auntie didn’t like that her husband brought a “stranger” into the home. This marked the beginning of my suffering.

The Beginning Of My Suffering

My uncle had over 15 children with numerous women. In the home I was staying in, there were 3 children around my age and 5 younger children. My auntie used to call them to her bedroom whenever she prepared or bought something special to eat. She did this to prevent them from sharing with me. 

Once they were finished enjoying their treats, she would make me wash the dishes. Sometimes I would be able to eat their leftovers. I was always fed posho and beans, which is the food that’s fed to prisoners in my culture. I was not allowed to eat bread. 

By the age of 11, I was able to do most of the house chores. I could clean, cook, do laundry, wash vehicles, trim flowers, operate a lawn mower, and so much more.

stick to the plan
Me and my cousins In front of my uncle’s residence (1998)

The Struggles At School

There was a low-grade primary school across from my uncle’s home. It’s called Kisowera Primary School and it’s where they took me to continue my education. My uncle couldn’t take me to a good school because I wasn’t one of his own. Because I had a poor education back in the village, it was difficult to keep up with the kids in the new school.  I couldn’t read or write, so I was advised to retake P.3. I repeated the grade, and because I was older the kids used to call me “Jjajja” which meant grandfather.

Before the start of each school term, my uncle would go shopping. He always took a big vehicle when he went. He would ask all of us children what we needed for school. My cousins would make a list that included items like mattresses, blankets, bed sheets, shoes, flat irons, vacuum flasks, etc. My list only had a geometry set, 2 pens, a pencil, and 5 exercise books. 

Every time my uncle returned from the shopping trip, I would watch him hand out all of the supplies his children asked for, but I never received my school supplies. Thankfully, because I was a bright kid, the headteacher, Mr. Kasirye, provided me with school supplies; he always provided school supplies to reward the best students in the class. This helped me stick to the plan of getting my education.

Before going to class every day, my auntie would wake me up at 5 am when my cousins were still asleep. I was supposed to wash utensils, mop the house, and clean the compound. She would then double-check each cleaned area. If she didn’t think it was clean enough, she would pick me from class to go back home and clean it again. That would mean a school day lost. She was able to do this because the school was close and she was very powerful in the area. Both my auntie and uncle were members of parliament. 

I always went to school barefoot. This really confused people, because they thought my uncle was my real dad. They always wondered why a prominent politician’s son would go to school barefoot. In my culture, we call the paternal uncle “Taata” which literally means dad. This makes it difficult to distinguish biological kids from their cousins. There are no words that translate to “cousin” in my culture—we are all brothers and sisters. So, kids would laugh at me saying, “honourable is not putting on shoes”.

The Visit Of President Clinton

Life at my uncle’s place was hard. Before I was brought in, my dad had worked for my uncle. My uncle had a passenger transportation bus and my biological father was the manager/conductor. It’s alleged that my dad mismanaged the funds from the transportation business and I had to pay for his mistakes. Whenever someone asked my uncle, “Who is this kid? Is he your son?” He would always reply, “No, that’s Sam’s son. Don’t you remember Sam who stole my money from the passenger bus? That’s my thief brother’s son!” It always made me so sad.

As I stated earlier, my uncle had at least 15 children from over ten women. One of those women moved to California, USA. She was the mother of two of my younger cousins. Every three months, this lady sent a package with clothes and toys. Each piece of clothing or toy was labeled with the recipient’s name, mine included. Unfortunately, I never got them because my auntie would always pick them out of the package.

In March 1998, former US President Bill Clinton came to Uganda and came to visit my school, Kisowera Primary School. Because I was a bright kid, the headteacher selected me to walk hand-in-hand with President Clinton. I was very excited, but there was one problem; I didn’t have shoes and a proper school uniform. My teacher told to inform my uncle of the opportunity so that he could buy me a school uniform and a black pair of shoes. My uncle refused, and I lost the opportunity.

During Clinton’s visit, we were showered with a lot of opportunities. For instance, I was given a scholarship to study in any school in Uganda or outside of the country. The opportunity was from one of the aides of President Clinton. She drafted some forms which were given to me to take to my uncle. They needed his approval, but he refused to sign them. This made me lose the opportunity to study in some of the best schools in the country as well.

Back To The Village 

It was later revealed that my uncle was jealous of me because I was brighter than his biological kids. That’s why he didn’t want me to go far with my education. This is why he intentionally made it so hard to stick to the plan. This all happened without my biological parents’ knowledge. It’s like they had abandoned me. They never came to visit me when I lived at my uncle’s place.

When I reached primary 7 (the final year in that level), my uncle called me and told me that he was taking me back to the village. He explained to me that he had no money to pay for the registration of my primary final examinations (about $4 at that time). I went to my head teacher to inform him about it. The headteacher offered to take me to his home and take care of me, but my uncle declined and drove me back to my village.

When my uncle took me back to the village, I kind of lost hope in receiving a good education. I tried to stick to the plan, but it was out of my control. The schools back in the village were in a sorry state. I had to walk 9km from my home to Bubiro Primary School every day. But luckily I was well-prepared academically from the former primary school. I managed to score highly in the primary living exams which won me a scholarship for secondary education. This finally gave me hope for my education, because my biological parents couldn’t afford to pay for my tuition. 

stick to the plan
Photo taken at Bubiro Primary School -Buikwe (1999)

I Beat The Odds

I studied so hard that I was able to attend Makerere University, which is the best University in Uganda. Finally, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business computing. I’m now one of the most educated individuals in my family, this includes my uncle’s family. Since getting my bachelor’s degree, I haven’t stopped. Now I’m pursuing an MBA. I also run my own business and have a wife and kids! Life is good despite some COVID-19 challenges. 

Throughout my hardships, I’ve learned some positive lessons.

  1. The house chores taught me to be hardworking. I learned how to wake up early, and this has helped me to be punctual at work. It also taught me how to be timely with clients’ tasks.
  2. Being brought back to the village taught me that no matter where life takes you, you have to stick to the plan. My goal was to be educated, so I stuck to the plan and I managed to achieve it.
  3. My story also taught me to forgive. I forgave my uncle and auntie despite how ill they treated me.
  4. Lastly, I learned that when a door closes, a window of opportunities open.

This story was selflessly submitted by Katumba Charles.

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