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Raising Five on $1.20 a day

poverty uganda

She is willing to face all kinds of hardships so that her sons can go to school

Sarah Tumwebaze

It’s a cold and wet morning. Most people are wearing jackets and covered shoes. As I walk towards the community hall at Wabigalo, hands in my jacket pockets, I see an elderly lady, she is dressed in a long maroon dress with cotton, netted shoes on her feet. I ask myself whether she is not feeling the biting coldness. But I just let it pass.

When she sees me, she starts walking towards me and when she gets closer, she starts smiling and then introduces herself as Ms Hadijja Kavuma, the lady I am supposed to interview.

After brief introductions we start walking towards her place of work. As we walk, I start talking about the weather and how bad it is. She looks at me and smiles then says, “My daughter, I stopped feeling the cold the day I realized that it was only me and my children in this world.”

Ms Hadijja is a 53-year-old single mother. She has five children aged between 25 and 15.  She has been married twice. “I have been married twice, in my first marriage, I gave birth to three children all girls and in my second marriage I gave birth to two boys.”

During her first marriage, she was living a mediocre lifestyle. A house wife in Butaleja District whose only worry was to watch over her children and take care of her husband. One day she chose to go and check on her parents in the village. She stayed there for two weeks and on her return, she found another woman in her place.

“When I came back from my parent’s home after two weeks, I found when my husband had brought another woman into our house. When I complained, he threw me out but refused to give me my children. So I went back to my parent’s home,” she explains with no expression on her face.

After staying at her parent’s home for a month and all this while, her husband was not willing to take her back, she decided to look for a job. “In Butaleja, there was nothing much I could do, so I came here in Kampala to live with my friend.”

Her friend was staying in Makindye. She gave her Shs30,000 ($12) as starting capital. “I used that money to buy spices which I used to sell along the streets of Kampala.”

In 1992, she left her friend’s place because by that time, her friend had gotten married. She got a one roomed house in Wabigalo as she continued selling the spices. While at Wabigalo, she found another man.

He was a muganda man who was caring. After a few months of dating, she moved in with him. They gave birth to two boys. From the time her last born was born her husband stopped caring.

“He stopped coming back home and even stopped paying rent for the house. When the boys started school, he told me that he had gotten another woman. I was very hurt.”

In 2008 Hadijja moved out and rented a single room for herself plus her two sons. Since then, life has been a hard. “I still sell spices though I was able to get a stall a kilometer away from my house. However, the money I get from selling these spices is not enough.”

At the moment, both her sons are in secondary (College) one is in senior three and the other one is in senior five.  But the boys need Shs300,000 ($66) per a term yet in a day she earns a maximum of Shs3,000 ($1 and 22 cents) as profit from her stall.

She has to pay Shs60,000 ($24) as monthly rent for her one roomed house and Shs20,000 ($8) as rent for her stall. She also needs to give her sons money for up keep while at school.

“I have to give my eldest son (18 years) Shs1,500 (half a dollar) as transport and up keep because his school is three kilo meters away from home. I also need to give Shs1,000 to my youngest son (15 years) as up keep. I put him in a nearer school so that he does not have to walk for a long distance. However at times, when I do not have money, they both go to school without a cent. On such days, my eldest son misses class because by the time he gets to school, they will have closed the gate. Yet I cannot let him leave home when it’s still dark because I am afraid that he might find thugs along the way and they mug him,” she says with a sad look on her face.

The single mother adds that nice warm clothes, blankets, and bed sheets are a luxury to her. “Things like nice warm clothes, shoes, blankets and bed sheets turned out to be a luxury to me the day I realized that I was the one to take care of these two boys. Nowadays, all the money I get, I put it aside for their school fees and rent.”

She also uses this money to buy their single meal a day which is mostly of either posho or matooke with sauce like silver fish, ground nuts or cabbage. However, she only buys the food and gets the sauce from her stall.

She explains that to substitute on her income, she joined a group of ten women who collect money every week and in a week, one of them gets Shs100,000($32). Through this group, she is able to raise at least shs200,000 towards her sons’ school fees in a term.

However, even this does not rule out cases of lack. In 2008, she fell sick and thus could not work. “I sent my children to live with their grandparents in the village because I did not have money to feed them and take them to school. So, that whole year, they did not go to school.”

But to rule out any more such happenings, Ms Hadijja advised her sons to always do odd jobs so that they can raise some money. “I encouraged them to start working on construction sites during holidays where they earn Shs5,000 ($2) every day.”

While other people’s choices are driven by the kind of lifestyle they live, Ms Hadijja’s choices are driven by what she wants her children to be. “My two sons are the only reason I wake up every day at 5a.m and walk in the dark to Owino market to buy spices so that I can sell them and pay their school fees. It does not matter whether I never go to the salon or never wear nice clothes. I know that when they complete school and get good jobs, I will have all that luxury. But for now, I will endure all kinds of hardships and bad looks so that my boys can have a bright future,” she says with a faint smile as she sells tomatoes to one of her customers.

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