Soft-spoken and down-to-earth, wearing a black and white apron, Sister Mary Peter Namasinga emerges from the kitchen of Kyasira Home of Hope and welcomes us.
After a long ride of 10 kilometres in the scorching sun, and a disturbing sight of two gun-wielding women guarding a group of digging prisoners, the orphanage’s small sitting room feels like a haven, if only because of the cool breeze coming off Lake Victoria. You can hear children, some as young as four, playing in the gardens and in front of their hostel. The older girls though, are preparing the evening meal with the cook.
“Some of these children have no one in the world who cares whether they live or die. Others are brought by relatives who instruct us never to bother them again concerning the child.” Sr Peter’s passion for uplifting the helpless was nurtured in childhood. “My father loved helpless people. I remember a blind man who came home for lunch every Sunday. The love my father showed him is something I can never forget.”
In 1974, Sr Peter was studying in Primary Five in Manzi village, Kabuwoko in Masaka District. That year, one of the nuns at her school announced that Cardinal Nsubuga was going to start the Good Samaritan institution in Nalukolongo, Kampala, and wanted young girls to volunteer to join. These young girls would eventually become nuns.
“It did not bother me because I had always admired nuns. When we were told that the Sisters would be looking after old people, my interest increased. Thirteen of us volunteered and we were the pioneers of the institution. Now, only six of us are left.
“There were Kenyan nuns living in Nalukolongo, and when they left, we replaced them,” recounts Sister Peter. In 1978, Cardinal Nsubuga founded the Mapeera Bakateyamba Home. For more than 10 years, Sr Peter remained in the Home serving and looking after the elderly and disabled.
“Over the years, I have discovered that many helpless people die not because it is their time to die, but because there is no one to care for them.”
The war that ousted president Idi Amin also forced the nuns and their elderly charges to run for safety to Masaka for a few months. And so it happened that after 10 years serving at the Home, Sr Peter returned to school. By this time, she was Sister Superior of the Home.
“I really did not want to study again. I was contented with my work, but I was told it was necessary. I did not know that a nun needed professional qualifications.” After studies and some jobs, she ended up in Kyasira Home of Hope in 2013.
Running Kyasira orphanage
The orphanage was also started by Cardinal Nsubuga and is run by the Good Samaritan Sisters.
Some children are brought in by village elders to the Home, which Sr Peter runs with six other Sisters. Most of the bigger boys were working in sand quarries or as fishermen.
“Besides educating the children, we teach them how to pray by praying together in the chapel every evening. It is touching to hear them praying for the street children and suffering orphans, asking God to bring people who can help them.”
Bringing up girls is not easy, especially when they are in the vicinity of fishermen and quarry workers, but the Sisters counsel them, and also invite counsellors from Kisubi Brothers University College to talk to them.”
Current status and future plans
Some children have donors who pay their school fees, with an emphasis on them attending vocational institutes after completing Senior Six. The orphanage has a 35-acre farm on which food is grown and livestock reared for food and sale.
“One of our donors facilitated the construction of the boys and girls dormitories. Another one, has given us funds to construct a school to sustain the Home.”
So far, classes up to Primary Five have been built. St Adrian Kindergarten and Junior School Kyasira will open for the school term in February 2016.
Annet Nanyonjo, 18, a resident of the orphanage;
When my mother married another man, I went to live with them. They separated when I was five, and she left me in his home. I was mistreated.
My father came for me when I was about seven years old and in Primary Two. He had no money and no job. The house we lived in was so dilapidated that it would sheaver from the cold.
When it rained, he would wake me up so that we would leave the house. My father was an alcoholic and he was unable to send me to school.
Instead, he took me to dig in people’s farms, at a fee, so that we could buy food.
Sometimes, he drank so much that he would fall by the roadside. I would sit next to him, waiting for him to wake up so that we could walk home.
Later, he took me to live with my grandmother who took me back to Baby Class. She paid for my fees until Primary Three. The chairman of Bugabo village paid my fees for a year until 2008, when he brought me to Kyasira where I began school in Primary Five. My father died in 2012 but I do not know if my mother is still alive or not.
One time, I went back to visit Jajja but she did not have money to buy for me black books needed at school. At the orphanage, if you have relatives to visit, you should not come back empty-handed.
Because Jajja did not have money, I had to get work cutting roses on a flower farm for two weeks before I made enough money to buy books and leave her some.
She died last year although the Sisters did not tell me until I had completed my Senior Four examinations at Kisubi Mapeera Senior Secondary School.
I am waiting for the results so that I can apply to Buloba Teacher Training College. I want to become a teacher.”