Jerome Mugume* and Lynette Kansiime* (not real names), are siblings learning to bury their co-mothers’ enmity which split their family like a restaurant knife does an avocado. At the peak of the co-wife hostility, Kansiime’s mother stabbed Mugume’s mother several times to death.
The boy and the girl, now teenagers, were aged five and three years, respectively. Kansiime’s mother was jailed for eight years, and their father, unbothered, moved on with his polygamous ways, marrying another two women, who mistreated the children.
Thanks to Prison Fellowship Uganda’s (PFU) intervention, Mugume and Kansiime have since grown up as brother and sister, despite their family misfortunes.
Both have been promoted to Primary Seven and though they attend different schools, they spend holidays together and as their “new mother”, Irene Namwano says, “They are very compatible siblings. They love each other; they get along pretty well. It’s the boy who taught the girl how to ride a bicycle.”
A few metres behind Mukono prison, is the home where Namwano, 57, a former convict and executive director of PFU, keeps “her children”. Next to the main house, which doubles as PFU offices, are four rooms, where the children live before and after visiting their families during holidays.
Practicing house chores, such as mopping, laundry and cooking, are part of their holiday package as the backyard gives ample space for playtime. Their decker beds are decorated with success cards and short-story books.
The aura of glee and harmony here conceals their ordeals before they found this home away from home. One boy, who has completed his Primary Leaving Examinations, was born in jail. Another 10-year-old girl now in Primary Three was rescued from a waragi brewery when her mother was imprisoned.
Another boy whose father was killed, and his mother and two brothers are in jail, has had his fortunes transformed from a bleak childhood to a brilliant teenager dreaming of becoming a doctor, eight years after PFU adopted him. His 2015 end-of-year report shows he was the best in Senior One at Seeta High School.
Experience being the best teacher, Namwano’s detention is what bent her heart towards prisoners’ children. As chief accountant of one bank (she never discloses the name), she had for long swindled huge amounts of the bank’s money.
Then the turning point: In 1993, she went to a Pentecostal church, seeking a pastor’s hand in prayer. “I thought I was a big sinner that’s why, possibly, God was not answering my prayers.” She was Anglican.
For four years, she had battled with breast cancer. She endured chemotherapy but when the doctor proposed surgery, she feared and sought divine intervention.
She had not told anybody, not even the pastor, about the cancer but she was surprised when the pastor proclaimed, ‘Among us is a lady with a problem on her left breast; whoever is around her, lay your hands on her and pray for her.’ “Those words came with power and I collapsed; my breast began shaking and soon, I felt healed. That’s when I became born-again”.
After the miracle, she felt indebted to God and chose to renew her spiritual life. She could no longer “sit” on the bank’s money. She blew the whistle against herself. “I was ready to lose a job to get into the good books of Heaven.”
In what looked like sheer madness, Namwano confessed she had been stealing from the bank’s treasury, a confession that sent her to jail.
She recounts: “At first nobody believed me; they thought I was crazy, because the auditors had just finished their work and hadn’t found any deficits.” But she showed them how she did it.
By the time she confessed, she owed the bank Shs12m because she had secretly returned the bigger sum. She had, however, sold most of her property and the grace period expired before returning the Shs12m. Namwano was sued and sentenced to three years in prison in 1993.
“Even the judge thought I was mad. On my way to prison, warders mocked me: ‘“You think you are going to heaven but you are going to hell, Luzira (prison) is hell’,” she recalls. “A local paper wrote Saved woman earns herself three years in jail” but she was unmoved and, she has never regretted it.