At first glance, she passes off as your ordinary woman going about her business at her agro-inputs shop in Kireka, a city suburb.
However, this simple and down-to-earth woman, I later learn, is Mariam Nabadda, a mother with a heart, so big, that her five children nominated her for the MTN Heroine award of the year.
The concept of the competition was for members of the public to write essays about their heroes and why they deserved the award. Out of more than 30,000 entrants, 50-year-old Nabadda who emerged as the overall winner of the MTN Hero of the Month competition.
This award is an elation only known to Nabadda, who has struggled as a single mother for years to fend for her children. She was married to a Muslim man, the third of his five wives, but she rarely talks about it during the interview. She prefers to talk about her slow rise to this new-found stardom.
The lone struggle begins
About 15 years ago, Nabadda started out as a trader selling fertilisers at Nakasero Market. She was employed by the late Hassan Bukenya, who brought her to the market to help him supply agro-inputs. With her certificate in veterinary medicine coming in handy, Nabadda slowly mastered the trade.
“We would be at the market by 4am to supply the products to wholesalers, who would later sell them in retail,” she recounts.
The little money she earned from her job would cater for her rent, as well as pay school fees for her five children. Being a polygamous man, it was hard for her husband to fend for them.
“You know our Muslim men are not easy. You could be about five women and there is not so much attention given to you. My husband is a long distance driver and would go months without coming home. Eventually, I decided to move on in 1999,” she says.
Striving to educate her children
After she decided to move on without her husband, Nabadda got the job at Nakasero to take care of her children’s needs like education. “I resolved to place all my children in boarding schools when they got to Top Class. I did not want to hustle with maids, so, I ensured that they learnt how to fend for themselves so that they took care of the home chores themselves,” she explains.
Of course, there were times the money was not enough to pay fees for her children. During such times, Nabadda sought assistance from women’s saving groups at the market.
She subscribed to three groups. For the first group, she deposited Shs5,000 per day; to another she made a weekly contribution of Shs10,000; while to the third was a monthly contribution of Shs100,000.
“Loans from the savings schemes saved me a lot. Most of the time, I would approach them and they would approve my request on time because I always paid back in time too,” Nabadda explains.
It is through such perseverance that she has been able to take all her children through school. Her first born, Hassan Shafique Jjunju, completed university and is a teacher by profession, and the last born is in Senior Two at Hassan Turabi Secondary School. Her second born, Halima Nabuwufu. The other two, Ramathan Kalema and Asuman Kasadda are in Senior Six and Senior Four respectively.
“My trick to seeing them to school has been to ensure that I clear their school fees before they go for a new term. I also ensured that I did not burden anyone for financial help. Timing and financial discipline is important,” she says.
Her children, she says, have never lacked anything at school and she ensures that she visits them to check their progress. Her children have never been sent home over delays in paying their fees.
Reaping where she sows
Nabadda has also been able to buy several pieces of land in Nkokonjeru and Zirobwe using her savings. Currently, she is focusing on her agro-input business, which she opened up in 2010, where she says she is making money to sustain her family.
“I have struggled to make my family what it is today. If it wasn’t for Allah, I honestly do not know what I would have done.
I believe in not burdening any one for help, that is why I chose to work hard to be where I’m today,” Nabadda stresses.
Even though she does not live with the father of her children, she has taught them to respect him. What she relishes most is spending time with them and listening to them.