After serving for nine years as a nun in the congregation of the Catholic Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Reparatrix, popularly known as Ggogonya Sisters, Josephine Namakula declined to take the vows for life for personal reasons.
The then young and energetic lady decided to serve the Lord outside the convent as she had realised that “God is in heaven, earth and everywhere.”
She chose to live a simple and silent life. The 86-year-old has for nearly five decades been battling against all odds to care for homeless children at Nazareth Children’s Home in Kayirikiti Village, Nyendo in Masaka Town.
Namakula, fondly known as Mama Nazareth, is an extraordinary mother to more than 400 and proud of her vocation, as she calls it.
“After leaving the convent, I briefly worked at Cardinal Nsubuga’s home at Rubaga as a causal worker doing different chores before my brother, the (late) Rev Joseph Musaanya, advised me to start up my own business,” she recalls.
The late Rev Musaanya bought her a piece of plot in Nyendo (opposite Ntake bakery), where she started a small shop to sell crafts she had learnt how to make during her days in the convent.
While in Nyendo, children visited her regularly and at times, some parents sent their children to her to teach them how to make mats, baskets and bangles, among others.
One day, Namakula woke up to find a child on her doorstep. The parent might have dumped it intentionally.
“The baby was innocent and it looked beautiful. The baby had become fatherless and motherless,” she recalls with tears in her eyes.
The abandoned baby brought back sad memories of her parents who died when she was still young.
Namakula was barely one month old when her mother, Feromina Nassali, died. At 14, her father passed on too and the children grew in care of their uncle in Narozari, Buwunga Sub-county, Masaka District.
Maama Nazareth says she could not go on to care for the child without being allowed by authorities. She had to seek for clearance from Masaka Probation Office which permitted her to look after the baby after meeting the requirements.
After a few months of caring for the child, the probation officer asked her to take in more children. “Within six months, I had 10 more children.”
As time went on, her room could no longer sustain the increasing number of children being brought in. In 1970, with help from her old friend Mary Nambi, who had become a nurse, she bought a piece of land of about 2.5 acres where they built a simple house to accommodate more children. To this date, the children’s home still stands on the site.
The home was named Nazareth to reflect the Holy Family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, which also lived in a humble family in the town of Nazareth. The home was granted a certificate of registration in 1976.
Although Namakula walked out of the convent many years ago, she got married and does not have biological children.
“I don’t regret my decision for I have a huge and happy family,” she notes.
Some of the children in her care were got from streets, others were dumped by their parents or orphaned and had no other relative to look after them.
Currently, the orphanage has 75 children, with one at university, seven in secondary schools and the rest in primary section.
With help from several individuals and groups, the home has started up several projects, including piggery and poultry, in addition to the two boda bodas and a crafts shop which contribute a daily income to cater for feed.
“The most difficult thing is to feed the children more so, in these times of hiked items and as we are in the urban setting; nearly everything is bought,” says Andrew Kimbugye, one of Namakula’s ‘sons’, who was taken in at barely five months and has recently graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resource Management from Kampala University.
Although nearly all the children in the orphanage are sent by authorities, the child’s home has never received anything from them.
“Government does not necessary offer food, but we do a lot to support them like looking for foster parents for the children and also at times link them to people or organisations which support them,” says Maria Nagawa, the Masaka probation officer.
In her craft shop, a number of certificates of appreciation and awards welcome you.
In 2013, she won the High Achiever’s Award for the southern region by Rotary International and the same year she was named community transformer of the year by Masaka Pentecostal church. In the following year was dignified as a special woman of all times by Masaka Women’s Network. She has also been awarded as ‘Most Generous Person’ by Masaka Diocese among other certificates of appreciation all for the committed service she has rendered over years her.
Tomorrow, read about Gertrude Nakalanzi Ssebugwawo, an educationist who has inspired youth.