That she is 79 years old does not stop Josephine Namakula from taking care of impoverished children, a vocation she claims to have taken when she just 12 years old. She believes she has brought positive change to lives of hundreds of people that the community had preferred to waste away. It is what, she says, gives her joy and pride, and guarantees her eternal life.
Namakula prefers to be addressed as “great daughter of Mary of Nazareth”, because she is a nun by religious devotion.
At her establishment in Kayirikiti Zone II, Nyendo Ssenyange Division, in Masaka Municipality, is a foster home that has existed for more than 40 years, and that has taken care of deserted children and orphans and helped transform their lives.
Namakula says the idea of taking care of children formed in her mind when she was merely a girl of 12 years, shortly after losing her parents. “I was so hurt that my precious gifts were no more in life. I was uncertain of how I was going to make it to the next level in life, without my biological parents.”
Even when her grandparents stood in for her, Namakula says she did not stop missing her mother and father. That is how she came to think of other children whose parents, like hers, had died while they were still young, leaving them feeling lost. “I wondered how such children were coping with life’s challenges without parents. They became part of my daily prayers, I requested God to inspire me to help them,” she says.
Her dream was further strengthened by a story she heard. It happened on a Sunday, when she accompanied her grandmother for prayers in their home district of Kalangala. “It was a testimony of despair of a young orphaned girl, who had turned wild, after going through different sorts of abuse by her uncles who wanted her parents property.
“Although I could not help at the time, I felt touched by this sad story, and it was from that day, that a strong dream of restoring joy in such lives sprouted deep inside me,” she says.
Namakula, who insists that the desire to help is bound to her Catholic faith, says the more she heard such painful stories, and saw children suffering, the more she felt burdened to help.
“I was forced to re-adjust my life and learn to accept and start associating with these children, playing and sharing most of my time with them. Namakula’s grandparents run short of school fees, and so she was only able to study up to Primary Six at Bwanda Primary School. She was then taken to train as a Catholic sister, in the congregation of Daughters of Mary based in Ggaba, Kampala. At the college, Namakula also received training in vocational and crafts skills.
A heart for children
“But the passion and aspirations of helping disadvantaged children followed me up to the convent, to the extent that more and more children collected around me. Because I closely associated with these unfortunate children, it groomed me into a comforter of young people, with a number of them wishing to keep around me all the time.
“Some preferred to sleep next to me, because I presumably brought hope to their lives. One time at the convent, fellow nuns alleged that I had been a mother before I joined, something that took me time to explain with justifications, to clear myself of the claim,” she adds, revealing that she had to go for her grandmother to back up the explanation, before she was cleared.
The children that gathered around her, became the reason she started working hard, so as to fulfill their demands, to create a safe and joyous environment that brought comfort to them.
In the 1960s her tenancy as a full time nun at Ggaba expired and she was passed out to train other females in the vocational skills she had acquired.
She later started an artisan workshop in Nyendo which she has maintained to date.
At the workshop, a variety of crafts are made including, mats, baskets, hats made from bark cloth and door mats among others, which are currently earning her a good amount of money.
“This became a grand opportunity for me to show more care to even more children who sought my attention and in a short time, the numbers grew,” she narrates, adding that although her focus was on total orphans, community and church leaders also started recommending mistreated children they came across to her care.
“I would wake up and find babies dumped at my crafts workshop and I had to take them up and assimilate them in the home,” says the diligent mother who has never been married or had a biological child. Over 300 foster children have passed through her hands.
With encouragement and help of her only brother, (the late Father Joseph Musaanya), she managed to find money and purchased the piece of land (2.5 acres) where she was renting a house in Nyendo, and it is on this that St Nazareth’s Children’s Home, was permanently set up.
After 10 years of offering casual foster care, Namakula decided to legitimatise the home and was granted a certificate of registration in 1976. Although, Namakula says, the government has never offered support of any kind to this home, regional probations offices have referred several children to it.
St Nazareth’s Children’s Home thereby became the pioneer home that collected and took care of destitute children in the greater Masaka region, and it has taken care of hundreds of impoverished children, including those got from streets, and rehabilitated them into responsible human beings.
The home could initially take 25 children at a time, but Namakula says when the demand increased, she had to expand to hold a capacity of at least 80 at once.
However, not all the children stay at the home all the time; some, who have been given scholarships by sympathisers are in boarding schools. Namakula provides tertiary and vocational education to her children and some even go up to the university level. The children are provided with a safe home environment, with strict guidelines observed and reinforced by the grown-ups.
She is able to sustain the home with the finances from the crafts shop, a sizeable poultry farm, and other commercial farming practices that also keep the children busy during holidays. This is complemented by donations from well-wishers. Also, some of the children that went through her hands come back and contribute to the operations and its sustainability. “They look at me as their mother and father, and listen to my advice,” she says.
According to Namakula, parenting children with different background demands that one is tolerant to all situations, supportive, has a sense of humour, and exhibits commitment to serving others. “These are the obvious principles parents are meant to observe in life,” she says. She ,however, reveals that she is often challenged in situations when she has to act as a father to discipline the children and at the same a mother who is supposed to be lenient. “This balance of responsibilities is actually a complicated affair,” she admits.
When it comes to medical attention, Namakula refers all cases of sickness to the church founded Kitovu Hospital, where she is substantially helped. This could be the reason she is so proud that most of her children have never succumbed to terrible illnesses while at the home. It was only a while back that some children died at the home, shortly after they had been brought to her.
“I buried them here after notifying the authorities,” she says, pointing at the graves.
Although Namakula is a staunch Catholic, she says does not force her faith onto any of the children, however she emphasises that prayer is mandatory. “The home has different religious affiliations, and my role is to ensure that the children absorb them effectively. In fact this has greatly helped me keep the home at peace, and easily usher in reforms and morals.”
Her other challenge is in choosing names for children who are brought to her before they can talk. “That’s when I resort to naming them according to the appearance or mode of their acquisition, and the rest I seek guidance of the religious leaders,” she reveals. The granny chooses to pass on her Kiganda values that she is conversant with, regardless of the diversity of tribes at the home.
For Namakula, having more children dumped at her home is good news, certainly better than hearing of any dumped in pits. Although she rarely receives direct foreign assistance, she says God has always inspired many well-wishers who have provided and fended for the home.
Some of her worst moments have been seeing young children suffer. It is why she is not shy about publically declaring her will to whoever visits her home, suggesting that the land maintains its current status quo of a foster home.
“I managed to secure a land title for this home, not for anybody else but the impoverished children and God will always provide for at this centre. I wouldn’t want to have this work die with me,” Namakula bluntly tells her visitors.
Still going strong
Currently, the home has 36 nursery children, 15 in primary, 13 in secondary, six at university level, and nine in tertiary levels. It also has several babies with two pairs of twins. Namakula also reveals that ever since she started the home, only three parents have ever turned up to claim and take away the children.
She has received several awards for being a passionate community transformer. She won the High Achiever’s Award 2013, for the southern region, has a token of appreciation by Rotary International, an award for the Most Generous Person by Masaka Diocese and another from Masaka District Probations office, among other certificates of appreciation.
She, however, observes that there is a drastic increase in child neglect cases, but vows to maintain her welcoming hands, believing that God will reward her for her works. “It is why He has kept me alive this long even when my brother passed on four years ago,” she says with a smile, but doesn’t forget to applaud the contributions of Rotary Club International, where her late brother was a member.
A DAY AT ST NAZARETH CHILDREN’S HOME
The structural setup of St Nazareth Children’s Home is that of an ordinary family environment anyone can fit into. Its compound has beautiful flowers, and is surrounded by cypress trees that act as a fence.
There is a contemporary-looking main house partitioned into seven separate bedrooms for the girls and babies, a well-furnished dining and sitting room and study room where children do the homework from. The boys are accommodated in separate quarters within the compound.
The day begins with prayers at 5.30am for adults, who arrange for breakfast and prepare the children for school, before they leave for their respective workplaces, except on Sundays.
The grownup children do some housework in the morning depending on the assignment roster pinned in one of the corners.
At sunrise, Namakula wakes the babies, and bathes them before they are fed on either porridge or eggs depending on the age. She then distributes toys amongst them as she prepares lunch in her kitchen which is close to the workshop and does some craft work at noon time. The children are left to engage with other children from the neighbourhood. “This is when I also get to identify which baby is sick and weak,” Namakula says. Supper is always prepared by the grown up girls, as the boys wash the clothes. In the evening all children converge and watch TV, while they help each with school assignments.
They then say their prayers at 8pm and take their supper. Namakula says she is last to go bed when all the doors and gates have been shut and locked, before 10pm.