There will always be a person in school that leaves you with good memories because of the way they treated you well.
For many people, it is a teacher but for many old boys of Mugwanya Preparatory School, Kabojja, Josephine Kakuliremu commonly known to them as Nurse Amooti is the one they will always remember. For 36 years, she has treated pupils in this school, and her work went beyond simply administering medicine; she has been a mother and a friend to many of the boys.
This was important because Kabojja is a primary boarding school and since pupils spend most of the year in school, they definitely needed a motherly figure away from home.
Kakuliremu, who we will call Nurse Amooti, since most of those who she has cared for know her as such, set foot in Kabojja in 1977. She was fresh out of nursing school.
“It was on 27 January, 1977. I had just graduated from Nsambya Training Institute where I studied nursing and midwifery. The tutor called Sister Sallie had children here but she was based in Masaka. She recommended me to the late Brother Emmanuel Kisitu,” she recounts.
However, Amooti went to Kiboga Hospital where she worked briefly; she needed more convincing which Brother Kisitu did.
“He told me school was a good place to work and I would be happy,” she recollects with her signature mother smile. And so she joined the school.
Back in 1977, Kabojja had a small pupil population since it only run up to Primary Four. From there, pupils would continue with their primary education and sit for Primary Leaving Exams (PLE) at St. Savio Junior School, located along the Kampala-Entebbe highway. Both schools are run by the Brother of Christian Instruction, a Christian educational organisation.
The first time at school
Nurse Amooti remembers first setting foot in Kabojja on a Friday, two days before the term officially opened.
“When I came here, they gave me a big house. I came on Friday and on Sunday the boys reported. It was a very interesting day, the first day. I was very young. I was 24 and very nervous,” she recalls.
She adds, “On the first day I did not know what to do. Parents were bringing in drugs to be used to treat their children. It was very hard to get a hold of these boys, especially grasping their names. I could not speak Luganda. I could only speak Rutoro and English.”
She maintained communication with the parents and pupils in English. There were about 400 pupils to take care of at the dispensary. Nurse Amooti says this was at least a manageable number compared to the current pupil population of over 1,000.
“It also helped me deal with the fear I had. There was a Doctor Sebuliba, a paediatrician who worked with Mulago but had a child here. He occasionally came around to supervise me,” she narrates.
But Amooti’s fear lay in the fact that the parents of the pupils were responsible and “people of class”.
“They were elites. They were no nonsense people, some of them were ministers, some lawyers, doctors and they were rich,” she says, with a smile.
Slowly the fear disappeared. “I simply liked the way the brothers handled pupils. They were disciplinarians, so diplomatic and superb. I decided that all my children should pass through their hands and that is what happened,” she explains as one of the reasons that kept her treating pupils for the three decades.
The job came with its challenging moments and times.
“In 1979, things turned upside down. Idi Amin overthrew Obote and soldiers from Tanzania came and took over this place. They took the school truck and we had to run for our dear lives to Bugunga, Mpigi then Kibibi. That is where we stayed for two months,” she recollects.
Word went around that the rebels had left but when the school administrators returned, the soldiers still occupied the school.
“In fact they had set up a sort of base here with big guns. They had looted the sickbay and used the drugs. Some of their commanders stayed in it.”
Looting the school
The rebels stayed for about three months. “They broke in. I do not know how because I was not around. They went on to slaughter and eat the cows from the school farm. The break-in happened in December and in February we re-opened the school,” she adds.
It was generally a fulfilling experience for her because she says if a boy said he was sick then he was really sick and he needed to be taken seriously.
Everyone who has gone through Kabojja will tell you about their experiences but many will agree they feigned cough just to have a taste of the sweet cough syrup. That is why when I ask nurse Amooti about this she breaks out laughing knowing even your writer was one of such cheeky pupils. We could not have enough of this syrup.
“I knew you would ask that. There is a time when the line would become so long so I had to change and start giving a sour cough syrup. I could not send the boys away because I could not tell who was sick and who was not. These were young boys away from home who had a sweet tooth, so I let them take it and they would be happy,” she explains.
Some of the commonest illnesses the pupils report are cough and flu. She says: “Those were a must, then malaria. It was different those days. Nowadays every child has to come with a pre-sprayed mosquito net. We also test everybody. We have testing kits for malaria.”
Nurse Amooti says that the challenge remains when the parents go visiting. “The visitors contaminate us again. Some of the children that come with the parents infect the pupils with flu.”
The feeding schedule has improved over the years as well as the meal times.
“The children feed well. In the dining hall there is an extra plate for pupils who want it. They can even take three or five cups of porridge.
They eat and gain weight. The problem comes when they refuse to eat. When they have just come and are new I tell them that the food at school tastes different from the one at home but they have to eat and get used to the food,” she says.
Pupils have breakfast at 7am which comprises soya, maize or millet porridge. This is served with bread. They eat porridge again at break time. They have lunch and at 4pm a snack awaits them as they wait for supper.
Nurse Amooti has treated thousands of pupils, many of whom are now politicians and entrepreneurs. Some of the notable old boys include former Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, UBC Manager Tonny Owana and Roger Mugisha, now with Kfm.
At 60 she has grown older and that is one of the reasons she is bowing out. The other reason is about giving young people a chance. “There are many people looking for jobs and it is good for me to leave when I am still strong and can do other things.
I make 60 on February 28,” she says. In her retirement, Nurse Amooti is doing poultry farming and growing fresh foods. She also has some cows. This is at her home near the school. And when she is not tending to her garden or checking on her layers and broilers, she likes keeping fit by jogging.
“I also like my spiritual life, so you will also find me in church praying. I am Catholic. I like visiting and comforting people when they are troubled. Occasionally I go and visit my mum. She is 80 years,” Nurse Amooti adds.
She is clearly proud of the work she has done and hopes that the spirit of motherliness and friendliness is continued at the sickbay.
What former students say about her
Lawrence Mukasa (1986 and 1991)
Nurse Amooti gave life skills to more than 500 pupils a year to ensure their safety on behalf of their parents, the kids themselves, and the general staff. Imagine, between 1986 and 1991 when I was there, there was only the cough mixture but we escaped Malaria, Meningitis, and the like. God bless you Nurse Amooti
Joseph Kabuli (1991-1997)
I remember her for serving us, myself, John Bosco Notate, Elias Mulindwa, Brian Senyonga, Dennis Mucunguzi, Martin Luutu, Phillip Luutu and Ivan Nsaale, among others. We would fall sick and be fed on a better meal of rice and beans and some cough mixture syrup. She should surely retire gracefully.