Friday February 21 2014

The woman with a big heart for children

Joyce Nantalo with some of the children she

Joyce Nantalo with some of the children she takes care of. Nantalo provides a place of solace and fun for children whose parents are too busy to be with them in the afternoons after school. Photo by Amos Ngwomoya 


On a Tuesday afternoon, I set off for Kawaala Central Zone, Rubaga Division, Kampala, to meet Joyce Nantalo, a mother of four. Nantalo, I am told, has a big heart for children and as such, has opened her home to any child in the neighbourhood who is in need of a meal, a place to spend their afternoons, fellow children to play with, and basically a family setting.
I walk past the shanty houses and corridors and luckily enough, I meet an old woman who directs me to this Good Samaritan’s home. Upon getting to Nantalo’s house, I find utensils scattered everywhere in the compound.

A happy home
Children are playfully banging the doors and I can hear the screams of others behind the house. I find two children playing and when they see me, they walk away shyly since I am a stranger. They stand arms akimbo, staring at me from a safe distance and when I ask them where their mother is, they run into the house.

I stand outside feeling stranded, until I hear the groaning of a man I later discover is Nantalo’s husband, who has been sick for the last few months. I enter the house to check. Soon, Nantalo arrives and I breathe a sigh of relief. She tells me that she had gone to fetch water. Children happily swarm her as she tries to welcome them into her home. The love she shows these children leaves me impressed. We sit down and Nantalo tells me her story. The 27-year-old, who is a Primary Four dropout, says her mother died when she was 12 years and since her older sister was already married, she decided to find refuge at her place in Katwe. When she got there, her sister told her to be her housegirl and said she would be paid monthly.
“I was quite surprised to see that my own sister had called me to be her maid. Since we share the same blood, I decided to do so. I thought I would go back to school but my hopes became a far off cry,” she says.

She later got a job in Shauri Yako market, vending food but was mistreated by her boss. She eventually left and in 2001 she married a carpenter who lived in Kawaala. Nantalo is happy with the decision she made because, she says, she is enjoying her marriage.
“My husband provided all the necessities I wanted,” she says. After a while, she got a job in Kasubi Market and later, she and her husband bought land, where they built a home.
In Kawaala, she has created a strong relationship with her neighbours and has forged many friendships.

Before one can be called a Good Samaritan, they need to show sacrifice, courage and love. This is what Nantalo exhibits. The selfless person that she is, she has opened her home to children to seek refuge and a place to have a good time.
It all started, she says, when a boy was caned really badly by his stepmother and he ran to her home for respite. While there, the boy decided to stay because of the fear he had developed for his home.

Why she loves children
Nantalo did not complain because her heart always ached (and still does) whenever she saw children being mistreated. She felt bad when she saw mothers leave their children at home as they went to work.
“The children would be left with no food and they would just keep crying in the neighbourhood. Many mothers never bothered about their children at all.
“The conditions these children lived in did not please me at all. Parents kept on harassing their children and I felt bad. Since I grew up suffering, I did not want to see this happen anymore. Whenever a child would be mistreated, I would recall my childhood experience and shed tears,” she says.

Nantalo later on made up her mind and decided to take care of stranded children. Whenever she would see a child stranded on the road, she would pick him or her up, give them food and bathe them. She would later on hand over the child to the parents in the evening. She did this several times and many children came to like her.

Parents who had little children too, got to know about her.
“Many mothers came to know me and they started leaving their children with me. Others would buy food for their children and my work would be just to work and take care of them. However, not all of them bring food. Others just tell their children to come to my place. I don’t chase them away but rather welcome them,” she shares.

On an average day, she receives 15 to 25 children, especially from the ages of two to seven. Most of these are nursery school-going children. After school, they find relief at her place because their parents are busy at work. Sometimes, she uses her money to cook food like Irish potatoes for them. Other times some parents who leave their children with her give her Shs1,000 or Shs2,000, depending on what they have.

One of the reasons Nantalo likes being with the children is because, she says, they are so loving. “While they are here, they behave as one family,” she says.

Balancing children with home chores
When I ask how she manages to balance her personal chores with looking after the children, Nantalo says she does not find a problem doing all this. After she has given them lunch, she then works on doing the chores in her home as the children play peacefully in the compound.
“When a new child comes in, it is my responsibility to guide them on how they are supposed to play. I tell them what is good and bad. This keeps them well-behaved. Besides, I emphasise that they should love one another,” she says.

That said, it is not smooth sailing. It is hard work having to make sure that all the children are around and have not disappeared somewhere.
“One day, one child got lost and I was scared. I wondered what I was going to tell the parents. Later in the day, people in Kasubi picked the child and took it back to its parents,” she says. It was one of her most scary moments.
She also says little children are hard to maintain because they need extra care and they need to be paid attention to all the time.

That said, her work is appreciated by the neighbours. They commend her for her selfless efforts and love that she accords to these children. Nantalo says her husband is happy with her work, although he has always advised her to start a babies’ home so that she can get support from organisations which will enable her to look after many children.

Helping with the little she has
A staunch born-again Christian, she has three biological children aged six, four and a baby, still breastfeeding.
Despite all the challenges she has met, Nantalo says that she will continue with her work because she believes God uses her to help children.
“I don’t have much but I make sure that I play my role. Rendering a helping hand does not mean that one ought to own shops, mansions and lots of billions in order to help. It is all about one’s generosity. The Bible teaches us to help one another even without having riches,” she says. This charitable work she started six years back has gained fame for her and she has therefore made a name. One can only hope that for her generosity and sacrifice, Nantalo will one day be rewarded handsomely.