Called to serve: Esther Nakajjigo was 14 when she felt the need to serve. For her work in promoting health, she was nominated Ambassador for Women and girls, writes Dorcus Murungi.
In 2014, Esther Nakajjigo was named the ambassador for women and girls in Uganda.
This was after emerging winner of the Women Achievers Awards of the United Nations Populations Fund.
At 23, she has spear headed several campaigns aimed at fighting for the rights of women and girls in Uganda with her latest campaign being the Saving Innocence Challenge, a campaign that is aimed at taking victims of teenage pregnancies back to school.
Born to Christine Katerega in Kabalagala, a city suburb famously known as a red light district, Nakajjiggo was forced to join a group of youth that was offering voluntary services at the nearest health facility after noticing that the youth needed quick intervention.
“When I was 14, I noticed that the community I was living in needed people who could help them. I also realised that those people were not going to fall from heaven but we had to work for ourselves. For that reason, I decided to dedicate myself. I started volunteering with Kiruddu Health Centre as a peer educator,” she says.
The teenager joined a roup of volunteers that was working to promote positive living especially among the youth.
She opted for this because the community she was living in was filled with poverty which forced a number of teenagers to trade their bodies in exchange for cash to buy food.
“Girls as young as 12 were trading their bodies in exchange for money. Not a day would go by without a newborn baby being abandoned or thrown in a pit latrine by girls caught up in commercial sex. In our society, it was easier for someone to get a bottle of beer than a glass of clean water,” she narrates.
Due to this situation, Nakajjigo says she was forced to first halt her education after her Senior Six vacation and she opted to start a hgealth centre when the only government facility they had in their proximity was closed for upgrading.
Identifying a need
“When Kiruddu hospital was closed for upgrading, I could not stand to watch the misery that people were going through. The closed facility was serving more than 800 patients a day and all these were left helpless. This forced me to struggle and start up a simple facility where patients could access treatmen,” she explains.
Nakajjigo says during this period patients that had enrolled for ARVs started retreating and adherence to ARVs by young people living with HIV became nearly impossible.
“I used to wake up in the morning and find young people gathered in my mother’s compound. They kept asking me for the way forward and I had no answers until one day when I engaged my mother in a hot debate which pushed me to choose between pursuing my education or helping the community. I asked my mother to give me the house she was letting so that I could serve the community. This rented room is where my university tuition was supposed to come from. I made a suicide decision and chose to help community over pursuing my education after all, l was one and they were many,” she recalls.
Nakajjigo says though it was hard for her mother to give her that room, she later accepted and together with a team of health workers, they started looking for partners who would help them with health equipment for the health facility, Princess Diana Health Centre III’, ‘a private not for profit cility that they had started up.
“We were lucky that Paragon Hospital appreciated our cause and supported us with some medical equipment and we were good to go,” she recalls.
When she was launching the new health facility, Nakajjigo who had halted her studies and opted for community work was over joyed when the Kabaka of Buganda who had been invited as the guest of honor offered her a scholarship for her university studies.
“As we speak, I am in my third year at Muteesa I Royal University pursuing a Bachelors in Marketing. I am grateful to the Kabaka of Buganda who appreciated my work and also appreciated the fact that I had to go back to school and complete my studies,” she notes.
Becoming an ambassador
When Nakajjigo was named the Ambassador for Women and Girls in 2014, she says she embarked on responding to the most challenging humanitarian concerns affecting women and girls in Uganda.
These she says were teenage pregnancy, school dropout, and fighting sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/Aids.
“Uganda’s teenage girls hold the key to its prosperity. Therefore, we must support them to cut birth rate sharply and quickly if Uganda is to attain the middle-income status we all aspire for. Since girls are the experts on issues affecting girls, l engage them to find solutions to teenage pregnancy by themselves,” she explains.
Call to government
Nakajjigo calls upon government and all non-governmental organisations to help empower women and girls. She says this in a way will fight the so many challenges that women and girls are facing.
“Empowering women to gain financial independence is one of the ways to fight the so many challenges they are encountering.
Most women and girls are not empowered, they have less skills and whoever offers them employment acts like they are doing them a favour which they have to return most often with their bodies, a vice she says must stop.
She also asks government to help and introduce sexual education among young girls to help them choose the right practices.
“Government should realise that it is necessary to provide age appropriate sexual education for young girls to be able identify a good touch from a bad one,” she says.
About Esther Nakajjigo
Born to Christine Katerega, Esther Nakajjigo is the first born of the five children. She attended Kabalagala Parents Primary School in Kampala for her basic education. She then joined Buloba High School for O’level and did her A’ level at Princess Diana High School Munyonyo in Kampala. She is currently a student at Muteesa I Royal University pursuing a Bachelors in Marketing.
WHAT OTHERS SAY
Danny Derrick Mwikyo
Student, Kyambogo University
“I got to know Nakajjigo through her campaign dubbed ‘Saving Innocence Challenge. It is a good idea to take victims of teenage pregnancy back to school. How I wish we could get several youth with good initiatives like hers.”
Customer relations, Fenix International
“Most youth are always interested in unproductive work, but Nakajjigo’s journey should teach youth to start up something within their means no matter their age. I am so inspired by her work of helping women and girls.”