Carrying on the legacy of Eleanor Kembabazi

Sunday November 10 2019

A portrait of Eleanor Kembabazi. Photos by

A portrait of Eleanor Kembabazi. Photos by Phionah Nassanga 

By Phionah Nassanga

Eleanor Kembabazi got married to Dr Wilson Byarugaba in 1989. The couple was wedded by Bishop George Katwesigye.

“I first met Eleanor in 1965 by the riverside in Bukinda, Kabale District. She was on her way home. I excused myself from the rest and had a private talk with her. I do not know what attracted me to her, but I think it was love at first sight. By the riverside our love journey started,” Dr Byarugaba reveals.

Kembabazi always willingly tagged along. He says when he was transferred from Entebbe to Aswa Ranch, Kembabazi joined him. On a foreign land, she devoted her time to growing groundnuts and millet, which she later sold off.

“When I went to Germany for further studies, she joined me. At the time, we had our first born,” he recalls.

While in Germany, Byarugaba says Kembabazi worked tirelessly. She once worked in one of the hospitals and later in a restaurant where she gained most of the catering skills.

“In the evening, I would lock up the children in the house and join her at the restaurant. I would help her wash the dishes and drive her home. For 10 years, this was our lifestyle,” he recalls.

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Resettling in Uganda, Kembabazi opened a six-seater restaurant in Wandegeya, Kampala that laid a foundation for Kembabazi Catering Centre in Naguru.

A mother
Moses Byarugaba, the couple’s first born, says like most mothers, Kembabazi understood the ties that bind a family together.

“She named my daughter after herself, Kembabazi, and named my son Rukundo after one of the many things she had in abundance, which is love,” Moses says.

She was motherly to everyone who approached her and advised each as her own. Alice Bwankosya, a relative, says after the death of Kembabazi’s parents, she offered to sponsor many through school, organised their wedding ceremonies and kept track of how each was progressing.

Open-minded
“Mummy shared with us her fears, her miscalculations and her victories. I’m not a saint, she once said to me, “In life when you fail once you have to always get up and keep on trying,” Moses reminisces.

Retired Archbishop Henry Orombi greets
Retired Archbishop Henry Orombi greets Kembabazi’s children.

He says the struggles that preceded his mother’s victory were numerous, but she kept reminding them that it always seems impossible until it is done.

“I will always try to emulate her, though I may not be exact her, her journey inspired me to be better.”

Contribution towards church
Gladys Muhumuza, the chairperson of Mothers’ Union, All Saints Cathedral Kampala, notes that Kembabazi was a woman of faith with action. Joining church in the late 90s, Muhumuza says Kembabazi was one of the older women she found there.

“She was a loving mother, with a big heart and her faith sounded loud in actions. Each time Mothers’ Union organised a charity, we were assured of her support. I think dwelling in the Lord’s presence and reaching out to the needy set her soul on fire. She offered this venue (Kembabazi Catering Centre) to Mothers’ Union to conduct functions whenever we wished,” Muhumuza expresses.

Self-love
Florence (who prefers to use one name), a childhood friend, says Kembabazi loved herself. She always aimed at making her life better. At 66, the mother of five felt the need to go back to school. She was able to sit for Senior Four and Senior Six exams and later joined Bugema University, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Sociology and Social Administration at the age of 70.

Florence adds that Kembabazi loved make-up. “She always wore make-up. Her nails were always polished red and lips glittered with red lipstick. Your first sight of her would give you an impression of the kind of woman she was. Cleanliness and smartness defined her.”

Lessons
Bwankosya notes in the arc of Kembabazi’s life, we see a woman who earned her place in history through struggle and shrewdness. She loved education and educated whoever she could. She taught each of her children how to manage business and that is why Kembabazi Catering Centre is still standing.

“Mummy’s passing on was a time of mourning, but also a time to celebrate her life. This, I believe should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our situation or circumstances, we must ask: how well have we applied her positive lessons in our lives? It is a question I ask myself as a son, as a brother, as a father and as a friend,” Moses Byarugaba says.

On falling sick
“Initially, mummy complained of stomachache but the doctors could not analyse the cause of her complication. No one took an extra step or thought of carrying out a full body scan until we realised that her condition was not getting any better. She was later diagnosed with cancer of the colon. Knowing she had stage four cancer was devastating, because she appeared healthy,” Moses says.

He adds that his mother was then taken to India for an operation. Unfortunately on return, while at Entebbe Airport she relapsed into coma. Rushing her to Entebbe hospital, she was then referred to IHK Kampala, but died in an ambulance on her way to Kampala. She died after six months.

Kembabazi died at the age of 74 and she was buried in Rwentobo, Ntungamo District. She is survived by a husband, five children and grandchildren.

To preserve her good work and continue with her legacy of helping the less privileged and reach out to those she helped in and outside Uganda. The family has founded the Eleanor Kembabazi Byarugaba (EKB) Foundation that will continue with her charity work.

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