What you need to know:
Joan Bavuga, the vice president of the Uganda North American Association (UNAA), wants single parents to focus on becoming financially independent. She says enrolling for another course, starting businesses and learning a skill, adds value to their lives.
“Have you ever thought about the future of your children? If you died today, what would become of your children? Would they still go to the same schools? Who would buy them food and clothe them? Would they have shelter or a place to call home?” After a deep conversation with her bestfriend, Claire Abatoni Sigaye, on her way from Makindye, Joan Bavuga needed to find answers to these tough questions.
“I was restless for some time with thoughts about my children’s future. Although she remains guarded about how she relocated to the US, Bavuga made a decision to leave her two sons in Uganda with her parents for a period of three years. Her father offered to pay school fees and take care of Bavuga’s children as she figured out the next course of action.
“My father is one of the longest-serving head teachers in Kisoro District and he values education. He was not only a father to me, he was also the only father figure my children know,” she says.
Bavuga says her father loved her children so much that when they asked if they could be named after him, he did not hesitate.
On her own
Bavuga is a single mother of two boys, Airman Norman Bavuga, serving in the American Airforce, and Michael Bavuga, a college student. She lives with her children in the US. Currently, she serves as the vice president of the Uganda North American Association (UNAA), a binding organisation for Ugandans living in North America.
She speaks of the hardships of raising children single-handedly. While many parents always imagine their daughters in a traditional family structure, where one graduates at university, date or fall in love, then marriage happens and is followed by children, Bavuga got her first child at the age of 21.
“When I got my first child, I was still very young and trying to figure out life. My parents requested I give them my child, so I could continue with my education, but I refused. That was my responsibility. ” she says.
She embarked on parenting without a man to support her “I tried having committed relationships that could lead to marriage, but they did not work out. I decided to prioritise raising my children,” Bavuga adds.
While many glamourise single motherhood, Bavuga says it comes with immense responsibility and some sacrifices have to be made. “Of course, no one chooses to be single, but partly I chose to remain single,” she says.
She approached the turning point of her life with pragmatism. “I felt ready — more than ready — to start the next phase of life, to become a single mother. Her entire world revolves around her sons and she wants them to have the best things in life.
“I am not only a mother to my two biological children, but also a mother to many children. In fact, in my family, they call me Mummy Joan. ” she says.
The truth is there is no one right way to parent children and most parents learn on the job. Babies do not come with manuals but Bavuga is an authoritative parent, who is investing time and energy into preventing behavioural challenges.
“I am that mother that is close to her children. I and my boys talk about things that some parents shy away from. We are friends but there are boundaries. I always remind them that there is nobody who is going to love them more than myself,” says Bavuga.
She explains that her parenting style is making children close friends and simultaneously creating boundaries.
“I want my children to tell me everything about their life. I do not want to learn things about them from friends or other people. I do not want them to fear me. I just want them to respect me. I want them to know that I am their first bestfriend,” she says. Her attachment has grown over time.
A licensed social worker with a Master’s degree in Social Work and a graduate Certificate in Gerontology, Bavuga is pursuing a doctorate in Healthcare Administration at the Virginia University of Lynchburg.
“Much as I was to be an excellent example to my children and other people, especially single mothers who look up to me, I treasure education as much as my father did. The first thing I did when I relocated to the US was to enroll in school. I needed to fit in the world because I was always around people who were well educated. ,” she says.
It is not easy to raise children when you are all students and you are the same person that needs to put food on the table. Juggling work, school and single motherhood with no support morever in a foreign country, made the burden even more heavier.
Bavuga worked the night shift, dropped children to school in the morning and she would then prepare herself to go to school. In the evening, she picked children from school, prepared meals and left for work.
“Sometimes I ask God how I did it, but what I can say; God has been so faithful to me,” Bavuga reminisces the parenting journey with joy.
Challenges aside, the journey was worth it. “It was extremely stressful, but being a mother was the best thing that has ever happened to me,” she proudly says.
Bavuga loves bringing people together. Her community in Michigan believed in her and elected her as the first vice president of the Ugandan Community of Michigan. She also served as the vice president of the Catholic Community of Michigan and still serves as a board member of the organisation.
Premised on her ancestry, she is an Ubuntu Bafumbira Association member and serves as the secretary of the mobilisation in diaspora.
In 2014, Bavuga joined UNAA to link up with Ugandans living in North America for common interests. UNAA is a formal association of Ugandans in North America which promotes social, cultural and economic transformation. She now serves as the vice president of the association.
“UNAA is an association that each Ugandan living in North America should join because of our partnerships and connections with several entities. I love community service and I also want to be part of the change and share ideas,” she says.
As she seeks re-election, she has big plans for the group of youth she is mentoring. She wants them to benefit from UNAA.
She says some programmes canbenefit students in Uganda.
“I plan to create a viable student exchange programme that will benefit children born here and those born in Uganda on an educational and cultural level,” Bavuga says .
UNAA programmes include group life insurance and repatriation, trade and investment with objectives to promote the economic interests of Ugandans in the diaspora and an education initiative programme to build partnerships with universities that offer scholarships to UNAA members. The association also offers immigration assistance.
Raising children single-handedly has taught Bavuga so much about herself, life and motherhood.
“It gets tough, it is so daunting a journey and I want single mothers out there to know that it is okay to feel that way,” she says.
But she insists that staying focused makes the journey worthwhile. “If you have that chance of going back to school, starting a business or learning a skill that will add value to your life, do it. My life has not been easy, but I was determined to turn my story around,” she advises.
Bavuga urges all single parents to work towards financial independence, but warns against materialism.
“Do not get things you cannot afford. Live within your means. Education is the best gift you can give yourself; if you can afford it, please go back to school. Education makes you think differently. Education will bail you out one day,” says Bavuga.
To achieve something more significant, people must take great risks. Bavuga says parents can do everything their fingers can touch to raise their children.
“If you get a chance to live somewhere else, try it. Do not fear the unknowns. Do not fear taking risks for your children’s future. Do not let your mistakes determine your future. Get up, pick up your pieces and rewrite your story,” says Bavuga.
Fear not the unknown
Bavuga urges all single parents to work towards financial independence, but warns against materialism. “Do not get things you cannot afford. Live within your means. Education is the best gift you can give yourself; if you can afford it, please go back to school. Education makes you think differently. Education will bail you out one day,” says Bavuga. “If you get a chance to live somewhere else, try it. Do not fear the unknown. Do not fear taking risks for your children’s future. Do not let your mistakes determine your future. Get up, pick up your pieces and rewrite your story,” says Bavuga.