At 110 years, Wafula can read and write

Sunday March 21 2021
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John Wafula Ogwero,110 years writes his names on a piece of paper during his birthday celebrations at his home in Bwoya village, Banda Town council, Namayingo District. PHOTO | YAHUDU KITUNZI

By Yahudu Kitunzi

John Ogweyo Wafula wakes up at 8am and walks around his compound, does stretches to keep fit. This is the routine he says has given him a boost to long life.

On February 28, 2021, Wafula celebrated his 110th birthday at his home in Bwoya Village, Banda Town Council, Namayingo District.  Wafula is one of the oldest people in Uganda. 

Born in 1911 in Bwoya Village, Bukhooli County in Iganga District to Ogweyo Onyango and Major Nabirye, Wafula is the second born of the five children.

Believed to be one of the oldest people in Uganda, Wafula says he has outlived his father who died at 86, and his mother at 91.

Recently relatives, religious leaders and friends joined him to celebrate his birthday at his home. He held a thanksgiving ceremony presided over by religious leaders.

Wafula who according to his baptism card was baptised on February 17, 1929 at Iganga Catholic Church, dropped out of school in Primary Three because of fees constraints and the long distance. He resorted to hunting and collecting wild fruits, but as the colonial period approached he started going for baptism classes at 18 years. Wafula started working at 25 years as a Gombolola Chief in Sigulu Island in Namayingo before he joined business. He was a tax collector at different landing sites of Lufudu, Bumeru, Busiro, Nabweyo, Bujwanga, Lugala and Simone. Family members say he had a number of fishing gear on a number of islands on Lake Victoria and travelled as far as Lake Tanganyika and Homa Bay in Kenya. 

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 “I can no longer do business because of age. I was a timber and coffee dealer. The business helped me educate my children and take care of my family,” he recalls.

Emmanuel Taabu, one of Mr Wafula’s sons-in-law, first met Mzee Wafula in the 1970s as a businessman dealing in timber. 

“In the 1980s, Mr Wafula was a tax collector at Lufudu landing site market and I was a dry fish trader in the same market. He is polite, humble with high integrity and understood his work well,”  Taabu says.

They got close and became friends. “As a result, I married his daughter  Norah Ajiambo in 1993 with whom we have six children and have remained friends to date,” he adds.

“Wafula never did menial jobs but has always been hard working with and extremely enterprising, mind,” he says.

 Wafula got married at 28 years and with his five wives, they had 25 children but six passed on. He also delights in having 125 grandchildren.

The good life

Unlike his agemates who are senile, and frail, Wafula attributes his good health to self-discipline and his fear of God. 

“I neither drink alcohol nor smoke because there are many diseases associated with alcohol and smoking.”

Now Born Again, Wafula prays at Namutamba Elim Pentecostal Church in Namayingo District.

He says he loves peace and endeavours to live  stress-free. “I focus on my life and what makes me happy because stress is a silent killer. It can kill you in a second,” he says. 

Anne Ogweyo Walwema, one of his daughters, says their father emphasises that aging is a personal decision.

“Our father encourages us to fear and put God first in our lives. ‘Keep stress-free, take care of yourselves, love people, never hold grudges and forgive before being asked for forgiveness’,” Walwema says. 

Peter Ouma, one of Wafula’s youngest children, says his father has donated several pieces of land to the church.

“We attribute our father’s good health to God’s protection and provision. That is why he is a proud father of two bishops, a known evangelist and book writer, three pastors and two deacons,” Ouma says. 

Wafula was one of the first people to wed in their village, something that was prestigious back in the day.

Daniel Ogweyo, one of the sons, says their father keeps good company. 

“He is always surrounded by many people, especially his grandchildren with whom they play and hold conversations ranging from stories from back in the day to their welfare,” says Daniel.

Regan Wandera Ogweyo, one of Wafula’s grandchildren, says his grandfather brought them up enjoying his  life and has been exemplary.

“One unforgettable moment is when he (Wafula) defended my father in courts of law and won the case. Our grandfather also advocates for good feeding, for example, he insists that a good meal ought to comprise chicken, meat and fish. I pray that God gives him more years,”  Wandera says.

There are other different things he engages in.

Bishop John Joseph Ogweyo, one of the Wafula’s sons, adds that their father also enjoys speaking on phone. “He receives calls from us every day. We call to find out how he is doing because it is our obligation,” Bishop John Joseph says.

Pastor Isaac Mukisa who presided over the birthday prayers, commended Wafula’s children for loving their father.

“I thank Wafula’s children for taking care of him. I appeal to parents to educate their children or empower them economically like Mr Wafula did,” he says.

His diet

While there are sprouting fast food joints that attract many people, Wafula says he loathes junk food to keep diseases at bay.

“I eat organic, especially homemade foods such as kalo (millet bread), fish, cassava, sweet potatoes, posho, fruits and vegetables,” he explains. 

His favourites on the menu are kalo and fish, red meat and chicken.

“I take milk tea and occasionally black tea,” he says.

The centenarian boasts about how he bathes and dresses himself.

“I don’t have diseases such as diabetes, and high or low blood pressure. I have always been contented with what I have,” he says with a smile.

Hobbies

Pastor Patrick Wandera of Deliverance Church on Makerere Hill in Kampala, one of Wafula’s sons, says although many people of his father’s age are senile, Wafula has a sound mind.

“He sees properly and hears everything. He loves football and is a fan of Uganda Cranes, Harambee Stars and Manchester United FC. He listens to the football matches on radio,” he says, adding that “he occasionally uses a walker while getting out of the house. Our father is always jolly and positive about life.”

Selfless and loving

Pastor Wandera says his father loves his family, especially his daughters-in-law.

“My father taught us to love, work hard and respect people regardless of their tribal or religious affiliations. He gave each one of his daughters-in-law a cow to give milk to his family,” he says. 

Pastor Wandera said his father values education and ensured to give his children an education. He  prides in seeing children in school to compensate for what he did not get.   

“Our father always calls us to find out if his grandchildren are in school,” he explains while his sister notes that their father is unique. 

“We grew up at a time when men looked at their daughters as sources of wealth and never bothered to take them to school but my dad defied all odds to take us to school. He is selfless and helps many even paying school fees for some. He has adopted an orphan whom he educates and takes care of from his savings,” Anne Ogweyo Walwema says.

Dr Peace Mbengei, another of Wafula’s granddaughters, says the secret to her grandfather’s long life is keeping busy. 

“He is always designing and implementing projects. At his age, his brain is razor sharp. We admire his innovativeness. He dresses smartly daily even if he is just staying home,” Dr Mbengei says.

 Ouma says his father is optimistic.

“At his age, he has many future plans and most times he wants to raise his money and do things himself,” he concludes.

Memories

Johnson Masiga, a nephew of Wafula, says he grew up with his uncle right from 1978. “Uncle  paid my school fees without any complaint, he could stand in the gap to those who were in need. He was a very hard working man who could not  lack, and uncle never allowed us to go to night clubs. Eating was at your will simply because we never lacked smoked fish and meat at home together with my cousins,” Masiga says.

Jidah Akinyi, a foster daughter, says Wafula loves selflessly. He tells us stories of how they used to eat wild animals such as elephants, hippos.” 

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