Namyalo and Nanjego: Cleaners who bagged degrees after daring to dream 

Margaret Namyalo (in graduation garbs) and her friend Joyce Nanjego on Namyalo’s graduation at Makerere University Business School in February. PHOTOS | EDGAR R. BATTE

What you need to know:

  • Margaret Namyalo and Joyce Nanjego Serubiri had dropped out of school and worked happily as  cleaners at their respective places of work. One day, friends and relatives nudged them into upgrading their education. They joined Makerere Day and Evening Class for Adults after which they passed well. Recently, both attained their  Bachelor’s degrees in  International Relations and Human Resource Management respectively, writes Edgar R. Batte.

Margaret Namyalo’s joy, after getting a job at International Aid Services, was short-lived because she was a school dropout. Her sister and new colleagues implored her to seek adult education. She joined Makerere Day and Evening Class for Adults (MAECA) to resume school in Senior Four. 

On the other hand, Joyce Nanjego Sserubiri who had dropped out of Senior One also rejoined school. Recently, the duo were among the 13, 220 graduands at Makerere University.

“I felt like I was sitting on God’s lap and Him telling me ‘my daughter you have made it’. May be other people do not understand the feeling because they have studied on government scholarships or sponsored by family  or workplace, but with my meagre salary of less  than Shs800, 000 , I had every reason to be happy and feel  accomplished.,” Namyalo narrates. 

Part of the salary also went towards paying  utility bills and school fees for her  son.

Nanjego was overwhelmed with joy. 

Joyce Nanjego on her graduation at Makerere University last year.

“God had finally answered my prayers and made   my dream come true. I could not believe that I was in that tent on graduation day, even after years I had spent out of school. I thank God for that,” she adds.

Returned to school

Namyalo and Nanjego were office cleaners. The latter encouraged her friend to stay in school. 

In her education journey, Nanjego says Namyalo and her husband have been her rock. He was there to wait for them every evening and drop off Nanjego after classes. They were class mates from Senior Four to Senior Six but parted ways at university. Namyalo pursued a Bachelor of Human Resource Management (HRM) and her friend International Relations at Makerere University Business School (MUBS).  

Namyalo was determined to prove the detractors wrong.

 “All people should be treated equally. Also, there is no better gift one can ever give to themselves than going back to school. It is scary, looks time-consuming but it is satisfying. Our society is bent on treating people with lower education qualifications as a secondary race of human beings. With education, you basically get a bargaining ground. And it does not matter how you went through your education, what matters are the qualifications you attain,” she shares.

In Uganda, there is a tendency of undermining your skills and focus more on your academic qualifications. 

“At my workplace, I was not valued because I was a school dropout despite my abilities to deliver. After receiving my results in December 2022 confirming that I had been enlisted for graduation, I resigned from a job I had done for nine years. I had to face the world head-on as a graduate,”

 For Nanjego, returning to school was going to open bigger doors for her career growth. She works for International Justice Mission as an office administrator. Namyalo pursued Human Resource Management because she felt the need to be one of the very few people in Uganda who listens to people with no academic qualifications. 

“I feel people should be listened to so that they can be helped. It is important to listen so that you can assess one’s strengths and weaknesses before jumping to conclusions, especially at places of work. I believe that the issue of work experience should not be a big deal or a prerequisite while hiring someone.

Why those courses

“My friend Joyce (Nanjego) and I have resolved to work towards establishing a training centre to equip women with skills for survival and knowledge to enable them to get academic qualifications,” she says. “We are working towards the establishment of an employment bureau to train and supply workers. We target less academically qualified people.” 

Nanjego pursued International Relations because it had a combination of administration, finance, and human resource. 

“Since my aim was to support my supervisor, who was by then the office administrator, the human resource manager, procurement officer and IT personnel, and I wanted to wave off some responsibilities from her,” she explains.

The balancing act

Namyalo’s initial challenge was mustering courage to return to school after a long time. Even then, she was earning Shs300,000 from which she paid tuition, had to service a loan, pay her rent and buy food. Studying while working (especially secondary school education) was hard. 

“My position as a cleaner warranted that I report to work before all other workers and take leave after the rest had left. This routine left me with little time to study. I literally lost a life, I was some sort of robot. One thing I learnt is that whatever you need in life, you have to work hard for it.

It is one thing to want to go back to school as a wife and another for your partner to be supportive of you,” she shares

 On many occasions Nanjego left her home to spend nights at Namyalo’s so that the two could have more study time together. Sserubiri would drop off his wife in the evening and pick her up in the morning to take her to her workplace. 

For Nanjego, a mother of six, balancing work, school and family were her biggest challenges.

Sometimes she did not fulfil her responsibilities as a mother and wife. Since she was the office housekeeper, she had to report by 6.15am to do her duties and later go to school from 5pm to 10pm. She also had challenges with English, where she initially used to translate everything into her local language in order to comprehend.

She trusted God in all she did and requested her supervisor then, to allow her report by 6.15am and leave by 3.30pm to prepare for school. She agreed with her husband to help with some responsibilities at home for the time being, which he agreed to. This helped her concentrate and  make enough time to read.  

Namyalo says she made God her shepherd.

“I pray all the time to God to give me guidance. I cut off the outside world and concentrated on my studies. I gave up any parties and visits to friends. I gave my undivided attention to work, studies and survival. Thank God, it paid off. Now, I present myself as a graduate. Whatever comes with it, that will be another story but for now, I am a winner,” she reveals.

When she enrolled, she dodged class in the first few days but realised that she was playing with her money. Namyalo’s employer gave her a loan of Shs600, 000 to pay part of the tuition and requirements. 

“Thank God I mustered the courage and strength to stay in school. At the end of the year (2015), I sat for Senior Four exams and passed. I proceeded to A-Level. I sat Uneb exams and once again passed to join university,” Namyalo explains.

Nanjego already had a job, and her university course related to her roles at work. She was practicing what she studied. That was unlike Namyalo whose course offered the academic approach to human resource management but was quite different from the reality. 

“The course only caters for skilled and unskilled labour management but does little on giving opportunity for innovation and interpretation or translation of everyday life/culture into our work spaces,” she says adding that she is yet to see how the course can change her career life.


To adults who would like to pursue education, Namyalo says, “The only guaranteed wealth is what you have in your brain. It is never too late to go back to school and keep studying until you die”. 

For one to prepare for adult education, Namyalo advises that one ought to “prepare yourself to create your own prison, convict and sentence yourself there. Be ready to serve the sentence and you will be happy after”. 

“Keep focused and know exactly what you want and then work towards that. Age is just a number because learning never stops,”she says.

Those intending to pursue adult education ought to have a positive mindset. “I was promoted to operations assistant, and then was later promoted to finance assistant. So, the course helped me acquire the knowledge to handle my  roles better.”