Prisca Nakitto writes for youth and children

Saturday September 12 2020
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Prisca Nakitto during the interview at her home. Photo | Denis Nsubuga.

By Guest Writer

At a village primary school, an experienced, sturdy and vibrant teacher is calling it quits. Prisca Nakitto, 49, bids farewell to her pupils, fellow teachers and bosses at St Thereza Girls Primary School in Kitovu, Masaka District. Begrudgingly, they witness Nakitto putting an end to a thrilling teaching career. She had taught for 18 years in different schools in the districts of Masaka, Rakai and Kampala.  

Nakitto taught all subjects in Primary School, as was the norm then. She was a Grade Two  teacher in several primary schools, including; Rakai, Kyamaganda, St Paul Kitovu Boys’, Lubaga Boys’ and Kitovu Girls’  primary schools.

However, Nakitto, now aged 82, is still educating youth in many Ugandan schools. Nakitto lives at Lubaga Hill in Kampala, next to Lubaga Cathedral. It is here, at a home of Grail International Movement, that she puts her views on paper. The lone papers grow from manuscripts to books which teach various students and youth around the country.  This time, however, she teaches beyond school.

Her experience, she mentions, into different schools gave her insight in all kinds of children and youth, a backdrop against which she writes her books. Reading gave her storytelling skills, that her stories in school excited the teachers and fellow students. She recalls teachers taking her stories to different classes to aid in tutoring.

Many books, mainly from the Catholic Church, honed her talent. It is those books such as Parable Plays by Isabelle Fremont, which she also used in the early days of teaching. To date, she keeps the time-beaten copy of the book more than 60 years. In fact, she has translated it into Luganda, pending publishing permission.
Nakitto’s writing dates back to her childhood. She loved reading.

 “Whenever I was given a coin, I would keep it, collect and buy a book,” recalls Nakitto who tirelessly advocates for reading books. Nakitto grew up in Masaka, in a Catholic family and community. She went to Kyamaganda Primary School, St Mugagga Junior Secondary School, Nkozi, before Nkozi Teachers’ Training College where she got a teaching certificate.

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Her works have been in schools since 1971, when she wrote her first play, titled Noweri Eyasooka.
She was in her second year of teaching then. Noweri Eyasooka, which delves into the life of Mary (mother of Jesus) as a girl, was played by her students in various schools in which she taught.
“Back then, I would write a part of a play on the blackboard,” Nakitto recalls. “We would read and rehearse it together as a class while pupils also copied it in their books.”

“By the end,” she smiles at the memory, “the class could have chosen who will act which role in the play.”
Nakitto first published in 2001, with Bye Ndabye Mbirabye. She would then publish other books from 2008, with Noweri Eyasooka. Then she joined Uganda Children Writers and Illustrators Association, an NGO that helps members to publish their works.
Nakitto boasts 20 books. Seven of these are plays. In 1985, she completed her second play, Roozi Ekulira Mu Maggwa, which is about St Paul of the Christian faith. In 1986, she wrote Nzudde Gwe Nneegomba to commemorate 100 years of the Uganda Martyrs.

“We would go to (Catholic church) parishes performing it,” she says, adding that the first three plays were all staged.
She would later delve into secular literature with her first novel Bye Ndabye Mbirabye, written in 1994 and one of her most popular works.
Bandogera Bwerere, a play for which she is looking for the actors, is an option on the A-Level Luganda syllabus.
To Mathias Mulumba, the deputy head teacher of St John Paul Mugwanya Complex Primary School, Masaka, the simplicity of her writing has drawn many of his students to Nakitto’s works.

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“It is modest Luganda and English, which helps the reader to easily grasp the message. Besides, they are short so it is easy to pick the book again and reread,” says Mulumba whose favourite is Noweri Eyasooka.
One of her books, Nze Mbimaze is on the O-Level Curriculum. The play, first published in 2009, is compulsory for learners of Literature in Luganda.
Like the National Curriculum Development Centre’s vision of producing responsible citizens equipped with productive skills, Nakitto’s literature attempts to build a society of upright youth. Her literature is based on her desire to instil values in the youth.

Nze Mbimaze highlights the challenges of the youth while suggesting a well-meaning lifestyle. The 80-page play depicts Harriet, a student who is fed up with formal education, wishes she was born in the olden days when there was no formal education. Upon retirement from teaching, Nakitto joined programmes on community based health care and behaviour change for the youth, in which she has studied various short courses.  “The programmes were integrated with a Permaculture programme which deals with survival of the Earth,” she says. Permaculture, or Permanent Culture of Agriculture, which she studied in the US, is the growth of agricultural ecosystems in a self-sufficient and sustainable way.

“This form of agriculture draws inspiration from nature to develop synergetic farming systems based on crop diversity, resilience, natural productivity, and sustainability,” according to youmatter.world.
Nakitto has consequently, moved to various communities and villages teaching people the safe farming methods that yield foods suitable for the human body.
Agriculture is also prominent in her literature.
“I have written about these things with hope that my people will read about them,” she states.

Reaching out
In a bid to see her works reaching many youth, besides the bookshop shelves, Nakitto goes to schools to not only market her books, but talk to them about behaviour change.
At Mityana Modern Secondary School in Mityana District, her books are read from Senior One, for more than five years. The school director, Godfrey Mbalire, says Nakitto’s books render his students a good start in “the very complex stage of puberty”.
Mbalire says Nakitto has studied the Ugandan youth so well that she guides them from an informed point.
“She writes about the issues that surround us. Those we see and live with day by day,” he says. And her stories are relatable.

Chief in her literature are the virtues such as discipline, hard work and believing in oneself, according to Mbalire. Mbalire’s favourite is Eriiso Terirabanga. This is a novel with a translated version titled The Eye Has Never Seen.
Nakitto’s four novels are translated from Luganda to English. Others are; the popular Bye Ndabye Mbirabye (Nakiggala’s Alarm), Ejjinja Ery’Omuwendo (The Precious Stone) and Tekiryamunaku (The Plight of Tekirya).
That Nakitto has written both in Luganda and English, to Mbalire, is commendable.

“This gives a chance to a non-Luganda speakers to receive an important message.”
“Not all Ugandans speak Luganda,” Nakitto says. “They shouldn’t first learn Luganda to read the books, because the books have in them things that are going to help me now.”
She, however, says she won’t change every book. In fact, she reveals that translating usually distorts the message. She advocates for native languages, because they simplify communication and understanding.

In fact, “If I were the Minister of Education or on the committee of Education in Uganda, I would push for a law that every region would teach her own language as a compulsory subject from up to Senior Four,” she states. It hurts Nakitto that people shun their languages and adopt foreign languages. With that, to her, a person doesn’t have any roots.
In her grammar book, Olulimi Oluganda Olwatuyitimusa, she reminds everyone of their responsibility to preserve their language and culture.

Terming the book fascinating and educative, Mulumba says Nakitto’s books teach children the history and culture of people here. Margaret Nambi, a teacher at St Thereza Primary School in Buyege District, believes Nakitto’s books have no age limit.
“Both children and adults,” Nambi says, “need to attain and maintain the values that Nakitto teaches in her literature.”
Storytelling, to Nambi, is used in effective teaching, and Nakitto’s work lends a hand in their efforts to groom a disciplined generation.


Away from books
Chief on Nakitto’s bio is her Grail affiliation. “Prisca Nakitto is a member of the International Grail Movement, a community of lay women, dedicated to God’s service in uplifting all people for a better living,” says the back-page of all her books. Started in 1921 by a Dutch Jesuit Priest Fr Jacques van Gineken, the movement is in different countries worldwide. Nakitto joined The Grail shortly after completing Primary Six in the 1960s. She has since used the platform to educate masses on different community issues.

By Denis Nsubuga

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