Girl who made bricks for fees graduates

Ms Rebecca Nakiganda shows some of the bricks she makes to earn a living in Kitagobwa village, Wakiso District. Photo by Rachel Mabala

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Milestone. Thirty one-year-old Nakiganda will be among the graduates at Kyambogo University today, thanks to her brick laying skills.

Kampala. In the searing heat under clear skies in Kitagobwa village, Wakiso District, Ms Rebecca Nakiganda is bespattered with mud.
She is wearing a black skirt and a matching top. Ms Nakiganda, 31, scoops a mound of wet mud, throws it with a bang into a mould and sprints to a levelled ground to lay out the brick. Dry banana leaves and grass cover lines of bricks made earlier; to prevent them from cracking in the sun heat.
Soothing cold air blows from the leafy avocado and other overgrown fruit trees besides a new red-roofed bungalow. In the open field, the heat grows in intensity, pricking the skin with uncomfortable sensation.
Brick laying has been a mainstay for Ms Nakiganda, not only for fending for her seven siblings, but also to fund her university education.

Today, she will, with pride, join some 5,609 graduands to receive academic awards at Kyambogo University this week, capping years of unique struggles and long, lonely and draining 40-kilometre daily trek for lectures at the university.
“It has been years of struggle. I thank my father who has supported me all these years,” says Ms Nakiganda.
“I have no gown [and transport to go and attend the graduation ceremony with others. I know I have no job yet, but I thank God because I know I will smile one day.”

She had dropped out of school for eight years, but her resolve remained steely.
Her mother passed away when she had just joined Senior One. Three years later, her father could no longer afford to pay tuition.
“My father pushed me to Senior Three. He could not afford fees and so I dropped out of school for five years,” Ms Nakiganda recounts.
While home, she got a sponsor who took her to Busunju SeKanyonyi SS where she repeated Senior Three and sat her Uganda Certificate of Education. She then joined St Thomas Kalori for high school and her father, Mr Stanley William Kivumbi, did his best to keep her in school.
After her A-Level, she sat out for another three years. When push came to shove, Ms Nakiganda sought refuge in marriage, which unfortunately did not work out.

“I was always in and out of school because of school fees. I tried baking chapatis to supplement what my father was giving me, but things were not adding up. Some people then told me that if I got married, I would be relieved and I tried it. It was just a lie and I left the marriage with a baby,” Ms Nakiganda narrates.
In 2012, before she could enroll at university for a Bachelor’s degree in Counselling and Guidance, she resolved to start laying bricks and use the proceeds to pay her tuition of about Shs1m per semester and buy other requirements.
“I used to walk to Kyambogo from Kitagobwa to study. I have been determined. If I had Shs1,000, I would sometimes board taxis to the university in shifts. I made sure I look for the tuition so that I don’t get “dead” semesters. So I started to make bricks to pay my fees. People have laughed at me but I know I have achieved,” she says.

The 31-year-old has since settled on her father’s land where she makes the bricks to earn a living. She sells each brick at Shs200 on site.
However, her father is not comfortable with her trade and has asked her to stop immediately he cleared her graduation fees months ago.
But Nakiganda says because she has pressing needs, including supporting her four-year-old daughter, it has become difficult to leave the business.
At the moment, Nakiganda is troubled with a Shs700,000 loan which she got from money lenders to start a chips and second-hand clothes business and is required to pay back Shs25,000 per day.

what others say about Nakiganda
Winfred Kyosaba Biribona, Nakiganda’s lecturer: “She is a hard working girl despite the situations, has a sense of humour, diligence and caring. I did not know about her history. But this means as a counsellor, she already has qualities of acceptance, resilience... and any employer would want to take on such a person.”
Robert Sempembwa, friend: “We didn’t study the same course, but we have been in fellowship together. She has been a good friend. There are days she would not appear at campus and sometimes pay her tuition at the last minute. But she has been hardworking and focused. That is why she has made it finally.”