Sandra Abitegeka at her cassava garden in Kijumbya Village, Buliisa District, at the weekend. PHOTO/ANDREW MUGATI

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Pains of Covid: 19-year-old’s ambition of nursing ends in the farm

What you need to know:

  • When the country announced lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 to curb the spread of Covid-19, the most affected were school-going children, many of them staying home for close to two years.
  • We bring you stories of how the pandemic affected learners; some of whom have never gone back to school. Here is our second instalment.
  • Shs270,000 Fees. The amount of money the mother failed to raise to take Abitegeka to Senior Four.

Sandra Abitegeka, 19, is a resident of Kityanga Village in Buliisa Town Council, Buliisa District.
Before the closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she was in Senior Three studying at Uganda Martyrs’ Comprehensive Secondary School in Buliisa. Because of the automatic promotion that the Ministry of Education instructed schools to do, she was expected to join Senior Four.

However, Abitegeka was unable to do so when schools reopened in January because her mother had earlier told her she would not be able to raise fees.

Abitegeka says in August last year, after her mother notified her, she resorted to cultivating land to start planting cassava with hopes of getting money after selling the produce and starting a retail business.

“When the schools were reopened, my mother did not have money to pay Shs270,000 that was required for the term. I decided to drop out of school to continue with farming. My hope is that when the season becomes favourable, I will get more money and start a business,” she said.

Journey to the farm

During the lockdown, with the help of well-wishers and her mother, she was able to raise Shs100,000 which she used to prepare a garden on a piece of land her mother owns, where she planted about two acres of cassava, something she now places her hopes in. 

To access the garden, Abitegeka uses a bicycle and rides about 18 kilometres up to Kijumbya Village in Buliisa Sub-county where it is found.

She is now looking for Shs500,000 to build a store where she will store harvested cassava before selling it.

“I hope to earn some good money after harvesting. I still need more money to build a store; cassava is perishable and if you don’t store it well, you can make a loss,” she said. 

After harvesting, she plans to support her mother who is the sole breadwinner at home and pay part of the school fees for her siblings who are in primary school.

“Whenever I am going to the garden, I always pass by other students in uniform, I feel pain inside my heart, but I have nothing to do, I have to continue with my hustle,” she said.

Abitegeka had hoped to become a nurse, but when her mother failed to raise fees, her dream was no more. She can now go back to school and continue studying only if she gets a scholarship.

Abitegeka’s mother Jenifer Kasisaki said she would previously get money from her business of sun drying fish, but during the lockdown, when the government deployed the Fish Protection Unit (FPU) officers on water bodies, they burnt all fishing boats that were not of the recommended size.

“I used to buy fresh fish and sun dry them and take them to the market in Panyimur to raise fees and other necessities, but since we were stopped from fishing and all small size boats were burnt, I have no other means to raise school fees,” she explained.

“My husband used to help and we would prepare local brew to top up on the money, but by the time he died 11 years ago, I was the sole breadwinner at home,” she said, adding: “I decided to leave the business of making local brew because I am now a born again Christian and our faith does not allow me to continue with it.

“I had many hopes in my daughter when she was still in school because she was hard working and excelling in class. Out of my five children, she was the only one whom I had hopes in, that is why I was struggling to educate her up to that level, but when she dropped out of school, I gave up,” she said sadly.

Ms Kasisaki said every morning she cries whenever she watches her daughter in the garden while other students are at school.

“I feel pain that my daughter dropped out of school at her young age. My plan was to raise fees so that she completes senior four and joins a nursing school. I request well-wishers to come and rescue the future of my daughter who is still willing to go back to school to fulfill her dream,” she said.

Ms Kasisaki has now resorted to collecting firewood and selling it in Buliisa Town Council, but says the money she gets cannot sustain her family because the basic needs are many. 

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