Shattered dreams: Covid dealt my business, children’s studies a blow

Ms Harriet Nakazibwe at her home in Makindye, Kampala. PHOTO/ JOAN SALMON

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.
  • In this 13th installment of our continuing series, Shattered Dreams, we bring you the story of Harriet Nakazibwe, whose business suffered a setback when robbers broke into her house in January 2020, and the ensuing March lockdown.

The last two years have been a roller-coaster ride for Ms Harriet Nakazibwe, a single mother of seven children. 

While she is determined to take all her children back to school, only two study, another two live in the village. The rest stay with her in Kirundu Zone, Makindye, Kampala.

This way, she can be able to support them with the meagre income she earns from washing clothes and other menial jobs.

Before the outbreak of Covid-19, Nakazibwe, like other enterprising women, had a stall where she sold fish, matooke and charcoal.  

“From fish, I made a daily profit of Shs10,000, from the matooke, I earned Shs5,000 but the charcoal  profits were unpredictable, fluctuating from as low as Shs3,000 to as high as Shs10,000,” she says.

From these proceeds, Nakazibwe could only pay half of each of her children’s school fees at the beginning of the term and clear the balance at the end.

The rest of her income catered for the daily needs until thieves broke into her house in January 2020.

Nakazibwe narrates the ordeal like a village tale, hardly showing any emotion, perhaps hardened by the determination to recover from the loss.

At the time of the break in, she had already paid her children’s school fees, so she did not have any savings  to revamp her stall.

“I sold what was left of the stall with the hope that I would slowly sail through. However, times got too difficult that I could not even pay rent for it. So I gave up,” Nakazibwe says. 

Starts washing clothes

She started washing clothes at a fee but the income was always dependant on the person she was working for that day.

“There are some people who would give me Shs5,000, while others gave me Shs30,000,” the single mother says. The Baganda have a saying; “Ebizibu tebimanyi nyumba mbi’ loosely translated as ‘Problems will not pardon an already burdened home’. 

Just as Nakazibwe was settling into her new income source, the government announced a lockdown in March, which resulted in the closure of  schools.

People barely needed her laundry services since the students provided free labour at home. 

“If someone felt pity for me, they would call me to work alongside the children. If they previously gave me Shs30,000, I now earned Shs10,000,” she narrates. Plans of resuming her charcoal business then were dashed when transport, except for essential categories, was also shut down. 

“I had left some charcoal in the village because I did not have enough money to transport it. I later learned that the person I was working with in that business had taken my share and used the proceeds to process a ticket to go abroad,” Nakazibwe says.

The drop in her earnings consequently affected her ability to pay school fees.  She only pays for Ssegirinya Mugabi, a Senior Two student at Makindye Secondary School, and Eddie Kintu, a P7 candidate at Kings Martyrs Way School. Fortunately, both learners have been given discounts.

“The one in secondary pays Shs400,000 after a waiver of Shs200,000 from the head teacher. The mode is that I pay half at the start of the term and half in the course of the term. That means I must work for this money throughout the holiday. 

I was blessed with another waiver of Shs100,000 for the one in P7, so I pay Shs200,000. Here, I pay as and when I get the money, for which I am thankful,” she says.
Isaac Kalyango, who would be in P6, Daniel Kaweesi (P1) and Evangeline Kamala (kindergarten) will have to wait for next term. 

“I have been looking for work for the one in P6 so that he does not lag behind,” Ms Nakazibwe says. 

Children in the village

She sent two of their siblings to the village to reduce expenses.  “I sent Henry Ssenabulya [would be in P.5] and George Kintu [would be in P7] to the village because I could not manage to stay with all of them. They live with my sister and whenever I get some surplus, I send them about Shs10,000 for up keep,” the single mother says. 

“I am doing my best to keep Kintu in school so that he can finish P7. Previously, I sent school fees where each pay Shs70,000,” she adds.

Ms Nakazibwe notes that the children have been studying diligently, which shows that they understand their mother’s predicament. She abandoned their father over extra-marital affairs and failing to provide for the family. For now, she is working towards resuming her stall business. 

“I have hope that I will resume working at the stall. I am still looking for a place where I will stably operate unlike in the previous one. I also hope to work towards a better financial position,” Nakazibwe concludes.
 

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