Keep working towards your dreams, take opportunities as they come and don’t worry if you have to take the long way round, says Mary Namukisa.
I always loved being a medical professional and it was all I had dreamt of since childhood. However, achieving this dream was not easy because of my family’s financial constraints. My father died when I was in the last year of primary and all my mother could do was to support me to complete primary.
I was 13 years old when I completed primary school and my mother could not afford to see me at home when other kids were at school. She took me to a vocational institute where I did tailoring but unfortunately we couldn’t afford a sewing machine.
I tried to do all kinds of jobs, with the aim of saving up for a sewing machine, including gardening, vending garden products, selling snacks at school and working as a school cook. I had my mum and siblings to support and had to save a little every month to achieve my goal.
After one month as a school cook I was interviewed by the school administration and after finding out that I had a certificate in tailoring, I was employed as a school tailor for one year and seven months. I still had my goal to buy myself a sewing machine but the payment was too small so I had to be patient. At this point I had collected enough money to buy a sewing machine but it was the very time I got an opportunity to start secondary school. I used the money I had saved to buy school requirements.
At the age of 20, seven years after completing primary school, I was given the opportunity to start secondary. I continued working for the school whilst studying and managed to complete my A levels with good grades that got me a government sponsorship to do a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
I successfully completed my bachelor’s degree at the age of 30 and I am currently working with Medical Research Council (MRC)/ Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) Uganda Research Unit as a nursing officer. I can proudly say I am now living my childhood dream. And it is because of the tailoring course I did. It paved the way for me to achieve everything I’d ever wanted.
I am currently working on projects that aim at HIV prevention among adolescent girls and young women. My role is to provide HIV prevention services that include HIV Counseling and Testing services, screening and treatment of Sexually Transmitted Infections, provision of post and pre- exposure prophylaxis. I also screen for gender based violence, provide family planning services, counseling for alcohol and illicit drug use and any other medical service as required. Not to forget, I bought myself a sewing machine but because of busy work schedule I only use it for personal things.
I encourage all young people to have goals and work towards them. If there is any opportunity given, use it and always stay focussed because it doesn’t make sense if an opportunity hits your door and you have already given up.
I am Mary Namukisa, I was born on 13 Mar 1986. I finished my primary level in 1999 and in 2000 I joined a vocational institute known as Sseggayi Memorial that was started by Action Aid Uganda. This was because there was no money for me to have formal education so I trained in tailoring and completed with a certificate. I then started to vend home agricultural produce and later worked both as a tailor and cook in Mityana Secondary School (MSS) from Jan 2005 to Jun 2006 just to get money for a sewing machine.
In Jul 2006 I was given an opportunity by MSS to start form one and I accepted. I did not look back and in 2012 I completed advanced secondary education from the same school. I joined Mbarara University of Science and technology (MUST) for a bachelors degree in nursing on a government sponsorship. I competed my nursing training in 20216 and became the first member of the family and the community to have a university degree.
During my training I did a project on quality improvement for Mbarara regional referral hospital to ease the work of health workers and prevent accidents. With the help of SEEED Global Health Peace Corps Volunteers, I helped destitute patients to provide them with food, drugs and daily wound dressing. I did an one year Internship training from Kisiizi church of Uganda hospital that is Oct 2016-Oct 2017. I launched a physical fitness class for patients, caretakers and hospital staff. I taught in Kisiizi School of Nursing and Midwifery, participated in organizing continuous professional developments for staff and preparing departmental monthly audits.
From Dec 2017- Jun 2018 I started working with Uganda Virus Research Institute/International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (UVRI/IAVI) as a Nurse Counsellor on a project that focussed on having couples test and receive HIV results together. I participated in outreaches, organising entry community meetings for new studies, did back translations of informed consent documents and other medical related procedures.
From Sep 2018 to date I have been working with Medical Research Council /Uganda Virus Research Institute and London School OF Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as A Nursing Officer. I am working on adolescent studies focussing on HIV prevention among adolescent girls and young women at high risk of HIV. I also provide family planning to these girls to prevent unwanted pregnancies, treat them for sexually transmitted infections and other medical illnesses and assess for gender based violence.
Working with adolescent girls has given me a chance to interact with them, share my story, guide and advise them to quit risky behaviours that put their lives in danger. Many of them have positively changed and that feels like an award worn for me.