Sometimes we don’t travel to our destination in a straight line. Don’t worry if you have to take the long way round, says Mary Namukisa.
I understand resilience as knowing the situation you are in, having control over your reactions and behaviours, thinking of new ways to tackle the problem and understanding you’re neither the first nor the last person to be where you are.
Being born and raised in a financially constrained home, education was just a dream for me. Completing primary level was all I could have hoped for but after almost seven years, an opportunity hit my door. At 20 years I left all I was doing, put on a school uniform and started studying at a school I had previously served as a cook and tailor. No one could believe I would make it but I did not need someone to believe in me, I just had to give it a try and when I did I gave it my best.
I did not travel in a straight line because I missed an entire term taking care of my mother who had to go through a major surgery. I carried my books and past papers to the hospital. I would wake up and take care of my mother then sit in the corner and read my books. I did not have access to internet to read new assignments but I realised we had covered a lot that I had not mastered and used the time as an opportunity to revise. I pushed through and emerged as one of the best students in my class for UCE exams.
I thought about doing technical training because I could not afford to continue to the next stage of academic schooling. However, one of my teachers asked me to babysit her child while waiting for my results. When she saw my results, she offered me continued work as a babysitter and in return paid part of my tuition. She took the initiative to ask the school to give me a half bursary and so my dreams grew.
My dream was to be a medical doctor and so I studied the sciences. I had to work extra jobs during my holiday to get money for registration and scholastic materials. It was not easy but I pushed hard knowing this was my only chance. If I missed it, I may never get another one. I completed my A levels and got a job. Eventually I received a government sponsorship to do a degree in nursing that made my summer work savings sufficient.
At first I was not happy because my dream was to become a doctor, I had enough points to pursue this course at any Ugandan university but changing the course meant losing the sponsorship. So the only option was to take what was offered. Through training as a nursing officer I started seeing nursing as a very honorable profession. I realised all the time I was sick in my village I was cared for by nurses. I realised God wanted me to take this path to be the best I could.
However, during my third year of training I became pregnant and that is when everything started getting out of hand. My mother’s religious norms could not allow me to stay home pregnant or with a baby from a man I wasn’t married to. I talked to the man responsible and he wasn’t ready for marriage given the fact that we had completely different religious beliefs. However, he allowed me to stay at his place whilst the university was closed. I gave birth to a wonderful baby girl and continued with my studies.
I had to get someone to take care of my baby while I was in class, and being a full time student, I could not afford a part time job. I wanted to breastfeed my daughter, so I had to pump milk for her to feed while I was in class. Eventually this wasn’t possible and I had to buy feed which I could not afford. At nine months I made a very painful decision to leave my baby in her paternal grandmother’s care in order to continue school.
Many people including the father judged me, for some thought I sent the baby off so I could easily get other men, but to me it was the best choice for both of us. I could not afford to stop studying only one year away from becoming a qualified nurse. I could only see my baby every two months but I had to endure. I closed my ears to every negative comment and concentrated on my course.
Do you think I’ve reached where I wanted? I can tell you I am not there yet, I know I want to go out and do more. My dream is to be a Global Health specialist. I feel motivated to go out and do more to make change in my country focusing on adolescent HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections, nutrition and unwanted pregnancies.
To every young girl, if pregnancy comes your way, don’t call it a finishing line, no matter what decision you make you can still achieve your dreams. Don’t throw away your life to live with someone that does not support your dreams just because you are pregnant with them. Utilise all the options you have and decide what is best for you not what makes others happy. You are the master of your own life and you matter more than anyone else. Keep working towards your dreams, take opportunities as they come and don’t worry if you have to take the long way round.
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.