14 August 2016

10-year-old who raised five siblings for seven months

Children run happily across the compound. Some of them link hands across each other’s shoulders and jump about in a circle, singing to a rhyme. Three siblings, Rebecca Bukirwa,10, Scovia Nawenja,7, and Ibrahim Katuma,6, join them. A fourth sibling Sarah Namagembe, 4, sits on the verandah, looking aloof.

“They are used to the place and have made friends. When they arrived, they used to stick to themselves but now they are able to mix with other children since children here play according to age groups,” Christine Kajumba says, as she watches them.

Kajumba, the probation officer in charge of Naguru Reception Centre, where we are visiting, says the first time she saw these four children physically was when Mukono Probation Office brought them to the centre. She had previously seen them on TV but did not know their names.

“When I talked to the eldest girl, Bukirwa, and she said she was from Mukono, I straight away figured they were the children that had featured on NTV,” Kajumba recollects.
The reason the children had been on the NTV news segment was because of their plight.

Six siblings were left to fend for themselves for seven months, before someone decided they were better off being taken care of. A young girl found herself having to be a mother and father to her siblings at the age of 10 because their father abandoned them.

Imagine you are 10 years old and the head of a family of five, a pupil at school, and with no recognisable source of the basic needs such as food, medicine and clothes. How would you be able to get your family to survive?

That was the situation of Bukirwa, formerly a resident of Kirangira village, Mukono municipality, having lost her mother in an accident and abandoned by her father who is said to be in Koome Islands in Lake Victoria.

At their home
When we first met her at their home in Mukono, before she and her siblings were taken to Naguru Reception Centre, the calm and stoic Bukirwa said their troubles began when their mother, Rose Nabulime passed on in an accident in October, 2015.

Before that, Bukirwa says life was pleasant.
“Food and tea was always available. Whenever one of us was sick, our mother would look for medicine and treat us. She would also tell us stories and sing for us beautiful songs when she had time,” Bukirwa says, adding that her mother used to sell boiled cow heads and sell secondhand clothes for a living. “When our mother died, these went with her. Life became hard for us.”

Their mother hailed from Mubende District and that is where she was buried. After the burial, they came back home with their father Derrick Mulimira. Two weeks later, Bukirwa says, he left for Koome Islands.

The children waited and waited but he did not return, so the task to run the family fell on the oldest. Bukirwa had to become a parent to her siblings; Nawenja, seven; Katuma, six; Namagembe, four; Derrick Smart Mawejje, one-and-a-half; and Margaret Kirabo, who was just a few months old then.

Even with such a burden on her shoulders, when we met her at her home in Mukono, Bukirwa did not look worried and seemed comfortable looking after her siblings.

Richard Mangeni, a neighbour and friend to Mulimira, said he was left in charge of the children. According to him, Mulimira abandoned his home for Koome Island after realising there were no jobs in Mukono.

Mangeni, Bukirwa says, would talk to her father and after, tell them, “Greetings from your father.”

Mangeni also tried to provide as much as he could for the children while they were still living by themselves. “I provide for the children and there is nothing wrong with them. I buy for them variety of foods; posho, millet and mukene,” he said when asked.


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