Covid-19: Guild leaders sacrifice allowance to feed students stuck in hostels

By Ivan Tsebeni

When the 23rd Guild Government took over leadership last year, they vowed to 'Build the Bridge to the New Normal' and that is exactly what they have done.

Out of their July and August 2021 guild allowances, they have contributed over 980,000 shillings to buy food stuff for students who remained in hostels due to the lockdown. Some of the students are from neighbouring countries.

"We agreed to sacrifice these allowances to feed our colleagues who remained in hostels due to unavoidable circumstances," said Guild President Kenneth Agaba Amponda.

The guild Officials developed a Google list which they shared with students to ensure transparency in their selection.

"The only way we could identify the real affected students was through a Google list which we believe reached almost all the students," Amponda said.

The food assortments were handed over to students on Saturday, September 4 at the Guild Offices.

According to the Guild Speaker, Calvin Olupot Bahati, they used the money to buy food items such as: rice, sugar, beans, posho, spaghetti, salt and cakes.

He added that much as the items donated may seem a drop in the ocean, the act had a bigger positive impact.

The Director of Students Affairs, Bridget M. Mugume, thanked the student leaders for showing a kind gesture to their colleagues.

A Second Year Bachelor of Social Work and Social Administration student, Anna Bonsuk, said that she could not travel back to her home country, South Sudan.

"I'm happy that the guild has thought about us during these hard times. Being in a foreign land amidst the lockdown is the worst experience one can ever dream of," Bonsuk said.

Nasasira fixes a board ceiling during a renovation at client's residence
Nasasira fixes a board ceiling during a renovation at client’s residence

By Emmanuel Kizaale
Kareem Nasasira’s ability to beautifully work with granite, paint, wood, marble and board is striking. He does not just throw his energy willy-nilly. The level of concentration he puts in the art he is developing is usually seen in the quality of work he puts out. 

Perhaps, that explains his choice to concentrate on interior art. Despite his finesse in many fields, gypsum walls and ceilings seem to be his calling. And he creates them with so much ease, giving out exquisite results.

The 24-year-old says he always cultivates a relationship with whatever art he is engaging with. “I have loved art since I was a child. Even when I am on a break, I just love to sit down and draw sketches of things, just anything,” he says.

The idea of venturing into interior design has been in Nasasira’s mind since secondary school at Namirembe Hillside High School in Kampala. His gratification comes from the smiles on people’s faces. 

Little wonder that in 2017, he chose to pursue the Bachelor of Industrial and Fine Art at Uganda Christian University (UCU). He felt it was the only way to give his God-given talent a professional training.

A room designed by Nasasira's interior design company, Nas Interiors
A room designed by Nasasira’s interior design company, Nas Interiors

“When I was still at UCU, we used to go to other universities to attend exhibitions, and I discovered that the kind of art that was being taught in many universities was limited in scope,” Nasasira says. “UCU gives you a variety and it is up to you to choose where your passion lies.” 

According to Nasasira, UCU offered choices in ceramics, sculpture, pottery, fabric and several others. “So, the options gave me an avenue to explore and understand where my strength was,” he says. 

Now that he had chosen interior design, how would he launch himself into the self-employment world without any startup capital? Nasasira was battling with finding answers to that question. It kept him awake at night. 

One particular sleepless night in his second year of studies, he determined to save some of his money he had to live as a student. Since he now had limited time, as well as money to save, Nasasira made a drastic decision to spend only 20% of the pocket money he was given. The rest went into the penny bank.

Kareem Nasasira on duty at a client's residence
Kareem Nasasira on duty at a client’s residence

When he completed his course, Nasasira had his work cut out. He had to buy the essential equipment he needed for the kind of art work he felt he was industrially ready for. That is how Nas Interiors company, the brainchild of Nasasira was born.

The company employs four other youth who work as electrician, painter, carpenter and fixer. He, however, dreams of employing more, when his business portfolio grows.

Nasasira was never afraid to jump in at the deep end as he launched his business. It was around the time when the whole world was shutting down to limit the devastating effects of the Covid-19. 

And businesses were folding as a result of the lockdowns.

But he is grateful to the friends he made as a student. It is through their referrals that he has been able to keep in business. 

“You come to UCU as strangers at the beginning of the course but, at the end, you leave as a family,” he said, as he enumerated the many people who have helped to advertise for him his business. 

Simon Mwima, recipient of a merit-based PhD scholarship at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Simon Mwima, recipient of a merit-based PhD scholarship at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Story and photos by Jimmy Siyasa
Two tragedies occurred in the early life of Simon Mwima. One, he lost his sister to AIDS. Two, the son of his departed sister succumbed to the same scourge. Those two deaths left an indelible mark on Mwima that later determined his career path.

“Due to structural and institutional barriers, poverty and stigma, my sister, Alice, could not access the care that she needed, leading to her death,” he said.

After watching his sister and nephew die helplessly, he made it a mission to fight against HIV and AIDS. And he is now a medical social worker, as well as an academic at Uganda Christian University (UCU). 

Mwima recently won a four-year, merit-based scholarship worth $70,000, including tuition and stipend, with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s School of Social Work. According to the Times Higher Education world university rankings, the university ranks number 48.  

The offer did not come on a silver platter for the 36-year-old who is the first person to pursue a PhD program in his family. 

“I applied to five PhD programs and I must thank God that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was impressed with my academic credentials and my research interests,” he said.

Looking back at the path of material scarcity that Mwima has trodden since his birth in the eastern Uganda district of Budaka, he cannot be more grateful for where he is now. 

Simon Mwima working in the UCU Department of Social Work and Social Administration staff boardroom
Simon Mwima working in the UCU Department of Social Work and Social Administration staff boardroom

Mwima also earns his daily bread working for the Ugandan government in the health ministry. He has been a medical social worker for the National AIDS Control Program since 2016. A celebrated national trainer for the Ministry of Health, Mwima has so far educated over 500 social workers, as well as spearheading various HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns.

He is a cog in the wheel of the COVID-19 Mental and Psychological National Taskforce. Here, Mwima has contributed to the development of the national psychosocial plan for COVID-19, as well as serving as a social epidemiologist.

Mwima, a son of retired primary teachers, Simon and Agnes Mukubba, previously worked as a clinical social worker at the Mulago Most At Risk Initiative (MARPI) clinic in Kampala. At the clinic, he managed cases of vulnerable adolescents. He is a research fellow for the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) implementation program, a new HIV prevention intervention. 

He holds two master’s degrees – the first in public health, from Lund University in Sweden (2015) and in sociology (2020), from Makerere University. His undergraduate degree, which he obtained in 2009 at Makerere University, was in sociology. 

When one knows what they are doing, they will not need to chase after opportunities. Opportunities will instead chase after them. Indeed, prospects sought Mwima, for him to start teaching at UCU.

Five years ago, he was invited to the university as a guest speaker. Kasule Kibirige, Mwima’s head of department at UCU, said the guest lecture excelled that they were left with no option but to ask him to join the institution. And he said yes to the proposal. 

From then, Mwima has been lecturing in sociology, anthropology and social works. He also supervises students conducting research at both undergraduate and master’s level at the institution.

“He is quite resourceful. He has come to the department with a wealth of practice experience because of his work and rich networks from the Ministry of Health and its partners,” Kibirige said. 

As a result, Kibirige said, Mwima took into the department consultancy work that has “helped advance some of our interests in the external world, as a department.”

Mwima considers his employment at UCU a blessing because it has offered him opportunity to translate knowledge through lecturing, an experience he believes has afforded him friendships with fellow academics and students. 

The teaching job also came in handy during his PhD application. 

“The teaching experience is critical and matters while PhD programs are assessing applications for admission,” he says. Mwima intends to invest plenty of his post-PhD time conducting research to inform sexual health policy and practice. 

Fiona Niyijena, a third-year student of Bachelors of Social Work and Social Administration at UCU said of Mwima: “He is an understanding lecturer. He often shared with us his personal story and encouraged us to pursue further studies. I look forward to pursuing a master’s course.” 

Dustan Katabalwa, another student, said Mwima gives them audience when they have issues they want to share with him.  

Emilly Comfort Maractho, new Africa Policy Center Director
Emilly Comfort Maractho, new Africa Policy Center Director

By Yasiri J Kasango
In 2012, two key things happened in the life of Emilly Comfort Maractho. One, she realised she was not going to benefit much from a master’s course she had enrolled into. Her sixth sense told her to change courses. She obliged.

The second thing to happen was that Maractho received communication from someone she had never met. Prof. Monica Chibita of Uganda Christian University (UCU) was convincing her to take up a PhD scholarship opportunity after completing a master’s course she was pursuing in Kenya. This communication was followed by Chibita’s physical visit to Maractho. 

When she met Chibita in Kenya, Maractho had only one option – to give the greenlight. Her positive response on both occasions have a bearing on who Maractho is today. The holder of a PhD in Journalism and Communication from South Africa’s University of KwaZulu-Natal is UCU’s newly appointed Director for the Africa Policy Center (APC). The APC, initiated by American Lawrence Adams, is the university’s center that grooms policy researchers and political thinkers and provides a platform for learning and discussion of modern-day issues. 

Maractho’s switch from MA in development communication to MA in development journalism at Kenya’s Daystar University in 2012 was premised on the belief that she was not learning anything new in the communication course. This was her second master’s degree course. Five years before, she had attained Master of Arts in Development Studies at the Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi.

After bagging her second master’s at Daystar University, Maractho headed to the University of KwaZulu-Natal for her doctorate, sponsored by UCU, under a capacity building scheme for staff.

No sooner had she graduated with a PhD than she was, in 2018, named the head of UCU’s Department of Journalism and Media Studies, replacing Chibita, who had been promoted to the position of Dean in the Faculty of Journalism, Media and Communication, which had just been created. 

For 13 years, Dr. Maractho has lectured at UCU, starting out with teaching development studies before switching to journalism. And she says she is not about to call it quits. 

Maractho is not a sleeping scholar. The result of her efforts was the introduction of new course units in the department, such as Journalism and Political Communication, Economics and Business Journalism, Media, Gender and Social Justice. The new curriculum that Maractho masterminded was a direct response to the requirement by government regulator, the National Council for Higher Education, that institutions review their curriculum after every three years. 

She also often participates in debate and writes on public and social issues afflicting society. One such platform is the Daily Monitor newspaper, where she currently has a weekly column. In one of her recent articles, Maractho made a case for a national policy on public-private partnerships in the health sector, so as to ensure they complement public service.

Maractho hopes that the Africa Policy Centre will grow into a center that public policy actors will look to for alternative policy positions and still serve the university community. “My plan is to expand the centre’s reach and increase its relevance in research and policy engagement,” she notes.

Family background
Maractho was raised in Nebbi district in northern Uganda. She says in her community, education is not highly valued. Therefore, she did not have many people to look up to for inspiration. 

Maractho studied at Muni Girls Secondary School and Mvara Secondary School, both in north-western Uganda. At Mvara, where she had her A’level, the headteacher had tried to convince Maractho to study science subjects but she was not one you could easily dissuade from her goal – she wanted to be a communicator, so the natural choice were arts subjects.  

Maractho overlooked many challenges on her way to academic achievement, including financial constraints in the family and being raised by a single mother – Philemona Kapacho who was a civil servant. 

Maractho had intended to pursue either a Bachelor’s of Law or Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication, but the funds to meet the tuition requirements were not available. As such, she settled for Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies at Makerere University. 

She would later become the first woman in her family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, to the joy of Kapacho. 

“My degree was disheartening because I was the first girl to graduate from my community, yet there are families where everyone has graduated with a doctorate,” she says. 

After her university education, Maractho worked briefly with The West Niler, a local newspaper based in north-western Uganda. She was later employed by the Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited (UEDCL) as a billing officer while still keeping her job at the West Niler. 

In 2004, when she was persuaded to teach at Makerere University, Maractho dropped the West Niler job, but maintained the one at UEDCL. In 2007, she resigned from UEDCL to fully concentrate on sharing knowledge at Makerere University, before later switching to UCU. 

We wait to see how Maractho’s innovative mind will turn around the university’s Africa Policy Centre.


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