26 December, 2012

Jaja: the Unsung Hero from Katanga, Uganda

Bena Nakijoba, fondly and respectfully called Jaja ba all - is seventy two years old. Very few life stories are as touching, as moving and as dramatic as Jaja's. She went to school up to the 6th grade; she got married at age fifteen; she was barren, could not conceive and so her husband broke-up with her; she then got a job looking after children of expatriates; and after three years looking after the children, she left and moved to Katanga, Kampala in 1971. In 1971, Katanga was small and had very few people; but through the years it has grown up too fast, become over-populated and is one of the worst slums in East Africa. For the last forty or so years, Jaja has been opening her doors in Katanga and her heart to abandoned children and caring for them. At first, it was those of working parents who would live their children with her, for a little pay, while they worked. Then, in the early 1980s - with war raging around Uganda, people, mainly young girls who mistakenly got pregnant, started abandoning their children to her.

Until 2010 Jaja was living in very horrifying conditions she was in just one room with 27 children. She used to carry a child on her back, she was cooking, she had no diapers so the whole place was filthy and in one room with 27 children and all of them most of them are little children so they are busy crying and the older ones couldn’t help much either. But, in 2011 - all that changed. Contrary to what some people, even reporters, are saying, that a church or some missionaries, are the ones who changed Jaja's life - it is not so. It is two, very kind, very compassionate Muslim women from the UAE who did dramatically change Jaja's life and her twenty seven children's.

When two UAE-based holiday makers travelled to Uganda in September 2011 for an adventure of a lifetime, little did they know that they’d end up making such a difference to the lives of the children they met along the way. After a week of exploring the country’s natural beauty spots, Yasemin Saib and her travel companion Najla Al Midfa, asked their guide to help them visit the slums in Kampala, so that they might be able to give a little back at the end of their holiday.

 It was there that they encountered Jaja, an indomitable 72 year old, who had made it her life’s mission to care for the city’s abandoned and orphaned children, turning her tiny home into a make-shift orphanage, and caring for the kids as if they were her own. With 28 kids under her roof, ranging from babies to teens, this unconventional family was subsisting on the most basic of means, with Jaja relying on the occasional kindness of strangers to ensure the kids’ next meal.

After scrabbling together as many essential supplies as they could muster for Jaja and the kids, the ladies found that they just couldn’t stop thinking about the children, and the terrible conditions they were living in. And so, Live It Up Uganda was born, with a pledge to not only help these 28 kids survive in the slums, but to elevate and nurture them through love and care, and through access to healthcare and education, to become dignified, productive members of society by the time they become adults. 

As they say - the rest is history. And what a very dramatic and moving history it is. And what an incredible hero Jaja is. I wonder why she has not become a CNN Hero. This year's CNN Heroes were presented to the world two nights ago. Jaja should have been there. Or been there even earlier. How many of us can be as giving, as considerate, as compassionate and as caring as Jaja? How many of us can be such a hero? As it is very easy to manipulate, to misuse and to be corrupted by what Jaja has now; and as Jaja is too old now - very hopefully, those managing Live It Up will be as considerate, as compassionate and as caring to her children as Jaja is. Always.

+ CCTV: Faces of Africa - Jaja's story
+ Live It Up
+ Live It Up Facebook 

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