ISEE Solutions

Investing in Sustainability, Education and Empowerment Solutions

ISEE Solutions - Investing in Sustainability, Education and Empowerment Solutions

ISEE Interview Series: ROVENCE

{Note: The following interview is with Rovence Nakanwaji, one of our first Mama Nguvu candidates and arguably one of the most successful. She has consistently impressed us with both her fierce work ethic and her generous spirit.

The interview was conducted in Lugandan and then translated into English (by Andrew… my Lugandan is not so good). The grammar and rhythms are different than you may be used to but hopefully will serve to give you a taste of true Ugandan speech.

A regular update will return next week. –ed.}

My story: Rovence

My name is Rovence Nakanwaji. I was born in the later parts of the 1960’s in a district called Masaka (Pronounced Mass-sir-car), in a village called “Kaseruka” (Pronounced Car-say-rue-car), to a gentleman called Emmanuel L. and a lady called Angelina N. I have three children of my own, who have since grown into adults now. I lost my second husband who took me up after the first had left me in the village. He loved me and is the one who helped me to move into another house when my landlord asked me to leave his house which we had moved in after my brothers’ death.

I grew up in the village and I went to some of the local schools around the area but unfortunately I got pregnant before I could finish  secondary school. I was only in Senior One. Luckily I stayed in the village for another 9 months and was able to give birth safely, that was probably 1989.

Moving to the city to start living with my brother was not easy because we bounced from one relatives’ house to another for a few months before I finally settled with my brother in his rented single-roomed house. I needed to start earning a living as soon as possible. My brother sold deep-fried snacks for a living and needed me to help care for his newly born son, who was sick at the time. His wife too had gotten birth-related complications so the help was desperately needed that I had no option. Eventually his wife passed on and I became the caretaker of these three children she left behind. 

We lived with him in this single-roomed house for about four years, before they had to move us into a two-roomed house. The  one-roomed house became too small because the kids had grown too. The owner of the house was forced to move into a bigger house because he felt pity on us and for a fact my elder brothers’ lifestyle was not the very best. He moved us to a new house and lived there until 1997. This year was difficult because my brother was ill for about 2 year and he eventually lost his battle in 1997.

I started cooking after my brothers’ death in 1997, I had never worked or gotten any form of employment. My brother loved me and cared for me, everything we ever wanted, he brought to us. It became extremely hard to live by ourselves when he was gone, so I decided to take the children to their grandparents who at least would take care of them easily. At this point I felt like I was between a rock and a hard place. The world is a big place but I felt like the only space I had was where my two feet were standing. The children were eventually brought back to live with me.

My brother used to sell snacks like chapati, mandazi, cassava and other deep-fried snacks for a living. I would eventually learn how to make these because he would let me help out every now and then. I did this for the first year and things started to make sense but eventually I shifted into cooking food because food was my comfort zone. I moved to a bigger space to cook better and surely a few years later into this place I am in today. Someone who used to eat at my small place called me telling me about this busier place where I could make more money.

I met my husband a year later after my brother’s loss when I had just started cooking. A gentleman from the school nearby came asking for a person to open up a canteen in the school. I thought well, since I am cooking snacks just outside here, I would take the opportunity. I started making more snacks and delivering to shops in the community and the rest I would carry it to the school canteen. One day he (my husband then) was building at the school and he came to eat at the canteen. He supported me after the landlord kicked us out of his house after the death of my brother. He helped us rent our first house and he later moved in with us. We had two more kids with him but sadly he died a few years later, this was in 2004. 

A few months after his death, I started falling sick and I thought it was depression because he left the kids really young. I was always worried about school fees and the upkeep all the time, so I was so stressed and depressed. I stopped working and all my customers got concerned. They looked for me at home and took me to the hospital where they actually tried to treat me. They did tests for the usual Malaria and Typhoid but nothing showed. They later did more blood work and found out that I had caught the virus. This stressed me out the more, on the day I was told I went back home, bought a chicken and a big bottle of soda. I cooked the chicken myself but when I started to eat it, I couldn’t finish of course. I thought I was going to die soon so I wanted to eat my favorite meal.

Fast forward, my neighbor knew one of the doctors at the International Hospital Kampala. She took me there and I received treatment for free until I recovered. My family members feared visiting me because they thought the would be arrested because they obviously knew we couldn’t afford it. Anyways, I think there was an HIV/AIDs project at the hospital, so it covered all my medical needs. I was also enrolled into a counseling program and medication unit where I received medication until the program was wound. They also connected me to another organization called Touch Namuwongo. 

Touch Namuwongo became a blessing to me as they trained me as a peer educator in my program. I started to get involved in the programs at the organization and I also got gigs to supply food for the days when they held various training sessions. This helped me make a lot of money to be able to pay my children’s school fees, rent and other things. I started to stabilize, getting my medication but also doing business with them. This was actually organized by Immaculate who was a counselor with Touch Namuwongo. She would check up on me to ensure I was okay and a few years down the road (2014) we met again in the Women Empowerment class and reproductive health clinic that ISEE Solutions was holding at a local primary school in the Namuwongo area.

ISEE Solutions Society in 2014 became a very important part of my life and the many other women who were enrolled with me and the years after. My daughter was in primary school at that time, so the Headteacher at the time contacted some of us women to come attend the workshop. We got reusable sanitary pads. Fast forward weeks later after our initial contact ISEE Solutions Society helped me purchase a fridge to add to my business along with some utensils and eventually about a year later helped me buy food warmers for my catering business.

My business has grown along the years and I have managed to secure myself a small piece of land on which I hope one day, I can build a home for my children. My husband wanted to build us a house but life never gave him the opportunity, so I want to build my children a home in case anything ever happened.

I feel tired a bit and my body is starting to act up on me. I would have wanted to build a restaurant or start up a bigger one than what I have at the moment. This would mean that I will have to hire younger cooks who would do the cooking and I will only manage. I have been cooking for too long in this charcoal and I guess my time is running out. I will focus on trying to build them a home, at least I can go rest there and never worry about rent like I do here every month.

In conclusion, I want to thank the ISEE Solutions Society Family, Erika and Corey who we met in 2014 and years later when they brought teams to visit us. I will not forget Immaculate for the role she played and also Andrew who has always done a great job in visiting us and giving us advice but also motivating us when times are hard. 

In my last words today, I think all women should work hard especially with the kinds of opportunity we have as women. I have advanced in age but every week I have an opportunity to attend a business class offered by some organization here in Namuwongo. Whereas I have been running this business for more than 20yrs, I think I have learned a thing or two that when I put them in action, I will improve my business. For us as Ugandan women, ISEE Solutions has given us an opportunity to change our lives and educate our children but we still have to work hard for it. It is tough but we can’t give up. I was almost done but thanks to my friends who supported me throughout the hard time.

This is my short story. I wish I could share everything but time is limited.

Thank you.