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.

Annnnd we’re back!

{note: Welcome back! We hope you all had a peaceful and happy holiday season.

The general election in Uganda occurred on January 14. In order to “prevent alarm and unrest” {ahem} the government shut down social media, and eventually internet access, on the 13th. We have had a few sporadic text messages from Andrew but he has been essentially incommunicado for several days. His house is in the same area as candidate Bobi Wine’s complex and so Andrew says there has been an increased police and military presence in the area for the last week or so. He has hunkered down in his home (Andrew, not Bobi) and will venture out once the area feels safe again.

In a piece of good news, though, earlier this week we received news from Andrew that Christine — who you may remember as the Mama with the piggery — has successfully argued her case in district court and received a judicial ruling which prevents her husband from selling Christine’s land. She told Andrew that she got photocopies of the decision and delivered them with haste to the local police station, magistrate, and her husband. This is a huge relief to everyone except, presumably, Christine’s husband.

Thank you once again for all your support of us and our work. Hopefully 2021 will be better for all of us. Once the internet is resumed in Uganda and he feels safe, Andrew will continue to provide updates on our Mamas. -ed}

Happy New Year to each and every one of you, our dear readers. It feels good to be back after almost two weeks of holiday. I know most of us had Christmas and New Year celebrations under lockdown but I hope you had a good time. As for me, I tried to have a good time by traveling to my ancestral village to celebrate with my mother whose birthday happens to be on the 25th. It is usually about 6 hours drive to my village in a place called Lira district. We arrived safely and the next day we were to surprise my mother with a beautiful cake. She was so happy that she prepared us a goat which my friend Andrew enjoyed roasting the whole night. Over all we really had a great time celebrating Christmas in the village. 

This week I returned to work. Of course it has been a slow week as I am trying to get myself back in work mode. Nevertheless, I managed to meet Florence, Rovence, Pulakiseda, Cissy, and Angel. 

Florence in her salon

Florence said that the season was good yet again as she managed to make some cash during the festive season. It was good to hear this because she had been planning and preparing for it during my last visit of the year. She was buying hair pieces and chemicals to use on her clients, so it was good to hear that she was able to get some returns. 

She told me that she would be going to the village and won’t be able to vote in the coming elections on 14th Jan 2021. Like her, many people anticipate some kind of violence during these elections as the atmosphere has been building up towards it but we hope that doesn’t happen. Therefore Florence has decided that she will travel with her kids for about a week or two until she can determine safety. 


Rovence N. is back on the job as she didn’t get much time off during the season because her location is so prime that the people around her don’t rest until 9PM because of curfew. She will also work through Christmas and New Year’s because the trading center doesn’t close. She is happy to make some money during the festive season and closed for only two days to rest and prepare for the year. 

The challenge is that her landlord decided to cut the power supply from her restaurant because they all shared the same meter. He wants them to each have a separate meter so they can pay the bills easily because they would know how much they use. This has given Rovence a challenge because her fridge hasn’t been running since so she has been losing money because she has to go and buy cold drinks from another shop. 

{note: we have been working with Andrew to try and assist her in this venture, as he has experience dealing with the bureaucratic maze that needs to be navigated to get utilities organized in Kampala. We will update as we hear more. -ed}

During the festive season Rovence was poked by a nail in her right arm and has been trying to nurse it. She was very wise to get herself a tetanus shot so we wish her a quick recovery. 


Pulakiseda N. is doing really well. I went down to the market to also buy some supplies for myself after many days away from my home. The boost from the hamper shopping from her shop helped her to restock her shop for the season. She was really excited to see and thanked us so much for shopping at her shop when we were putting together the hamper we distributed. 


Cissy N. has also reopened the restaurant this year but business has not been any good so far. She said that her customers have not yet returned so she has even cut on the amount of food she has made in the last few days. 


Angel N. is still trying to pick up herself after the shopping we did during Christmas. The idea was to spread the expenses between Angel and Pulakiseda as a way of supporting their struggling shops so they can make some profits and boost their shops. Unlike Pulakiseda who is almost comfortable right now, Angel is still picking up her shop and trying to balance the shop items. 

My first week has surely presented me with some mixed results both good and bad. It was nice to see the Mamas again after a long two weeks of rest for me. Like I said earlier for me it was a good time to rest and reflect on how the year went down especially with the challenge of the pandemic. It was a time to reflect, adjust, strategize and adapt to the new world that requires us to be more cautious and present ourselves to the world. 

Thank you all who have supported us during 2020, we hope that we can still move forward with you in 2021 as we continue to make a difference in the lives of our Mamas and their families. 

Yours sincerely 

Andrew Echel