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Snuffed dreams: Tale of an orphaned Buhweju girl

By Susan Birungi Nyakoojo, UNICEF Uganda

Rosemary Kansiime is a beautiful young mother of two daughters, aged 6 and 3 years old. She is also 7 months pregnant.

Kansiime lost both her parents to AIDS and was orphaned at the age of 7 in the late 1990’s. She was then briefly raised by her ailing grandfather, Irario Rutahanwa, whose strong belief in girls’ education made him enrol her at Nsiika COPE School, in Rwentuha village, Rwengwe parish, Buhweju district. With support from UNICEF, the school offered free education for the first three classes of primary schooling.

Given his advanced age, Kansiime’s grandfather couldn’t provide for all her needs. She was then sent to live with her brother who enrolled Kansiime in Nsiiika Primary School, where she was required to pay school fees, to complete her studies.

Kansiime dreamt of becoming a health worker to treatment people in her village, but the dream never materialised. She dropped out of school in Primary Seven due to a lack of school fees. Her situation was exacerbated upon the death of her grandfather, who had been her education champion. Kansiime was then forced to flee home at the age of 16 and get married to escape the harassment and abuse from her sister-in-law.

Despite the suffering at her brother’s home, Kansiime says it was the lack of school fees that drove her away from her best hope for a better future. “If I were studying I would have endured the suffering so that I could get a better future, but there was no money for school fees,” she says.

Today, at the age of 25, Kansiime finds herself in a difficult marriage and unable to meet her basic needs or provide for her daughters. Her husband sold off their small piece of land without her consent and opted to rent a one-roomed house in the village. They both do casual labour in neighbours’ plantations to survive.

Kansiime says she has only one wish: “To give my daughters the education I never had, so they don’t suffer like me.”

However, her current circumstances make it difficult to ascertain if this dream will ever come to fruition.

Kansiime is one of the ever-increasing number of girl-children denied the right to education due to orphanhood, early marriage and, consequently, early pregnancy. It is symbolic of the reality that one in every four girls in Uganda (25 per cent) is denied the right to education.  

Kansiime also represents many young girls –with so much potential – that miss out on available opportunities due to inadequate follow-up. Her plight points to the need to design programmes that emphasize follow-up of children to help keep them in school until they are adequately empowered to utilise the skills they have gained to earn a living.

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