Kasokoso, a densely populated slum located in the outskirts of Uganda’s capital city, Kampala is home to over 10,000 people, many of them living on the edge of life.
Seen from a distance, it appears like a rock packed up with houses, many of which are on the verge of collapsing.
Many of Kasokoso’s residents live on the edge with some unable to find a dollar a day to survive.
Survival here is for the fittest and the hustle is real.
As you navigate the community, residents are seen selling charcoal in a near by charcoal store, others operating a lockup shop selling general merchandise and yet what captures my mind is a woman who is frying cassava right next to a big and clogged drainage channel.
It is 8:00 am in the morning and every one is getting ready for the day. The common scene that I observe are mothers holding their children’s hands and walking them to school.
Some are buying snacks and parking them in small containers as a break or lunch package, others are carrying them on their backs.
So I follow one of them to school…
Obbo Phoebe is a parent at Bridge School Kasokoso, a school located in the heart of the community.
She has a 7 year old son Jairus Mutasa who is currently in primary two. It is a rush hour to school but only about 15 minutes away from where they stay.
“We are lucky the school gate is still open, run to school. Bye, I love you, I will come and pick you up in the evening. Remember to hand in your homework book…,” the mother shouts out as Jairus enters class.
She is kind to allow for an interview with me, so we walk back to her home together. As we jump over the wide drains in the community, I ask her about how her day begins and ends.
“I am a mother of three children. Jairus, my eldest son, 7 years, his sister Mary, 3 years and their brother who is 11 months old. I stay alone at home most of the time because my husband is always on safari. So most of the time, I take full responsibility and care of my children.. I am a single mother,” she says.
A few more steps and we are at her home, a single room in the middle of the a four unit rental block.
“I have not mopped, washed utensils, and it is quite crowded. My day is just getting started..” She says. While she says this, I am reminded of the typical gender roles assumed by many women which among others often includes maintaining the home and making sure that the house is tidy.
But, in Phoebe’s case – as with many many women across Uganda – it includes so much more.
“So tell me about your story as a woman and some of the challenges that you go through?” I ask.
The 30 year old mother narrates her story as one of a never ending fight for survival for herself and her children.
“As a mother, It has been so challenging for me. I remember in 2017, my children sat home the whole year because I could not find the little money to send them to school as a single mother, even the bad public school needs money, and yet they were bright. I prayed and cried to God for a breakthrough so that I could have the strength to build my family and take my children back to school. It would sometimes get worse, because there were days when there was no food on the table. We would just boil tea for lunch and dinner.” She narrates.
But, she never gave up. She got some capital and started a business.
“I started frying samosas and chapatti by the road side to raise money to support my children and make sure they could go to a good school. The business grew and I went into baking small cakes which were also selling. I saved up some money and I was determined to use the money as school fees for my children”.
“In December 2017, a friend told me about Bridge school in Kasokoso. So in went and I asked for a vacancy for Jairus. Thank God he was admitted and It was because I had worked so hard to build my business and protect my family that I could send him there. I am so happy that he is in school and he is actually doing well. He has never been sent back home for any reason.”
The jolly mother narrates as she offers me a cup of tea.
She however says that there are some rainy and dark days when she struggles to complete all that is expected of her – provide for her children’s education and raise her family – but her strong relationship with the school administration, her community and her God has paid off.
“If I am struggling, I communicate with the headteacher and we work together. I am happy about my boy’s academic performance.”
“Away from that, I have to make sure that there is food on the table for my children by the time they come back home. So I work fast, so that I prepare food, clean up the house but at the same time nurse my 11 year old baby. This is sometimes heavy work on me because I can not afford help.”
She says they can do everything that men can do.
“I think it time for the world to stop looking at us with pity and as the vulnerable sex because we are not. My struggle proves that. The support from government is welcome, but it shouldn’t be to done because they consider women to be lesser, but because we need balance and for people in Uganda to understand the role that women actually have, not what they think they have.”
Today, the world will turn its focus on women as they celebrate the international women’s day, so I ask her to share a message for the women as they celebrate their day.
“For decades, we have been put down by men as only deserving to be in the kitchen, to do housework and child bearers, but we have gone through this phase, and it is time for us to rise up and take our place as women of honour and as people who work hard and able to survive on our own. It’s what I teach my daughter and what my sons will teach their children in the future, God willing,” she says.
It is 10 am, and I guess it is time for me to leave Phoebe to start her day. I however leave with one lesson, that it is women like her have started the campaign of throwing away the pity parties that society throws at them.
It will be because of women like Phoebe in our communities that will make the narrative change if we are to achieve gender equality by 2030 as one of Sustainable Development Goals.