It is not a secret for those who have lived here long that Ruth Kalibbala Bwanika is the lady who appears on the packet of lifeguard condoms together with an unidentified man.
It was in the early 90s that a girl, then in high school was approached to appear on the condom packets and since then, she has become the face of Lifeguard condoms.
Fast forward, Kalibbala, now 42 is into theatre as well as being a media personality.
The Nile Post interviewed her on moving from being the face of Lifeguard condoms to finding solace in theatre.
Tell us about your childhood, Ruth
My name is Ruth Kalibbala but I later adopted the name Bwanika from my husband, Charles Bwanika Ssensuwa. I was born in Kawempe in a family of seven. I am the eldest girl but third born in the family of four girls and three boys. Mummy died while I was 14 and I had to grow up with daddy who saw me through up to where I am now.
Tell us about any special childhood memories you have
I was a stubborn kid; actually not stubborn but active and a tomboy who used to ride my younger brother’s bicycle though daddy had warned me against it for fear I would lose my virginity.
I used to stealthily take it for a ride but one day I got an accident and I got a terrible wound on my leg(cackles as she touches the leg). By the time daddy returned home, I had hidden and I didn’t tell him about what had happened for fear of reprisal. Unfortunately, my aunt reported me.
From primary school I loved art so much but daddy never wanted me anywhere near the stage or rehearsals for art because he thought it was for failures.
Tell us your education background
I started my education journey at St.Peters Primary School in Nsambya before I later joined St.Edwards and Nakasero High for my O-level and later Pride Academy for my A-level.
I later joined Nkumba University for my secretarial course and later graduated with a degree in Mass communication from Islamic University in Uganda.
What are you currently doing?
I am currently into theatre as an actor but also a radio and television presenter.
So, how did you get to appear on the condom advert?
I don’t think I was chosen to appear in the condom advert but a friend of mine one day came to me with a deal. At that time there was a magazine where people would be given between shs20,000 and shs30,000 to undress and appear on the magazine.
I refused to join the bandwagon for Chic magazine but my friend convinced me that it was a different gig where a white man wanted a Uganda lady to appear for an advert but didn’t tell me it was a condom company. I hesitantly accepted because I was not really certain.
What was your reaction when you got to know you were to appear on a condom advert?
On reaching the white man, he broke the news to me that it was a condom advert which was to run for a couple of months and I was to be paid. I knew daddy would never know about it and I accepted to pose for the photoshoot.
Who is the other guy you appeared with on the advert?
It was some guy who said he was from Nkumba University and we posed for the photo. We signed on some document and we were given our allowance.
How much money were you paid?
Laughs. I won’t mention the amount. Chuckles again.
Did your daddy ever get to know about it?
One day we had gone to a pharmacy for some medication along William Street and he saw someone resembling me on a condom poster. He told me the girl on it resembled me but left it at that because it was a Kenyan company and there was no way I could have been to Kenya.
I rushed and entered into the pharmacy but my head was pounding. By the time he got to know of it, it was long gone.
What was the reaction of your friends and relatives on knowing that you had appeared on an advert?
My friends were amused when they saw me on the condom packet. Many of them, especially boys used to joke about it that they had just used me (lifeguard condom).
My relatives especially the aunts felt bad because they are born against and thought I was going to start selling condoms or start helping people put on condoms but my brother and sisters were very supportive.
On getting to know about it, he asked why I didn’t tell him. I told him I feared to reveal to him but kept on reprimanding me for keeping it a secret. He asked many questions but later had to abandon the subject because there was nothing more he could do with it.
Were there any conditions from relatives and the condom company for appearing on the advert?
There wasn’t any.
Has your husband and children ever reacted to the advert after seeing you on it?
My husband was okay with it because he is my number one fan who claps and corrects me whenever I go wrong but the kids felt bad on seeing the advert. My firstborn was tortured at school whenever they bullied her that he mummy was appearing on a condom packet. She started isolating herself from others.
Do you still earn from the advert (directly or indirectly)
There is nothing I get from the company, although there are some discussions going on.
Would you describe the advert as life-changing?
In the beginning, it was a normal thing until those challenges faced by my kids and people especially on social media who have of recent started resurrecting the issue of appearing and try to distort the whole concept.
Since my childhood, I loved arts but my daddy never allowed me near it. I stealthily, without daddy’s knowledge joined school competitions and it was from there that I joined Afri Talent where I was given big roles.
One day, I went with a family friend, Ruth Wanyana to watch a play at National Theatre by the Diamonds Ensemble in which she acted and when Abbey Mukiibi who was in another group, Black Pearls together with Mariam Ndagire and Kato Lubwama invited me to join their new grew group- Afri Talent that he was about to form.
Abbey asked Wanyana to invite me to join the group because they were recruiting beautiful girls like me to join the theatre. I had now officially joined the theatre but daddy never knew about it until later.
Life in theatre
Theatre is a hobby that I have enjoyed so much. However, it comes with focus and management that if you have these and are wise enough, you not only become popular but earn a lot out of it. The play Ensitaano always aired on WBS where I played as Linda sold me out and got to be known by many people.
Theatre and radio have changed my life a lot. Because people hear my voice on the radio and see me on stage, I get a lot of gigs.
Any future plans?
I started a charity organization named Friends of Ruth Kalibbala Bwanika(FORKB) where I go out to various hard to reach areas to support the needy especially children and the elderly.
Every year I move to one area and give them the support to live their life.
Last year, I went to Luuka but was shocked to find girls without pads and could spend as long as four days at home without going to school because they are in their menstrual period and cannot afford pads.
I recently went to Busiika where I found a blind couple with six children and I was touched so much. I had to give them home needs and refurbish their home.