From Kitchen to Heart: Gayaza Alumnae Celebrate Beloved Cook's Legacy

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From Kitchen to Heart: Gayaza Alumnae Celebrate Beloved Cook's Legacy
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It’s been an emotional week for old students and staff of Gayaza High School following the loss of a former long-serving cook of the school whose  work left lasting memories.

Beatrice Nalwoga, a cherished figure at Gayaza High School, passed away on June 10, aged 102 years. She was laid to rest at Gitta-Nabutaka hamlet, Kasangati Town Council. She left an indelible mark on generations of students and staff of one of Ugandan’s premier institutions from the late 1960s to the 1990s.

Despite not being an academic staff, Nalwoga was a well-liked member of the non-teaching staff at the school because of her influence that went well beyond her duties as a cook and caterer.

Nalwoga's pleasant demeanour and culinary prowess were the mainstays of Gayaza High School life for many years. She was well known for her ability to cook a wide range of delectable foods, always made with love and attention, from native Ugandan foods to other cuisines.

Following her death, many former students and staff members whose lives she had impacted came together to honour her and give thanks to God for her life as their cherished mentor and role model.

"Beatrice Nalwoga was more than just a cook; she was the heart and soul of our school's dining experience," said Kate Namatovu, a former student. "Cool and calm; soft-spoken; with an eye out for each and every person both students and staff. Her food brought us together, and her kindness left a lasting impression on everyone who knew her."

Her meals provided the entire school community with comfort and joy, more than simply nourishment. The delicacies that most people who tasted her cooking cannot forget are the curry sauce, white sauce, cassava cheese, fried rice with peas and beans, rock beans, and sukumawiki.

According to family accounts, Mama Beati, as she was affectionately known, was born in 1922 in Kiboga District. Dorothy Nattabi Ssevume Kalumba, her niece, explains that at that time, many parents, including Mama Beati’s father, did not believe in educating girls, so she never studied beyond primary three.

"Even during the few years she attended school, she had to work various odd jobs and later became a maid in a home of a reverend. When the priest was transferred to Kampala, she accompanied him," Nattabi Ssevume recounted.

The journey to Kampala was to transform her life and those near her forever. Nattabi Ssevume, who as a Muganda refers to the deceased as 'mother,' noted that the reverend recommended her to work for various expatriate staff at Mengo Hospital, including a family known as the Bonds.

"With that family, she learned to cook, bake, and prepare a variety of recipes, both local and exotic, including, Indian, Caribbean and Asian cuisines," Nattabi Ssevume added.

Mama Beati took her younger sister, Victoria Ssevume, from the countryside when she started earning some money, and she worked very hard to educate her at Mengo Primary School, where she completed her junior six. Despite her strong performance and acceptance to Makerere College, Victoria lacked the financial resources to continue her study.

"She spoke to the expatriates at Mengo, and her sister was admitted to study nursing and midwifery at Mengo Hospital," the niece added.

In the late 1960s, Mama Beati transitioned from Mengo Hospital to Gayaza High School, joining the cooking department then headed by the renowned Christine Ssebadduka, another long-serving and respected member of this department.

At Gayaza, the deceased influenced thousands of girls, including Namatovu. "She wasn't a teacher, but she taught us how a lady should behave in the kitchen, how to organize utensils, and occasionally gave us tips on preparing recipes and baking," Namatovu recalled.

Namatovu further justified the imprint the deceased put onto their lives pointing to the fact that there were many staff members, both teaching and non-teaching, but few are remembered as fondly as Nalwoga.

“Hearing everyone speak so highly of her after all these years means something,” she commented.

Nalwoga's legacy is not just in the meals she prepared but in the lives she touched and the love she spread. Her life was a living example of kindness, dedication, and faith, inspiring many through her actions rather than words. Her’s is a story of the immense impact simplicity and humble service can have on society, far beyond the recognition it often receives.

At the burial, it was evident that many of the mourners were grey-haired, likely over 50 years old, who first met Beatrice Nalwoga at Gayaza. Ssevume noted that these women, whom she referred to as "girls”, a term they were used to from their school days, had not only shown up for the burial but had been a significant part of Mama Beatrice’s life for years, contributing greatly to her welfare and treatment.

"These girls showed our mother immense love. The last time they gathered as a group was to celebrate her 100th birthday. Our mother had stopped walking when she was 94, and they bought her wheelchairs, a movable toilet, a better nursing bed, and other items to ensure she lived a comfortable life," Ssevume added.

Although Nalwoga never had biological children, she chose to live a chaste life as a member of a revival group within the Anglican Church called Abazukufu. However, she was blessed with children through her sister, brothers, and the girls of Gayaza. These three groups of children stood by her up to the day she breathed her last.

Robina Ddumba, a retired teacher and alumna of Gayaza High School from 1975 to 1989, attests to Mama Beatirice's warm heart and constant smile. "I don't remember ever seeing her with a gloomy face. Her smile wasn't fake; it was genuine. She was straightforward and always candidly addressed those she felt were in the wrong," Ddumba recalled.

Ddumba added, "These days, the world often praises the wrong people. We glorify the corrupt and politicians for the wrong reasons, but there are simple people serving in humble positions whose impact on society is immense, yet they don't receive the recognition they deserve."

Joy Mwesigwa, a former student also praised Nalwoga as a truly religious person who preached to all who knew her, not with words but through her actions. "We hear about the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, but Beati's life was a living epistle to those who knew her. I never heard her preach or shout about her faith, but she inspired many, including me, to turn to Christ," Mwesigwa remarked.

David Nsubuga, whose mother and himself worked alongside Nalwoga at Gayaza, described her as a straightforward and honest person. He disclosed that during their time serving in the kitchen, some workers would steal items from the store, but Mama Beatrice never did.

"Our supervisor, Miss Christine Ssebaduka, discovered that some people had developed 'longer arms' and decided to divide the store into two. She entrusted the keys of the inner store, which held most of the items and larger stocks, only to Maama Beati," Nsubuga added.

Upon retirement, Beati continued to occasionally visit Gayaza to help out in the cooking department, while also pursuing her personal initiatives such as baking cakes for various occasions and gardening.

At one point, her sister, Victoria Ssevume, fell ill, and Beatrice decided to care for her. From then on, they lived together at Nattabi’s house at Abayita Abibiri, Entebbe Municipality. The two sisters cared for each other deeply. Victoria passed away on Wednesday, June 5 and, a week later, Beatrice followed her.

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