From crushing bananas for juice to hawking, Bishop Ateirweho has seen it all

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From crushing bananas for juice to hawking, Bishop Ateirweho has seen it all
Bishop Ateirweho at St Peter's Cathedral

PROFILE | The history of collar and cloak is cast in heaps of tales of humility and there is no way the Reverend Canon Jacob Ateirweho was going to be an exception.

The Bunyoro-Kitara Diocese bishop-elect was living off proceeds from crushing yellow bananas for juice and hawking on the streets of Kampala in the 1970s.

While idi Amin's government of the era demanded shoes for all, Ateirweho's first taste of the white man's human tyre came in 1980 when he was 12.

It was for the camaraderie of having joined the school choir in 1980 that his parents sacrificed several supper meals to afford the shoes.

Born on August 24, 1968, in Hoima Hospital to Levi Bwanswa, a village tailor and farmer, and Evasta Akandora Bwanswa, Ateirweho grew up in the recess of Hoima's Lukooge Village. And it is the village that grew him, too, he proudly speaks today.

Rev Ateirweho started his formative education at Duhaga Boys Primary School until Primary Six in 1980, before his brother Joseph Muhumuza lured him to Hoima Public School because of his talent for music.

Muhumuza was a teacher at Hoima Public School and in his younger brother, he had seen someone who could win the school music accolades.

The result was a bit of selfishness as Muhumuza kept Ateirweho from writing PLE in 1981.

Ateirweho joined Duhaga Secondary School for his O-Level which he says was challenging. He had to leave school to help his mother to make the banana juice, later carrying it with her sister early morning at 5am to Hoima Administration Hall.

"I would come from school at about 5pm, and make this juice," he reminisced.

"It was tiresome, I would do this until about 10pm, then retire to bed and at 5am, I would be up with my sister to carry this juice to Hoima town then run back home and get ready for school."

The rise and rise

Bishop Ateirweho married Irene in 1997

Rev Ateirweho is married to Irene Kobusinge Senturo Ateirweho. The couple tied the knot at St Peter's Cathedral on September 6, 1997, at St Peter’s Cathedral Duhaga Hoima.

They have five children; Collins Ahura, Timothy Murungi, Peace Wembabazi, Daniel Mwesigwa and James Mukuru.

Ateirwero, a former leader of praise and worship at St Peter's Cathedral, told Nile Post that studying A-Level was one tricky situation he faced. He had to engage in hawking in Kampala to raise school fees for St Leo's Fort portal.

He was one of those 'human cargo haulers' who carried luggage from Old Mulago to the taxi park. In between, he has to stow away in a train to Kasese.

“I’m talking about 1988 and 1989, because my mother wanted us to study so I had that at heart, but they did not have money to support," he says.

After passing A-Level, Ateirweho's priority was music, dance and drama since he was already talented, but even when he got guidance from a mentor he only identified as Mr Majara, he abandoned that idea and took on Mathematics at National Teachers College Masindi.

“I loved music, but I looked around there were no schools teaching music. Then I realised I was going to flop, the I went for mathematics and shortly after NTC in Masindi I joined Kitara Secondary School, where I taught until 2003,” Ateirweho says.

Rev Ateirweho remembers Canon Christopher Kirimunda, a dean then, and Canon Francis Barongo to have been instrumental in making him abandon his juicy teaching job for God's service.

“My parents were strong born-again, so I grew up in church and my church was St Peter's Cathedral and while I grew up due to my music talent and my good characters in church, they would tell me why can't you come and serve the Lord," he says.

Rev Ateirweho says abandoning his teaching profession was not an easy one, his fear mostly was how he would take care of his family in terms of paying fees for them, since he actually knew church priests were being paid peanuts, and while as a science teacher in a secondary school he was getting good money from government.

Yet he still answered to the calling circa 2003 when he told his church he was willing to serve the Lord in case an opportunity arose.

As he waited for an opportunity to join church, he offered to further his studies. His dream was to be a head teacher after attaining a degree.

Unfortunately, just a year at Makerere University for his degree in education, the course hit an academic wall and was suspended in 2002.

While home, he received a call from retired bishop Nathan Kyamanywa that he had seen his letter in a file where he expressed interest of serving the Lord.

"Guess what, the call from the bishop was telling me how Balaam University then part of Uganda Christians University had given the church a scholarship for one to study degree in divinity," he says.

"Because Makerere had put me on a pending list, my wife and me prayed for the offer. I took it on for three years and I got first class honors degree."

Ordained

Bishop Ateirweho has spoken of a past of sinful life but he is proud of seeing the light

Upon his completion of a degree in divinity in 2006, Ateirweho was ordained in July 2006 stayed at St Peter's Cathedral as curate for one-and-a-half years. He was later appointed principal Nile Vocational Institute where he served for three years.

He would return to the cathedral for curate before he was named a diocesan education coordinator for seven years, until 2021 when was assigned to All Saints Town Parish as assistant vicar.

The same year, Ateirweho was appointed vicar of the same church, before he got an elevation in 2022 as a canon by Rt Rev Samuel Kahuma.

On April 17, Ateirweho was elected the sixth Bishop of Bunyoro- Kitara Diocese.

While recounting his past life, Ateirweho recalls the books he stole at Duhaga Secondary School where he went for O-Level. He says when he got saved in 1991, the first thing he did was returning the books to the school library.

“I can tell you, I was a notorious man, I used to smoke, I loved women, I did everything bad including sleeping in the discos," he said.

"Imagine the books I stole while at Duhaga, when I got saved that is the first thing I did returning them back, I was not ashamed because I was open to my God, my hands and heart are purely clean now."

Ateirweho's 1991 turning point is one he has never gone against, remaining faithful to his wife, Irene, he says.

"We have been able to raise our children in good manners, some are also saved, we have seen the grace of God. When I look back and see where I’m now, I praise God for sure,” he says.

Ateirweho,  who doesn’t regret abandoning the teaching profession he loved so much, urges fellow teachers that in case they get God’s calling, they should never hesitate.

“For my fellow teachers, I was there, I know how hard it is to leave it, but when God calls you please come, most of us are aging and we need more young people who will take over from us so that we continue glorifying the name of our Lord,” he said.

He is thankful to Christians of All Saint’s Town Parish, St Peter's Cathedral, who he says have positively worked with him to see him grow.

“I want to thank people at All Saints, St Peters and people that believed in me. Former Bishop Nathan Kyamanywa, he is the one who wedded me and my wife in 1997, and the current bishop Rt Rev Samuel Kahuma was the master of ceremony at Duhaga Secondary School main hall - you have done a lot in my life."

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