Joyce Oruma, May’s Maternal Change Maker

DSCF3740Joyce is like her name, full of joy as well as panache and outspoken resiliency. She is the sole care provider and mother of 25 children. Joyce’s story of resiliency and  love reflects the insecure reality of residents of informal settlements as she has been forcibly evicted and displaced from her home 3 times in the past several years. In spite of the instability and precariousness Joyce is up against, she has persevered and runs a successful business selling chickens which allows her to support her 25 children (5 biological and 20 AIDS-orphan) and pay their school fees. In the future, she hopes she can buy land for her children so that they may not face the same issues of forced eviction and displacement they have experienced far too many times.

IMG_0427Joyce’s Story: After escaping the war in Northern Uganda, Joyce moved to Kampala and settled into Nakawa, an informal district on the outskirts of the city. She used to grow maize and carry it into town to sell. Joyce was enrolled in The Sustainable Livelihoods project which was supported by the Canadian Government and Canadian donors and focused on 1. Entrepreneurial skills 2. Community health worker training 3. Start up support to get a business off the ground.  Fragility and vulnerability, along with the kinds of resources  people and communities can access contribute to on-going poverty and skills based programs, like the Sustainable Livelihoods Program, was set up to build on local resiliency to vulnerabilities, and to leverage resources to reduce poverty. Joyce began selling chickens through the Sustainable Livelihoods Program.

As a care taker Joyce assumes the role of both mother and father. Being a single mother to 25 children means that most of her day is consumed by domestic work (dishes, laundry, cooking, and cleaning); however, Joyce exemplifies the double-work burden experienced by many women since she is also the primary breadwinner for her household and engages in multiple income generating activities to sustain her family’s livelihood, as well as being a community advocate.

Joyce’s words, On Motherhood

“I see the condition of the children – because their own mothers and fathers have died, there is no one left to take care of them. That is why I feel for them and offer my motherhood to them. If you can keep them well, some can help you, others can help themselves. If you gather them together, they can feel happy together – like they have a family again. This is why I’m here with them, because I don’t want them to suffer, and I want them to feel like they have a mother. If I’m annoyed and they come and play, I can joke around with them and feel happy.”

What being a mother is like every day to 25 children

“I don’t have help, I’m here working at home with the little ones during the day (washing, cooking, cleaning), and in the evening is when I go to work and do my business. At night I return and I cook for them, prepare for them to sleep, and in the morning I remain with them again.”

“When one of my children was in the hospital for a month and was very sick, I would leave food for the children to eat and tell them what to buy with the money I left them. I can also call on somebody from the village (like my sister) to come and feed them. The older children also help the younger ones.”

On schooling

“It is so important that they keep studying. My father died when I was 15 so I couldn’t keep studying because there was no one to look after me; but I want my kids to keep studying! One of my sons was so stubborn and moved around with girls and did not want to study. So I sent him to boarding school in Luweero so he can’t do what he was doing here because it’s a very strict school.”

“For girls, if they have their periods, I tell them you be clean and you tell me what you want; I will give her the money to buy whatever products she needs. I tell them to be prepared when they go to school because it can happen at any time.”

On being both mother and father

“Sitting together with them in a room, I like to hear their stories and share my stories. I tell them about what life was like when I was young. I prepare them to react to strangers and tell people what to do if people come to the house and I’m not home. We stay together and talk and converse…. Boys usually fear the father, and girls talk with the mother, but I’m both the mother and the father. This means I have two sides; sometimes I talk to them like a father and other times like a mother.”

On financial literacy

“When you’re in business, you don’t spend all the money you make – you save it. Even if people come to buy my products, my neighbour can sell it for me and keep the money for me. But I keep saving part of the money in the house, because I know that if the business is bad, that money will keep us afloat until it picks up again. Right now, it’s not a great time for my businesses because of the season, but the money I have saved in the house is helping me. If my business is doing well, I can save around 200,000 shs or 300,000 shs, but it depends. If I get 150,000 shs from my business in a week, I will save 50,000 shs and use the rest. Sometimes I make 400,000 shs a month; from that I can spend 200,000 shs and I save 200,000 shs.”

And If resources were unlimited

“With …money I would build a house for my children, I would build a big business for them, and it would have a place where they can study. My plan would be to get land for them to build on.”

Community Mobilizer

CAP/AIDS also supports community capacity building work and has worked with CAP/AIDS Uganda and a local community based organization, The Needy Support Centre. Joyce Oruma is a mobilizer for the Needy Support Center –  and connects and supports mothers, especially those who moved from the North, like Joyce, and who have been impacted by HIV/AIDS. The organization is currently in a process of reconnecting with community members after the previous eviction in which all their members were displaced and is looking to find ways to support disconnected community members especially to support their members’ rebuilding livelihoods. Joyce has played a significant role in playing a peer counselor role for young women and for mobilizing mothers.

As a peer counselor

Joyce O (640x480) “Using my counseling training from CAP-AIDS, I tell young women to not make the mistake of becoming a mother when they are too young. First, you focus on yourself, study in school, get a job, then you can become a mother (or father).”

“You know, some mothers come to me and ask me about their problems. If someone comes to me and needs help, I’ll help her, but next time I’ll tell her you have to work hard; if you need business or a job, you come to me and I’ll help you.”

Joyce Oruma is a maternal change maker and an inspiration to everyone who meets her to do more for more people, especially our young people.


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