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Abandoned, Stigmatised but still Standing Tall – Annet Babirye

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Article source Daily Monitor – Uganda

The first time I talked to Annet Luwambo Babirye was on phone to make an appointment to meet her in person. Her voice was loud and lively. Eventually, when we met at Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA) offices in Kamwokya, I noticed Babirye lacks both hands.

As she ushered me into the board room of the FIDA offices, I asked her how she had managed to receive my phone call (without hands).
“Did someone help you?” I asked.
“No one helped me. I received the phone call by myself using the aide of my stumps,” she told me.

Once we sat down, she demonstrates how she did it by using the stumps to pull a phone out of her handbag and thereafter placing it against her left ear. I’m amazed by her ability to do things herself.
The other things she tells me she can do by herself are mopping, cooking, carrying a baby, bathing herself, typing and even writing. To prove her point, again, she pulls out a pen and book and starts writing. The words she writes are neat and clear.

“The only things I cannot do by myself are peeling and carrying heavy items,” Babirye, who is smartly dressed in a blue outfit, says.
“What about shopping for clothes, do you do that by yourself as well?” I ask. “Oh yes. In fact, I go shopping in downtown Kampala and I never try to hide my stumps under long sleeves. The way you see me right now is the way I normally move in town,” she says.

A victim of measles
When Babirye was nine months old, she suffered from measles and was rushed to a nearby health facility somewhere in Bunamwaya before she was later transferred to Mulago Hospital. “My maternal grandmother, the late Anna Nakiwolo, told me that some of the medicine was administered through a drip. A few days after that, both of my hands started rotting and my toes started falling off one by one,” she recounts.

To save her life, the doctors advised that both hands be amputated as well as her toes. “My family had no choice but to follow the doctors’ instructions,” she says.

Unable to handle her daughter’s new state, Babirye’s mother abandoned her. Her father had barely been present in their lives even before that. “I hardly know anything about them except for the fact that they named me Babirye because I was born a twin. I’m told my twin brother died shortly after birth,” she says, adding that she has not seen or heard from them to date.

Life with her grandmother
Nakiwolo took on the responsibility of raising her together with eight other cousins at her home in Mutundwe, Kisugula. Nakiwolo worked as a house-help in various homes and used her earnings to look after the family.
“My grandmother looked after me very well. She taught me how to bath and feed myself. When I started getting menstrual periods, she taught me how to take care of myself,” she says. Her cousins helped her as well, save for the times she says they refused to travel with her claiming the journey would not be good for her health.

School and stigma
“One thing I remember that hurt me was when I was joining Senior Five, and the then head teacher of Entebbe Senior School doubted my Senior Four results. She wondered out loud how I had managed to scored 39 aggregates without both hands,” she says. Babirye was eventually let off the hook after the head teacher found her writing by herself during one of the class lessons. Meanwhile, Babirye says most of her school mates were understanding and did not bully her in any way.

“The only people who called me names such as mulema (lame) were people I bumped into as I made my way to and from school. That used to hurt,” she recounts. Babirye resorted to hiding her limbs inside her pockets, wearing long sleeved shirts or sweaters.

“But one time, I attended a disability conference where I saw people in a worse state than mine. I promised myself as I walked out of that seminar never to feel shy or feel bad about my disability,” she recounts. From that time onwards, whenever someone called her mulema, she says she would just continue walking so as not to give them more liberty to provoke her further. Eventually, she got used to the name-calling and it did not bother her anymore.

On her children and estranged husband
In 2000, while at a training workshop in Gulu District, Babirye remembers receiving a phone call from a person who introduced himself as James Kiyingi. “He said I had a very lovely voice and he wanted to meet me in person which was something I found rather strange because I had no idea who he was,” she says. “I ignored him but he persisted with the phone calls.”

After one of her female friends advised her that it was probably time for her to settle down and have her own children, she gave in to Kiyingi’s advances and started dating. It was during this time that she conceived and later gave birth to their first child, now aged 13 years.

“It was a caesarean birth and James was nowhere to be seen through the whole process,” she says. Attempts to reach him on phone remained futile as he was not picking up the calls. Kiyingi eventually showed up a week later. She narrates; “He stayed for some time until I conceived and gave birth to our second child, a girl, who is now 10 years old. Afterwards, he left without any notice.”

Having felt that enough was enough; Babirye called Kiyingi and gave him two options. To either walk away for good or legalise their relationship, an option he eventually accepted. The duo had their introduction and wedding concurrently in 2005. The ceremony was financed by close family members and friends. The happiness was, however, short-lived when Kiyingi abandoned her after the birth of their third child, now aged eight years.

Annet now works as an advisor to the disabled and you can view her working with the disabled here  www.youtube.com/annetbabirye