Even in the midst of devastating personal losses, tribal wars and threats on her life, a young woman found encouragement in an unlikely place, and the courage to face down some of the most powerful people in Uganda.
When Patience Namanya was 12, she came home from school with a bad end-of-year report. She was failing in many of her subjects. Her teacher had scrawled a note at the bottom:
“Patience can do better than this. Should please put in more effort.”
Patience sat alone, ashamed. She ached for her parents. She was afraid of her abusive aunt. Who would she show this wrinkled piece of paper to? She knew one person who would understand. One woman who would both challenge and comfort her. Patience picked up her pencil and began to write to her sponsor.
“This year was not wonderful for me because of the problems I had. I lost my grandma and my mummy in the same year and month, but I surrendered them to Jesus Christ.”
A troubled start
Patience grew up in Kyebando, a slum in Kampala, Uganda, mired in unemployment, alcoholism and malnutrition. In Patience’s own home, tragedy was relentless. Her father died of AIDS, followed by her mother and two of her younger siblings. While AIDS still ravaged her body, Patience’s mother enrolled her at Compassion’s Gayaza Road Child Development Centre.
After her mother died, the 12-year-old moved in with her aunt and uncle. Though Patience was able to stay in the Compassion centre, her home life was grim. Every day she awoke at 4am to prepare meals, wash clothes and care for her younger cousins. She rarely went to bed before 1am, and was regularly denied food. Keeping up with her schoolwork was nearly impossible. Her school marks continued to fall.
But Patience still found time to write to her sponsor, Diane. Over the next 12 years, letters passed between them. She says of Diane, her sponsor, “She was always encouraging me to carry on, to work hard. I always shared everything with her. She was and still is my prayer partner, encourager and Mum.”
That encouragement helped Patience improve her failing marks, and she began to rise in the ranks at school. At 18, she was accepted into Compassion’s Leadership Development Programme, and began attending Uganda Christian University, where she studied social work and administration.
A bright future
To Patience’s delight, Diane continued to sponsor her through college. Patience began opening her letters with “Dear Mummy,” and in turn, Diane began calling Patience her daughter. Diane observed as Patience’s desire for justice became more pronounced.
Patience saw corruption all around her. That acute awareness of injustice gave Patience a purpose – but also put her life in danger. Upon completing her bachelor’s degree, she began working with Volunteer Anti-Corruption Campaign Africa. At great personal risk, Patience hosted radio programmes each week to educate people about corruption.
“The corrupt people in Uganda have great authority, are almost untouchable and very dangerous. They intimidate, kidnap and often kill people who come out openly to expose their corrupt tendencies.” After one radio programme, an elderly widow visited Patience. She had been travelling more than 400 miles to the Pensions Department to request her husband’s pensions for the last 11 years, but the government had ignored her requests.
Patience filed a report on the matter that was escalated to the police. In less than 24 hours, Patience and her team discovered that £45 million had been siphoned from pension plans across the country. Police immediately arrested top-ranking government officials. The threats that followed weren’t bluffs. After some of her colleagues were poisoned, Patience found herself in hiding, unable to eat food that she hadn’t prepared herself. But Patience had learned long before not to give up. Diane’s words of encouragement echoed in Patience’s mind, as she faced down some of the most powerful men in Uganda.
Patience was eventually promoted to the Anti-Corruption National Strategic Planning Team for Uganda. A job at the national level affords her both freedom and safety. Earlier this year, Patience helped reinstate 6,000 teachers who had been illegally removed from their jobs. She says she hopes to one day be appointed to parliament, where she can fight corruption from within.
Nearly two decades have passed since Diane received Patience’s wrinkled progress report. Patience says she will never forget the kindness and inspiration of her sponsor. In Diane’s home, a manila folder holds more than 20 letters from Patience. Amid the drawings of mud huts and pineapples, Patience introduced Diane to a world of poverty, tribal wars and disease. But Patience also showed her the power of prayer and sacrifice. And, though Diane has never met Patience, she knows that deep in Uganda, fighting corruption, lives her ‘daughter’.
Brandy Campbell, Compassion International