Servant hood: Hand-washing students’ clothes yields money and Good Samaritan attention

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Justine Nanyanzi washes clothes at her residence
Justine Nanyanzi washes clothes at her residence

By Olum Douglas

It was lunchtime when I first met Justine Nanyanzi. Her colleagues had scattered to various eateries. But to her, this was not a time for food, but for meeting or private reading.

As I reached out for her hand with a smile on my face, I noticed she was struggling to forge a smile back. Wearing a light dress with black-and-white flowery tint, and a pair of sandals with several traces of sewing on the strings’ base, Nanyanzi’s lips were dry and coarse, with white, scaly peals that clearly revealed dehydration and hunger. The weaves on her head were half-finished, leaving a large portion of her jumbled hair bare.

At that moment, it became clear to me that the story I had read online was true. In early February, an online paper in Uganda that reports events at universities, Campus Bee, broke the account of Nanyanzi under the headline, “The story of the UCU girl who is washing fellow students’ clothes for tuition.”

The story went viral and a few days later, a local television, NTV-Uganda, interviewed Nanyanzi and broadcasted her story. The focus was on her washing business, which was unusual because the Ugandan perception is that university students are middle-class and above such odd jobs.

A few minutes into our chat, I asked Nanyanzi what inspired her to begin washing fellow students’ clothes. She smiled and said the answer was long.

Justine Nanyanzi at the university
Justine Nanyanzi at the university

Born in Mukono District to a peasant-turned-evangelist and his wife,Justine Nanyanzi is the first-born in the broken family of three children. When she finished her Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education (UACE) in 2014, Nanyanzi who excelled highly in mathematics, economics and geography, had to stay home for at least a year because she did not have any source of funding to take her to the next academic level.

During that time, she got employed as a cleaner at a local hotel. In 2016, the hotel owner rewarded the hard-working employee with a place to sleep and sponsorship at Uganda Christian University (UCU), where she pursued the Bachelor of Procurement and Logistics Management.

She completed her first-year without much challenge. Trouble started in her second year. The facility housing the hotel where she worked was sold to a new owner who pushed Nanyanzi’s boss and university sponsor out with no funds to continue supporting Nanyanzi.

Nanyanzi dropped out of school and got a job as maid to save for her university tuition and help pay rent at her new residence that she shared with a friend and single mother of three. But the money she earned was barely enough for food and rent. That’s when she turned to classmates.

“I told my classmates that I am tired of life and suffering. And if they ever heard that I was dead, it should not surprise them,” Nanyanzi said, “At that time, I was feeling alone, worthless and full of hate for everyone. I wanted to die because I knew that would save me from suffering and would not hurt anybody.”

To her amazement, UCU students collected over 1.7 million shillings ($460 American) for her tuition. Some gave her food. With the student assistance and another job cleaning university offices, she still fell short of needed finances by about 500,000 shillings ($135).

That’s where washing clothes came in. In Uganda, washing of clothes is predominantly done by hand. Individuals either wash their own or hire people of lower economic status and education to wash for them. Nanyanzi humbled herself for that job among her fellow students.

Her servant hood yielded publicity, including the call from a stranger to help further. That Good Samaritan took her to a bank. The man, who asked to be anonymous, paid her tuition and other fees for all the remaining semesters.

Nanyanzi said she asked the man if he was an angel and not human. He laughed before explaining that he and his siblings also grew up with much hardship. After pulling out of poverty, they resolved to help whoever they could help.

“It took me time to accept that, indeed, that was not a dream,” Nanyanzi said. “And because of that, whenever I pray these days, even when something is really bothering me, I have that confidence that the God that catered for my tuition is able to do everything.”

With a Cumulative General Point Average (CGPA) of 4.44 of 5.0 for her previous three semesters, there is little doubt that Nanyanzi is headed for a first-class undergraduate degree.

After that she desires to obtain a master’s degree in Statistical Economics.

“I may not have food or rent today but I believe my God is always with me. Like Jesus said, ‘man does not only live by bread alone.’ When I lack food, I pray to God and I believe he is preparing my happy days ahead,” Nanyanzi concludes.


If you are interested in supporting Uganda Christian University students in need, contact Mark Bartels, Uganda Christian University Partners’ Executive Director, at

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