UCU graduate uses personal scars to reinforce war against child abuse
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/12/ucu-graduate-uses-personal-scars-to-reinforce-war-against-child-abuse/
By Joseph Ssemutooke
In 2006, Aisha Nabukeera drew national attention after suffering child abuse that nearly claimed her life. Age 13 and in Primary Six at Nyendo Primary School in the southern Uganda town of Masaka, Nabukeera suffered third-degree burns on 80% of her body after her step-mother forced the young girl to wear a petro-soaked dress while lighting a kerosene lamp. A neighbor who came with a bucket of water saved her life but not the physical scars she still wears.
Today, the 26-year-old Nabukeera is one of Africa’s foremost youth champions of the fight against child abuse and, despite the scars and horrific memory, was a finalist and named Miss Popularity in the 2015-2016 Miss Uganda beauty pageant.
A 2018 Uganda Christian University (UCU) graduate with a Bachelor of Social Works and Social Administrative degree, she is the founder and director of a fast-growing, anti-child-abuse initiative, the Aisha Nabukeera Foundation (ANF), which was started in 2017. In 2019, Nabukeera was named one of Africa’s 12 beneficiaries of the Generation Africa programme.
The ANF advocates for children’s rights and assists abuse survivors. Representatives of the foundation visit schools to promote awareness and prevention about child abuse. The Generation Africa programme, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, seeks “to help young Africans whose personal experiences have shaped their determination to help others facing challenges across the continent through telling their stories globally.” The dozen selected each year receive training in global development skills to further inspire change.
“When you tell someone your story, they get hopeful about life,” said Nabukeera, who received the Generation Africa training in Johannesburg, South Africa, in mid-2019. “For many children facing tough conditions that have seen them go through abuse, seeing me and hearing my story gives them hope.”
Nabukeera uses her experience of excruciating agony and pain from her abuse as well as the pain still with her today in her passionate fight against child abuse.
“My mother told me many years after the incident that she even thought of poisoning me and killing herself because she couldn’t bear to see me in pain and having no money to fund the treatment,” Nabukeera said, pointing out the added psychological damage of bullying because of her bodily scars. “At school some called me things like ‘roast chicken.’ When I contested in Miss Uganda, some said I wasn’t beautiful enough to be there.”
When Nabukeera’s biological mother reported the case to the local authorities to try and get justice for her daughter, the step-mother insisted that Nabukeera had simply tried to self-immolate herself. Her biological father sided with the step-mother.
As part of her child abuse battle today, Nabukeera urges the government to strengthen penalties on persons who hurt children. She says oftentimes when children’s rights are abused, responsible authorities don’t take serious action, which widens the door for other perpetrators.
“Stop telling abused children that their pain is not a big deal and that there are people worse off than they are,” she said. “No one should ever belittle someone else’s suffering, instead people should work to heal those who are suffering by bettering their conditions and helping them get justice where they have been served injustice.”
She also advises children to speak out. She says that if one fails to get assistance from close relatives, the child should talk to neighbors or nearby authorities. To parents, she calls for equal attention to their children, whether they live in polygamous or monogamous families.
She credits several adults for her ability to pull away from her childhood incident. Among these is Ugandan socio-political commentator Frank Gashumba who pledged to unofficially adopt the “burnt girl” and become her “father.” He helped her through school. In 2009, the late founder and director of the St. Lawrence schools, Prof. Lawrence Mukiibi, gave her a six-year scholarship at St Lawrence School, Horizon campus. And after passing her UACE exams in 2014, she joined Uganda Christian University.
“Most of my (biological) family abandoned me,” Nabukeera reminisces. “Going to school was just out of question for me. I was treated as a hopeless case, and so I lost all hope. I thought it was the end of my life, which made me so bitter and angry at the world.”
Acts of kindness from Frank and Lawrence – two one-time strangers – turned that around. She has since found forgiveness and grace for her step-mother and others.
“Now, I believe her act of malice might have been the greatest gift of my life,” Nabukeera said. “I have moved on.”
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