‘I knew I needed to get up, and I eventually did – but not alone.’

Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/02/i-knew-i-needed-to-get-up-and-i-eventually-did-but-not-alone/

Feb
14

Karagwa, Daniella Khanani and Abraham Mumbere representing UCU at the 5th Annual National Moot Court Competition - Health and Human Rights (CEHURD) where they emerged victors.
Karagwa, Daniella Khanani and Abraham Mumbere representing UCU at the 5th Annual National Moot Court Competition – Health and Human Rights (CEHURD) where they emerged victors.

By Alex Taremwa

This is not another story of someone with a troubled childhood. It is a tale of a girl’s relentless, nasty, inch-by-inch fight not just for her place but for the betterment of society as a whole.

Rebecca Karagwa is 23 years old but has never met her father, and he is not dead. He fled for the hills when she was conceived. Her mother, Jovia Kukunda, folded up her sleeves and singlehandedly fed her, took her through some of the best schools in the country and has been the rock in this slippery world.

And Karagwa has not disappointed her. She has won almost everything she’s set her sights to. The Fourth-Year Law student has impressed not just at the local scene but on the world stage as well. At the academic level, Karagwa won her very first two moot court competitions, which are law school simulated court or arbitration proceedings. In 2018, her team won the Best Moot Memorial and came second to winning the overall Moot Competition – a title they later clinched.

Karagwa, who received UCU Partners financial aid, and her teammates, Juuko Martin and Alik Angella, pose with the award they received after a Gender-Based Violence debate organised by the Church of Uganda.
Karagwa, who received UCU Partners financial aid, and her teammates, Juuko Martin and Alik Angella, pose with the award they received after a Gender-Based Violence debate organised by the Church of Uganda.

A leader and organiser of epic proportions, Karagwa has been largely emboldened by her upbringing – a patriarchal society that treats women as second class or, in her words, “as a doormat.” She says that people step on a mat to clean their shoes as it – or the people they regard as the doormat – suffer in silence.

“Whenever I am walking with my mother, people ask who my father is as if to insinuate that a child belongs to a man (father),” she said. “This is unfair to women like my mother who put in all the work, alone. We can’t develop in a society that condones such social constructs.”

She has been outspoken about gender equality from her Mary Hill High School and Trinity College Nabbingo days. At both schools, she was a passionate debater and activist. She is involved, hands on, and her leadership record is impeccable, from leading several student clubs to representing them at global platforms.

Currently, she is the Vice Chair of the Gender Equality Association at Uganda Christian University (UCU) and Chairperson of the Law Council in the UCU Law Society.

All Karagwa wants to see is a society that grows by equity, lives by the rule of law and offers equal opportunity to everyone and appreciates that women no longer only belong in the kitchen cooking and doing laundry. Her passion has opened doors for her. She is an ambassador for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 5 on Gender Equality and on number 16 that deals with Peace.

She was invited to the United Headquarters in New York last year to speak on the same but did not make the trip due to a delay to get a Visa. She did, however, travel to Accra, Ghana, in November 2018 and, in 2019; she graced the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa to discuss on issues affecting young people in Africa.

Karagwa oozes nothing short of sheer brilliance and passion. Her words are calculated and at times so perfectly that one would think they were rehearsed. She cuts the figure of someone who has her future figured out, but deep down, she struggles in silence. Not even her glasses could hide the tears flowing her eyes when she narrated the depth her mother has gone to keep her in law school.

You see, Karagwa had received a scholarship from the BRAC international development non-profit organization to pay for her tuition fees at Makerere University on top of a Shs400,000 ($109 American) living allowance. The problem was the scholarship was designated for study in an unrelated program of Population Studies.

Karagwa wanted to study journalism – to use her outspokenness to speak for others – but her teachers in secondary school said she would make a good lawyer. Her mother agreed with the teachers and was determined to make sure that she studied law.

“Our relatives lashed out at my mother. They said I am just a girl. How could she pass on an offer of ‘free money’ to cough over Shs4m (just over $1,000) every semester on tuition? But my mother didn’t flinch or heed. Since I joined UCU, I have always paid my tuition late, but she has never failed to provide,” Karagwa said.

But when her mother fell sick as Karagwa was entering her final year of law school, the world came crumbling on her. She could not afford to pay hefty hospital bills and Karagwa’s tuition fees at the same time. Karagwa had to leave lodging in the university halls of residence and came close to leaving Law school altogether.

“But I knew one wants to hear about your problems so I had to dress up, show up and keep walking,” she tearfully narrated. “I was down but I knew I needed to get up and I eventually did – but not alone.”

God sent angels in the form of Mr. Tim Kreutter, the founder of Cornerstone Development Africa, and the family of Mr. and Mrs. Jet Tusiime who together paid for her tuition for the first semester of her fourth year. One would say that their support gave her a new lease on life but her tears said it all. She wanted a mentor but in Kreutter, Karagwa has found a father she never had.

With the intervention of the Dean of Student Affairs, Mrs. Bridget Mugume, and thanks to a generous payment from UCU Partners that assists with covering her tuition fees, Karagwa has returned to the university residence for her last semester. She has now set her sight on doing a Masters in Laws alongside advocacy for human rights, climate change, peace and social justice.

“I have learnt a lot in this time but the most important lesson is gratitude and I will show this same kindness to others,” she said. “I can never pay back the money they [sponsors] have invested in me but I will transfer this kindness to another person.”

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To support Uganda Christian University programs, students, activities and services, go to www.ugandapartners.org and click on the “donate” button, or contact UCU Partners Executive Director, Mark Bartels, at m.t.bartels@ugandapartners.org.

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