Human beings are works in progress. (Photo from creative Commons)
Indeed, it is true that storms in our lives always take us back to the basics and laws. The first week of October has left my peers battered and bruised forcing us to reflect on our lives.
In a space of two days , we lost two irreplaceable classmates Mrs. Joanna Nakalema Kamanyi – Abowe and Mrs. Joyce Aedeke Acigwa.
56 years ago, 56 young, innocent, driven girls were selected from all the districts of Uganda including the remotest then, Karamoja, to join the oldest and most prestigious girls school in the country. Before the Junior Leaving examinations, they had proved that they were gifted, had the potential of becoming leaders and agents of change.
They were divided into two streams of 28 girls. Among them were Joyce Mary Aedeke from Teso district of Eastern Uganda and a chubby, ever smiling Joanna Nakalema Kamanyi from Buganda in Central Uganda.
Joyce was tall and lean but rather shy. Even at that young age, we knew that her father was an Anglican Reverend in the Ugandan army, but found it too difficult to comprehend.
Being in the right environment, Joyce, soon blossomed into a confident, open-minded,all round student who was a delight to be around. She excelled in chemistry, physics and biology. She played tennis and she and I were members of the school netball and hockey teams for some years. At A-level , she passed brilliantly to join the faculty of Medicine of Makerere University, the only national university then. Two years down the road, she was determined to follow her passion for agriculture other than continue doing what her father wanted for her so she applied to cross over and she succeeded. Three years later, I graduated in Medicine while she graduated in Agriculture.
She immediately joined the Uganda Commercial Bank and worked diligently to become a chief manager in a male- dominated environment. Her brilliant mind, big heart, her strong Christian values and loyalty kept her confident and emotionally strong.
“ A good heart and a good mind are always a formidable combination.’’ – Nelson Mandela
She got married to Mr. Acigwa and they had five children. Unfortunately, the husband died of natural causes early on. Some years later, she lost two adult boys; a lawyer and an administrator. Her strong Christian faith enabled her to gradually heal and move on. She was instrumental in the building of the Agape Baptist church in Ntinda. Riding on her wealth of experience in banking, she was head- hunted to work with the renown Ugandan economist and banker, Ezra Seruma and others to start the Uganda agency for Development Limited which later became a microfinance bank- UGAFODE. A bank founded on Christian values to help the Active poor in our communities- the poor engaged in small businesses like selling a sack of charcoal to help themselves out of poverty. These poor people could not secure loans from the traditional banks of the day. Joyce went on to become a board member of many financial institutions like Uganda Development Trust, National Social Security Fund. She served devotedly and with fierce loyalty until her death on 4th October 2022.
At home she was a hands- on mother; loving, nurturing and caring but cautious not to maim herself in the process or lose her children’s trust. She died a proud grandmother.
In the early 90s, one of our classmates from West Nile district, lost her husband and was unemployed by then. Joyce in her thoughtfulness allowed her and her three children to stay in one of her houses in Kampala for two years for free until she found her feet again. Joyce felt that she could not have done less for our classmate!
As for Joanna , her and me were neighbours in our village in Mengo. Our fathers used to ferry us in weekly turns to the nursery school near the King’s palace. We both joined the primary section of the prestigious girls’ school the same year and qualified to join the secondary school in 1966. Joanna was among the youngest in a big, close-knit family She was so loved and cared for that she trusted herself to go out and love others unconditionally. She loved life and lived it every day. Her energy was infectious.
In the secondary school what she lacked in sports prowess, she made it up in music, dance and drama. She spoke impeccable English like her father. She wrote plays and acted in them. She was an avid reader.
She sang as she bathed, as she cooked and as she worked. She was a joy to be around. She excelled in the Arts subjects and joined Makerere University for a Bachelor’s degree with Education, majoring in English and Literature.
After her masters, she joined the department of literature and also lectured in the department of Music, dance , drama and film. Open-minded and free-spirited, she thrived most in the performing arts.
She met her husband, Abowe, while working in the department of Literature.
Due to the civil strife of the early 80s, they were forced to flee for their lives to Botswana where she was appointed a lecturer in the biggest college of Teachers’ Education.
Like Joyce, she lost her husband early on but with her tenacity, she took on the responsibility of raising 3 sons in a foreign country. They became extremely close to each other; looking out for one another.
She willingly gave fully and completely to the many children she raised but always being aware of her own limits and her own priorities. To her credit, she raised three loving, independent, disciplined and responsible sons.
She was promoted to senior lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Botswana, established in 1982. Joanna served willingly, wholeheartedly and joyfully for all the years she worked there. She guided and nurtured many of her students who needed mothering.
At one time I asked her why she had to squeeze herself like a toothpaste tube while helping others. She told me that she was doing it out of gratitude for God’s grace in her life!
She retired in 2019 after a distinguished career and returned home.
A month before her return to Uganda, she gave me a surprise call asking for my passport details.
“Why would you want them? I asked, greatly puzzled.
“ I sold sixty copies of your books after you left. I want to send the money by MoneyGram.’’
I was at loss for words but then that was Joanna in her true colours.
COVID-19 Respiratory Disease struck just when we were trying to figure out how she could apply her skills and wealth of experience in Uganda’s Book Industry.
She had helped me edit my first novel The Last Lifeline in 2015 and even helped me to sell it.
Our parents and the school gave us a firm foundation for honesty, integrity and serving others joyfully.
Both Joyce and Joanna served as role models wherever they worked- never telling people what to do but instead by their actions, they showed the young generation what was right and how to do it. Their love and loyalty to those around them made them succeed during that difficult period of our country. The Duka duka(run for your life) days that lasted till the end of the late 80s.
They were teachers, mentors and sponsors who worked for the success of those under them. They were never distracted by their personal tragedies or made to compromise on their Christian values and principles. They belonged to their time but also to the future.
Every day, they wrote their lasting legacy of : leaving their families, their communities, their country and the world better than they found them.
I lived in their time, watched them work professionally and diligently to the top, I can claim to understand them. I give them a resounding applause.
Jim Rohn said: “If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.’’
And Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be humble, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.’’
If each one of us worked diligently at her/his part that fits in the big picture, the world would be a much better place.
As we the peers mourn Joanna and Joyce, I keep asking myself whether I have done enough with my life so far.
The answer is ‘’NO’’ and for the simple reason that each one of us is a “Work in Progress’’ that can never be finished in a lifespan. I still have a big capacity for growth that will change me into the best person I was created to be. I have to keep doing more and wanting to be more-improving and repackaging myself as a product. I shall keep looking for the beauty in people and situations, listening to the voices within and without and reading and writing more to become the best me.
I thank God for giving us these 56 rewarding years together. I celebrate my two classmates as ordinary, God-fearing women who unknowingly turned themselves into extraordinary women of their time as they followed their hearts and dreams. They lived a life of character and blessing.
They will live on in their children, all those they inspired, motivated and influenced, in our hearts and in all the treasure trove of memories we created together.
May God rest their souls in eternal peace.
The psychologists tell us that one constant in our lives is change. Are you giving yourself permission to change with time and grow into whom you were created to be?
3 thoughts on “LIVING A LIFE OF CHARACTER AND BLESSING”
Very good tribute to our dear departed classmates. Reading this made me realize I have done nothing with my life, so far. Thank you Jane for sharing your gift and love with us. Gbu indeed
This left me tearrie 🥲
Thanks , Rhonnie.
When you write about the people you know well and really focus on it, it makes things easy. You write from the heart about ordinary people who by their devotion and commitment to serve others gladly turned themselves into extraordinary people.
As for you telling yourself that you have not done much with your life, you are wrong. Each one of us is unique, has different gifts and talents for her/ his prescribed purpose. I have known you for decades and I can assure you that you have done brilliantly as a daughter, sister, as a woman of God, a professional, as a wife, a mother and grandmother. Pat yourself on the shoulder for wearing all those hats- not for the faint- hearted. Continue growing in those roles. I am cheering you along.
Prof. Valentino M. Lema Professor of Obstetrics & Gynaecology Vice President ECSACOG P.O. Box 25594-00603 Nairobi. Kenya. Te: +254-711610844; 711860582; 785659841; +255769437259 Alt email. firstname.lastname@example.org