Kwagala makes Victoria Nalongo Namusisi’sworld go round.
Kwagala is the Ugandan word for “love,” and herfather’s love for her is the reason why Namusisi, a fisherman’s daughter,received an education and became a journalist, a government official, asupporter of scouting for young people, and ultimately, the founder andexecutive director of the Bright Kids Uganda, a children’s home in the city ofEntebbe that she established in 2000.
Victoria Nalongo Namusisi of Bright Kids Uganda speaks with President Mellon
“I wouldhear people say, ‘there goes the fisherman’s daughter,’ whenever I passed by,”she told an audience of education and psychology undergraduate and graduate students at CarlowUniversity on October 2. “My father usedto tell us that the only gift he could ever give us was an education.”
Once she hadher education and became a journalist and then a district administrator inUganda, Namusisi discovered that her entire family’s status had been upgraded.
“Once I hadmy education, I would hear people say, ‘there goes the district administrator’sfather,’” she said, noting that there was little difference between her familyand other fishermen’s families except for one thing. “The difference was thatmy father took education seriously.”
Namusisicame to Carlow through the invitation of Carlow professors Mary Burke, PhD, andSusan O’Rourke, PhD, who visited Uganda and the Bright Kids orphanage inJuly. One of the purposes of the returnvisit was to broaden the horizons of Carlow students by hearing Namusisi’sexceptional story.
Chair of Special Education Programs and Professor Susan O’Rourke, EdD, Professor Pauline Greenlick (and treasurer of Bright Kids Uganda), Victoria Nalongo Namusisi, President Suzanne Mellon, PhD, Chair and Professor, PsyD Mary Burke, PhD
“We havevery little experience of what it’s like to live in a country with very littleresources,” said Margaret McLaughlin, provost and vice president of academicaffairs at Carlow University, who introduced Namusisi to the audience. “Victoria demonstrates how much a singleindividual can influence what goes on in a country.”
Bright KidsUganda provides a home and education for more than 60 children who have beenaffected by violent conflicts in Northern Uganda, HIV/AIDS, poverty andabandonment. One of the first childrenshe cared for at Bright Kids Uganda was a young boy living on the streets ofa city in northern Uganda that was ravaged by war for nearly twodecades. The boy appeared to be no morethan three or four, but she was stunned when she discovered how old he actuallywas.
“He was sixand a half years old, but he was so malnourished that he looked like he wasthree and a half,” she said. He had aswollen face and a distended belly, but, when she took him to a doctor, shefound he was disease-free. Still,because of the malnourishment, the doctor gave him only about two weeks tolive.
“If you wantto save him,” the doctor told Namusisi, “keep him warm and give him food.” But even with that treatment plan, the doctorwouldn’t—or couldn’t—give any guarantees that he would survive.
That didn’tdeter Namusisi. She went to see if shecould find any parents or relatives, and when she asked if she could take theboy with her, she was stunned at the one word answer, “Take.”
“It was abig shock to me that a whole human being had no value,” she said. “Life had lost its value in northern Ugandabecause of this war.”
With food,shelter, and especially her care, the boy thrived, and now he is a teenager,healthy and strong, but still a grade level or two behind his age group due tothe neglect he experienced early in life.
“I thank Godthat through Bright Kids I had the chance to save some lives,” said Namusisi,who turned her attention to the Carlow students in the audience. “You are blessed in this country. Education is a right. In Uganda, education is not a right. It is a privilege.”
Sheillustrated the impact that education can have on the children of Uganda bytelling about the impact O’Rourke and Burke had when they visited in July. A mother brought a baby that was unresponsiveand feared to be developmentally delayed.
“Susan spenta few minutes with the child touching it on the feet, then the hands, makingsounds for the baby to follow, and soon he was turning his head and respondingto the sound, something he hadn’t done in months,” Namusisi said. “The situation was changed by an expert injust one hour. How much can we gain byhaving a team from Carlow visit Bright Kids for just two weeks?”