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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Teaching children of Uganda’s presidents

Go-getter: An outstanding educationist, loving mother and wife, Mary Mulumba has left her footprints in the lives of many in her journey of life, writes DENNIS D. MUHUMUZA

She has had the privilege of teaching the presidents’ children, but most remarkable about the life of Mary Mulumba is how she rose from being a nursery teacher to owning one of the most prominent urban primary schools in Uganda- Kampala Junior Academy (KJA).

Her big brother, Samuel Baddokwaya, believes his sister’s success has much to do with God’s favour and hard work. He still remembers a prayer she said at a Chr
Mary and her husband
istian gathering when they were still very little: “‘Me Mary, please God help me, Amen!’ And sincerely God has helped her ever since, because no one in our family has achieved as much as she has.”

Mulumba was born in Mengo Hospital, on Christmas day in 1941, the second of Rev. Canon Yakobo Gabunga Baddokwaya and Ruth Baddokwaya’s eight children. Her father was a teacher and schools inspector before he became a full-time minister serving in the Church of Uganda.

She remembers that their home in Busega was always full of born-again Christians and members of Mothers Union who often came for prayer and fellowship. She says they taught her to pray and sharpened her interpersonal relations and communication skills.

“I also learnt a lot from my father who often took me along with him to visit his friends, inspect schools and supervise some church projects. It was his way of teaching me hard-work and protecting me from bad influences by keeping an eye on me,” she says.

Attaining an education
Mulumba grew up at a time when the education of girls was not prioritised. Luckily, her father had a different perspective and educated all his children regardless of their sex. His mantra to his children was: “Get educated, work hard and look forward to a better future.”

When she joined Primary One at Buloba Primary School, she vowed never to disappoint her father. By the time Mulumba completed Primary Eight, she knew what she wanted to be. In 1957, she joined Ndejje Teacher Training College. She was impressed by how the college Principal, an English lady named Drakely, combined motherliness with toughness. This is the woman she aspired to be like when she left college in 1960 as certified primary school teacher.

Mulumba immediately got her first job at Mengo Girls School. Then something exciting quickly happened – she met the man of her dreams.

The love of her life
Daniel Mulumba had just returned from UK with a degree in Accounting. He was a tall, handsome man. At 25 then, he was suave, collected and a proud owner of a white VW car to complete his stature as the most eligible bachelor then.

At the time, it was prestigious for a young man of Daniel’s age to own a car. So when his mother asked him to drive her to Lweza on Entebbe Road to attend a meeting for born-again Christians, he agreed out of the love and respect for his mother, but also to show off his prized car! This turned out to be one of his best decisions because it is at that meeting that he met Mary, a dazzling 19-year-old beauty fresh from college.
Mary weds Dan in December 1960
A leaf from her journal of the time reads: “In 1960, I met a wonderful, educated, simple and quiet man called Dan Mulumba. We fell in love straight away!” They were married the same year, on December 17, 1960, at Namirembe Cathedral.

After the wedding, the couple moved to Mugongo, near Kyengera on Masaka Road. Four months after their wedding, Dan was offered a job in the Ministry of Finance and moved to Entebbe. Mary had to move back to her parents’ home at Busega in order to keep her job at Mengo Girls School. Later, she joined Daniel in Entebbe and got a job there at Namate Primary School where she taught for three years.

A great opportunity
In 1964, Mulumba was offered a scholarship by the Uganda government to pursue further studies at Stranmillis College in Northern Ireland. She was a young wife of 24 with a husband and three little children, but at the urging of her husband, she accepted the scholarship, and for three years, specialised in Infant Methods.

“Children found me so strange because they were not used to seeing black people,” she recalls. “One child wetted her finger and rubbed it on my arm to see if my skin was made of soil.”

When she returned in 1967, she got a job at Lake Victoria Primary School in Entebbe, as the head of its nursery section. This was a prominent school of mostly expatriate children. Mulumba became its first and only African teacher.

After three years, she was posted to Nakasero Primary School, where she stayed for a year before being appointed the first African Headmistress of Kampala Kindergarten in 1970. This was a school for diplomats and upper class families of the time. The school was located near State House. In the 23 years Mulumba worked there, she taught the presidents’ children from Obote, Amin to Museveni.

She managed to go through the volatile 1970s unscathed, considering many professionals fled the terror and dictatorship of Amin. Mulumba avoided politics. This and prayers, she believes, is what saved her and kept the school operating throughout those perilous times. She had learnt from her father that in life, if one is to make a difference, they must be willing to take risks and make tough sacrifices.

Life begins at 52
Mulumba’s success at Kampala Kindergarten attracted criticism from individuals who started making slighting remarks about her age and how it was time she moved on. She pondered the situation, and in 1993 decided to resign. She was 52 years with no idea that her life would never be the same again.

After combining her savings with her husband’s, Mulumba hired an old building on Clement Hill Road from which she started Kampala Junior Academy. Mulumba believes in the success formula of ‘Think Big, Start Small and Grow Big’ which enabled her to avoid loans and move forward patiently. She started with only nine children, but before a year elapsed, the number had risen to 200, thanks to her credibility.

Herbert Kijjagulwe who has been the Principal of KJA since 1997, says the current location of the school at Yusuf Lule Road was bushy with no clear road. Whenever it rained, muddy puddles would form and cause cars to get stuck. But this did not discourage the parents; they kept bringing their children. Today the road to the school is tarmac, the school has modern storeyed structures,more than 1,000 pupils and employs more than 150 staff. It has grown so that a kindergarten branch has been opened in Ntinda to absorb children from the age of one to four.

Mulumba says: “Three quarters of the pupils in my school are the children of the children I taught in school way back. I’m teaching ‘my’ grand children.”

By 7am, she is already at school, shaking the hand of each of her pupils, greeting each by name and speaking words of affirmation to them. At break-time, they gather around her like bees around nectar, freely playing on her laps, asking questions and telling stories. The warmth on Mulumba’s face says this is a company she would not exchange for anything.

“She is a mother to us teachers too,” Robert Kimuli Kaweesa, a teacher at KJA says of Mulumba’s heart of gold. “On top of ensuring that we get our salaries on time, she is helping us with school fees. We have our children in this school and we pay subsidized fees in small installments. Ms Mulumba is really an angel to us.”

As an educationist of excellence, Mary has won several awards from reputable organisations like Rotary Clubs, Nile Breweries and the Nabaggeka Trust among others. Her biography titled; Woman of Action was launched on December 14, 2013, by Her Royal Highness Sylvia Nagginda, the Nnabagereka of Buganda.

--Saturday Monitor, December 14, 2013