12-Year-Old Nalukwago Sacrifices Education to Care for 3 Younger Siblings
By Janat Nakitende
In the heart of a bustling ghetto, Nalukolongo, a Kampala suburb, 12-year-old Shivan Nalukwago’s story is one that summarizes both the resilience and sacrifices that children in disadvantaged communities often make.
Shivan had to put her education on hold to become the caregiver for her three younger siblings in their makeshift home in Nalukolongo.
Living in an improvised grim structure, made of sacks and polythene bags, the makeshift home is surrounded by filthy channels and unspeakable sanitation.
Shivan’s parents one year ago, the mother Joan Nassozi abandoned them. Their father rented the makeshift structure adjacent to a pub at 10,000/= ($3) per month and asked Shivan to look after her siblings.
Emmanuel Lukwago their father, was a vendor who lost his capital to KCCA enforcement teams. Struggling with unemployment and lack of access to basic amenities, he turned to drug abuse and excessive alcohol use. He too relies on Shivan’s strength and resourcefulness for survival. He normally returns home in the wee hours and shares bed space with the children in their makeshift structure.
At 12 years, Shivan has become the pillar of support for her siblings, embracing responsibilities far beyond her years. Her siblings, aged 8, 6, and 2 years, look up to her not just as a sister, but as a motherly figure.
Shivan’s typical day begins before dawn, as she rises to ensure her siblings are fed and taken care of. One of her most crucial tasks is fetching water for neighbors in the community, a task that she undertakes with diligence to earn a meager income. A 20-liter jerrican of water goes for 300 shs. Carrying water through the narrow channels of Nalukolongo is a daily maneuver to navigate the challenges of her daily routine. On average, Shivan needs at least 6 jerrycans to survive a day. By raising less than 2000/=, she can afford a chapatti and beans (Kikomando) or Katogo.
She juggles other chores like washing dishes and clothes for neighbors in exchange for a plate of food.
“It is not every day that I get people who need water and other chores to be done. Sometimes everything fails and all I have to do is wait at the restaurants here for any leftovers then I can take them home so we can survive”. Narrates emotional Shivan.
To her siblings, Shivan is the most determined and strong person in their lives however on her part, it’s an emotional journey of enduring a lot of risks and challenges.
On a Monday afternoon, as we go about our interview with Shivan, the youngest sibling is crying endlessly because he has not eaten since morning. Shivan is confused about how the day will end.
“This is how some of our days look like when we don’t have anything to count on. I will have to wait for any leftovers from the restaurants and get them something”. Says Shivan.
The living condition is worse when it rains especially at night. Shivan says the makeshift is leaking so they have to get out because they don’t trust the strength of the structure because it leaks.
Shivan awaits to meet her mother Joan Nassozi whom she thought had a mental health condition. however, we have since established from Lukwago, that Nassozi is well, The two broke up after a terrible misunderstanding, leading to all the predicaments, Shivan is going through.
Vivian Nabadda a neighbor to Shivan, has seen the little girl struggle to make ends meet and sometimes, she helps with providing food when she can.
“This girl is a heroine. But until when? What kind of future does she hold? It is so hard for them especially when it rains at night. I can’t accommodate them because my house is also small but when I can, I do give them some food. I pray for them every day. They deserve better”. Says Nabadda.
Shivan Nalukwago dreams of a future where she can enjoy both her childhood days and a little education but if the condition persists as it is, her hope diminishes every day.