Personal Tags: Birungi Ives, Uganda, maternal health, jajja, childbirth, bringer of good things
Mummy knew the type of mother she wanted to be, long before she ever became one. At 6 years old, Mummy knew that she would name her first daughter, Birungi. Birungi means, "Bringer of Good Things" in Luganda, the native language of the Buganda in Uganda. Mummy knew she wanted a close knit family where her children felt loved and safe. Mummy also knew that she wanted to support her children to strive to be successful in life! Mummy was determined to be the best “mother” she could be from at a very early age. Where did this determination come from? This determination was born from the death of my Jajja in childbirth.
Mummy was 5 years old when her mother died. Jajja's death left four surviving children, (Duncan, David, Joyce and Margaret) and my grandfather. In Luganda, Jajja is the name for a grandparent, without any distinction between male or female. In order to avoid confusion, I refer to Mummy's father as my grandfather, as opposed to Jajja. However, with the death of a mother, there is no distinction along gender lines, when it comes to the magnitude of devastation left in its wake! This devastation has a far greater impact in impoverished areas like Uganda, due to the lack of resources and formal education. With Jajja’s death, my grandfather was completely devastated. Some would say he went “crazy” with grief! He was not left in a state to take care of Mummy and her three siblings. To do what was thought to be best, Mummy and her siblings were spread amongst family and friends of my grandfather.
Moving about from one family to another, Mummy had to become self reliant and guard her trust in people. During this time, some of her experiences were better than others. Where one experience left her feeling safe, another experience left her sleeping outside as punishment. I'll never forget Oprah telling a story from her youth about having to stay outside, because she was not welcomed into someone's house. Although the situation is not exactly the same, I see some emotional parallels. Most important, I see how both Oprah and Mummy were left to wonder why they were not good enough. Like Oprah, Mummy made it a point to be more than good enough through education. In the end, Mummy lived with three different families, none of whom were relations. At the age of 13 years old, Mummy was accepted into a boarding school, where only the brightest were accepted. Unlike most people at the time, my grandfather was employed, as a principal of a school. Therefore, he was able to pay for Mummy’s school fees. About to turn 100 years old in January 2012, his story is also a very unique and interesting one!
Mummy rode the wave of academic excellence out of a village in Uganda to a B.A. from Wells College in Aurora, New York. After returning to Uganda and marrying my father, she returned to the United States with him. My father has a very tumultuous and unique story, as well. Going from “the bush” to Harvard, my father (Taata in Luganda) settled, with Mummy, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While Taata was studying for his PhD at Harvard Law School, Mummy studied for two Masters Degrees, one at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tuft University and one at Simmons College. Mummy successfully balanced studying for her degrees with raising a family. Mummy went on to work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and for the United Nations in New York. After years in corporate America, she moved on to work as a Law Librarian for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Although Mummy was able to transcend her circumstances through education, most people in Uganda and other developing countries do not share the same fortune. With many fathers underemployed; unemployed or leaving after the death of the mother of their children, the children are left on their own with minimal supervision of the community. The lack of free education and necessary resources perpetuates a generational cycle of early pregnancies, disease, and child and maternal mortality. As a result, children in these communities do not have the tools in place to cope with such a devastating loss. This ripple effect impacts generations to come. However, with the establishment of the beneficial resources, the number of maternal deaths and their impact can be greatly diminished.
Recently, my mother told me and my son that books were her friends growing up. Despite the tough conditions at an early age, Mummy knew what kind of mother she wanted to be. However, it was her education that gave her the wings to make her goals a reality. Mummy is a testament and success story of how education can prevent the generational decimation of a family with the death of its matriarch in childbirth. I know that Jajja would stand tall with pride to see her daughter as a mother now. I know that I do!
Due to my parent’s example, I pursued my education with passion, but that was only the beginning of my story. Education and resources are truly “BRINGERS OF GOOD THINGS” in any society, but most importantly in developing nations!