Gladys Kalibbala

Gladys Kalibbala has worked as a featured writer for the New Vision newspaper in Uganda for eight years. She has received two TUMAINI Media Awards recognizing the significant contribution her journalism has made to improving the lives of children in Uganda. TUMAINI is a Swahili word meaning hope. Gladys also earned the Edutainment Africa Award as the best journalist in highlighting issues affecting society through real life stories. Her story was featured in the Participant Media documentary, “Misconception”.

I was born in Entebbe town, Uganda. I am the first born out of my mother’s eight children. My mother, a primary school teacher, is the official wife who wedded my father, who was a civil servant. Dad often lived beyond his means, spending much of his money in bars with mistresses. It was the duty of each woman to look after her children. My mother educated her children and some of her step children from her pay as a teacher.

In many developing countries like Uganda, there is a great need to increase accessibility of family planning as well as qualified medical officers to implement it.

My father sold our family home and went away with another woman, leaving us stranded. However, because my mother was economically empowered, we soldiered on. At 18 years, I dropped out of school so that I could help educate my siblings. My mother worked hard to care for all of her children, but I could see the strain caused by our large family. I resolved to give birth to three children whom I was sure I could care for.

My mother retired early due to ill health, so I took on the mantle of being my family’s provider. I used the little money I had to pursue a course in journalism. My early experiences had made me determined to make a difference, and I realized that I could help the needy through writing. I joined New Vision, one of the largest newspapers in Uganda, in 2006. Although I have changed the lives of many families through my stories, Mary Kakuru’s experience is one that left an indelible mark on me.

I met Kakuru in November 2008, at our office in Kampala. She had given birth to quadruplets and could not afford to pay the hospital bill. Because of complications, she was admitted in hospital at 7 months pregnant. Her husband George sold their only cow to keep her in the hospital until she gave birth.

When her story was published, a good Samaritan and former minister cleared the bill, offered her transportation home and clothes for the babies. Since I wanted to keep in touch and monitor the family’s progress, I bought Kakuru a mobile phone. Little did I know that I would soon visit her home for an emergency.

She telephoned me, saying one of the babies was in a critical condition. Another good Samaritan, Barbara, offered to drive with me that distance to save the baby. We rushed her and her babies to the health center, where the clinical officer diagnosed the baby with pneumonia.

While at Kakuru’s home, Barbara and I observed that the babies were not being kept in a warm place and lacked blankets. The family lived in a small grass-thatched hut, which leaked badly whenever it rained. Kakuru also had five other children in addition to the quadruplets. The youngest of the existing five children was two years old and still needed a lot of care. Kakuru could not feed because she had little breast milk, which I suspected was due to poor nutrition.

I penned another article in New Vision, explaining the family’s situation. A group of readers teamed up and supported Kakuru with food and milk for the babies. The supply continued to come in on a monthly basis until they turned three years old.

Kakuru was a mother of nine by age 33. I could not imagine what would happen if she gave birth to more. I introduced the idea of family planning to her. She had also been advised about family planning matters before at her local health center and was ready to use it but had to seek permission from her husband and mother-in-law. Unfortunately, her mother-in-law warned her against it.

I suggested instead that she go to the hospital, so that doctors can examine her babies, who were always in and out of sickness. When she brought them there, I arranged for her to meet with a doctor to discuss her reproductive health care. She received the intrauterine device (IUD), a birth control method which has successfully prevented her from becoming pregnant again.

The quadruplets are now five years old and in school. I still visit the family once in a while to give them essentials.

In many developing countries like Uganda, there is a great need to increase accessibility of family planning as well as qualified medical officers to implement it. Additionally, couples need to be educated about the types of contraception and the myriad benefits of voluntary family planning. In Kakuru’s example, her husband could not understand the need for her to practice family planning because he was ignorant of the benefits. When men are educated, they can be involved in reproductive health decisions and practices. In turn, families will be healthier, communities will be more prosperous, and nations can thrive.