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The following was first published in November 2016, following the sad news that Monica – a grandmother supported by our partner organization the Phoebe Education Fund for AIDS Orphans (PEFO) in Uganda – had passed away.
“Being a part of my grandmother group has made me a person, has given me respect among people in the community. Nowadays my granddaughter goes to fetch water and no one touches that child, because they know that she is under our protection. I belong to PEFO grannies and so do my grandchildren and everyone knows it.”
– Monica Namwase
We met Monica during our last trip to Jinja, Uganda where we had the chance to visit some of the grandmothers who had received new homes through the Phoebe Education Fund for Orphans (PEFO) in partnership with the SLF. It was a dull rainy day, but as we pulled up to Monica’s house, she and her granddaughters were dancing outside, waving their rain-soaked arms and singing at the top of their lungs. Who needed the sun? They radiated their own light.
Monica proudly showed off her new home – her “grandchildren’s insurance policy” she called it – something for them to inherit when she was no longer there to look after them. Everything Monica did was in service of securing a safe life for her grandchildren. She, like so many grandmothers in her community, had a home full of orphaned grandchildren. “You become a parent again in your old age,” she explained “but with double the responsibility and only half the time.”
Monica worried about time. Would she have enough years to see her grandchildren safely into adulthood? She had her home now and she was tucking money away through her Savings and Loans Group. Perhaps most importantly, she and her grandchildren finally knew the security of belonging to an empowered collective. And so, it was with great heartbreak that we learned that Monica had passed away. This news came from Mariam Mulindwa, a fellow group member and close friend to Monica. Mariam recounted the day they learned the terrible news: “We called every group member and said, ‘We’ve lost Monica. Come hurry, we have to go to her home now and take care of everything.’”
“We called every group member and said, ‘We’ve lost Monica. Come hurry, we have to go to her home now and take care of everything.’”
“We knew exactly what to do because Monica had prepared everything. We knew what grandchild was the next of kin and who should manage the income from her Savings and Loans. We had her will that stated no one was to live in the house save the grandchildren who were with her while she lived. We had all the documents proving land ownership because Monica knew there would be distant relatives who would try and snatch the property. She even identified us to her grandchildren, telling them: ‘These are the ones who will be responsible for you. These are your grandmothers when I am not there.’”
“These are the ones who will be responsible for you. These are your grandmothers when I am not there.”
“When we reached the house we found those distant relatives already there. They had the keys to the house and they were just stepping over the body of Monica and ignoring the crying grandchildren. We said, ‘No, you will not do this. Give us the keys.’”
“We fulfilled all the arrangements Monica had made—even down to where she was buried. They were taking the body to a very distant place and we said ‘No! You should have asked us. The plot that Monica chose is here.’ It was next to her home. She told us ‘I have friends from Canada and from everywhere. If people visit my house and find me gone, my grave must not be far away. I will be buried here at my house where my friends and grandchildren can always find me.’”
“We stayed for days. Those who might have lingered to take the house knew it was pointless because they saw that this property and these children belonged to PEFO grandmothers. I know if we did not do that, her grandchildren would now be homeless.”
“Those who might have lingered to take the house knew it was pointless because they saw that this property and these children belonged to PEFO grandmothers.”