Sensitizing communities about their sexual reproductive health (SRH) has become CATHERINE NALUGGYA GUNTESSE's passion. The eloquent graduate of public health revealed to Abubaker Mayemba her goals, and why she believes in championing the cause.
Born on September 3, 1991 to Godfrey Bbosa Biswanka and Josephine Bbosa Nakanwagi, Guntesse grew up with the zeal to directly impact people’s health.
Her passion for people’s wellbeing began at a tender stage, which subsequently drew her towards a health-related course at the International Health Sciences University (IHUS).
“Since childhood, I wanted to be a surgeon because I wanted to have a job where I would be able to help out someone other than just working. That’s why even when I didn’t become a surgeon, I pursued a bachelor’s degree in public health,” she told me recently at the Public Health Ambassadors Uganda (PHAU) offices in Makindye.
Guntesse observes that ever since she joined PHAU, she has realized many Ugandans are ignorant about sexual reproductive health, and thus wants to work towards eliminating that knowledge gap. Because many people are not educated about SRH, she says, this has led to underdevelopment since the masses are not empowered.
The 26-year-old says if accurate SRH information was sent out, issues like menstruation, which hinder girls’ early education, would be sorted. The misconceptions about family planning would also cease, and more youths would access friendly services like HIV/Aids testing, prevention and counseling.
“Even the educated lack SRH knowledge. I want to be an SRH advocate, and create a platform that openly addresses generative issues,” she says. “If you teach people that this is what you can do and this is where you can go, then they are empowered to develop themselves.”
Being a project officer at PHAU, Guntesse has witnessed the enormous impact health sensitisation programs have had on communities and people’s lives. Thus, she believes her dream will soon be achieved.
Projects like Tuli Wamu Naawe (2015), Kisoboka (2016) and Ensonga (2016) were initiated to stop stigmatisation of women and girls, HIV/Aids sensitisation and promote menstrual hygiene.
For instance, the Ensonga project has reached out to 712 students in five schools, 16 senior women teachers and five senior men teachers in Wakiso and Kampala districts. She has also been part of these projects, and hopes to continue doing so until 3,000 students, the project’s target, are sensitised about menstrual hygiene.
Unlike other activists that have paved new paths and quit organisations, Guntesse doesn’t see herself leaving PHAU to start up her own establishment. She says she is part of the PHAU team for the long haul, and her position as project officer will enable her to promote SRH.
“My teammates at PHAU are great. It’s not because we are public health people, but because we all have the same vision and common interests. They give me that drive and I can be everything I want to be from here; so, I don’t need to venture out.”
Every job has challenges, and public health activism is no different. She says most people relate such work to money, and thus expect to be paid every time there is an event like a public drive.
Borrowing a leaf from one of her role models, Condoleezza Rice, the public health expert says she eloquently analyses issues just like the former US secretary of state. Neurosurgeon Ben Carson and US former president Barack Obama are also her role models.
Apart from being a sexual reproductive health activist, Guntesse hopes that someday she will go back to school and chase her childhood dream of being a surgeon.
Although she says it is being overly ambitious, Guntesse also dreams of becoming Uganda’s minister of health.
“I also think my great public speaking skills would make me a great journalist. I love news anchoring, and the presenters at NTV and AlJazeera make it look nice,” she says.
She attended the recently concluded 18th cohort Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) fellowship program in Nairobi in July, where she met 93 other vibrant young leaders from across East and Central Africa.
At the YALI fellowship, Guntesse studied civic leadership. The former Seeta High and Greenhill Academy student derives her inspiration from the Bible (Ecclesiastes 9:11 and Psalms 23). Guntesse says she is a practicing Christian.
Reading books like John C Maxwell’s The Dream Test, Burke Hedge’s Parable of the Pipeline and Dr Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved my Cheese has inspired her.
Because she likes travelling, Guntesse dreams of owning any Mercedes Benz in the CL-Class. She also loves photography, and her music playlist includes soulful Enya, jazz, Drake, Rihanna and old-school hip hop.