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NSSF's Friends with Benefits turns around life of brain tumour survivor

Three years ago, Harriet Balyama was firmly on course to achieving her dream.

She also had a well-paying accountancy job, had commenced construction of rental housing units in Namugongo and had plans to start a hardware shop.

But in 2015, her health deteriorated and she was forced to quit her job due to continued absenteeism. Soon, doctors told her she had a tumor in her brain and, therefore, needed immediate surgery to save her life.

“Because I had stopped working, I couldn’t afford the high medical bills I had accumulated; so, I sold off part of my land in Namugongo,” recalls Balyama.

Harriet Balyama at her hardware shop

Still, the money was not enough to cover the medical bills. That’s when friends advised her to apply for her NSSF savings to foot the costs of the surgery recommended by the doctors. It proved to be a stitch in time when the Fund gave her Shs 90m as invalidity benefits.  

“The NSSF benefits helped me clear the costs and I handed some money to my brother to help me with completing the houses. I was not in position to handle much work,” she confesses.

Matters weren’t helped when two months later, doctors at International Hospital Kampala (IHK) discovered she had a life-threatening blood clot in her lungs.

Devastated, she spent most of the remaining NSSF savings [Shs 40 million] to foot bills for the new surgery. That meant she didn’t remain with enough money to complete her rentals. That is when she learnt about NSSF’s Friends with Benefits television competition in 2016. 

Through the campaign, the Fund seeks to improve financial literacy levels of Ugandans. Contestants tell stories about how they used their NSSF benefits and stand a chance to win.

With the support of family and friends, Balyama wrote a proposal and submitted it for the chance to win the top prize of Shs 30 million.

In the proposal, Balyama explained how she would put the money to proper use by completing construction of her rental units.

As someone who had experienced post-treatment trauma, she also planned to use part of the money to start up a support group for people who have gone through similar experiences of trauma.

Later, her presentation was shortlisted among the top three. On December 1, 2016, after eight weeks of inspiring stories, Balyama topped the maiden edition after the highly-competitive final.

A year since, she is putting into effect what she presented in her proposal. Currently, she has started reaping from her rentals.

“I have completed two of the apartments and what is remaining with the other two is the painting. I didn’t expect to get the Shs 30m and I think I have used it in a good way,” she observes.

The turnaround of Balyama’s fortunes is surely an inspiration for competitors in the second edition of Friends with Benefits competition that rolled off on October 16.

More than 100 people are taking part and the winner will take home Shs 30m.    

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