Rita Aliguma is a go-getter. My acquaintance with her dates back more than a decade through sports journalism.
Over the years, I have known her as a person with a trait of being resolute. She scaled heights to become Uganda Sports Press Association (Uspa) vice president for four years before fate reunited us in different sphere.
I was on a mission recently to track grassroots football when I bumped into a frenzied atmosphere in Acholi quarters in Banda, a Kampala suburb which is a few kilometres from my home in Kyaliwajjala.
Little did I know this was an event engineered by Aliguma and it was later on during speech time when speaker after speaker praised her for turning around the fortunes of slum dwellers.
Days later, we hooked up on a hot Monday afternoon as she toured the area to provide goodies to the area youth and women. The followers, mainly children, grew bigger in number the more she ventured into the slum and by the time we reached the field, it was a huge crowd. Indeed, Aliguma is a celeb of sorts in Acholi quarters.
She gave them new football jerseys as well as a pep talk to the youth about living a healthy and productive life free from crime. In tow alongside her was a photography instructor, who took some of the youth aside for training. Meanwhile, Aliguma turned to meet a group of women, who were eagerly awaiting her arrival, to mentor them through skills development.
Welcome to life in the Aliguma foundation, an initiative she started in 2017 but has grown to benefit hundreds of slum dwellers here in Acholi quarters.
“This is my routine whenever I’m done with work,” she says. “I love mingling with these people because they give me satisfaction of life.”
I later learn that this slum community mostly comprises of people that were displaced during the LRA war in Acholi sub-region. Locals here intimated about tales of destitute life, teenage sex and the sexually transmitted diseases as well as high crime rates resulting from drug abuse. Nearly 50 per cent of the children here are orphaned and their source of income is working at a nearby stone quarry.
It is on that backdrop that Aliguma seeks to transform their lives even when she doesn’t necessarily have the means to do so.
“I’ve got friends and well-wishers whom I rely on to push me,” she says. “Every single milestone we achieve draws more attention and brings on board new partners.”
Those milestones include providing bursaries to the orphaned children; empower women with skills as well as tapping talent through slum soccer, an initiative she started last year to help children as young as six years engage in meaningful activities. Many of the youth here are engaged in collecting scrap mentals and plastic bottles.
Looking at how big the crowd is, there is no doubt Aliguma is a lady on a mission to transform a community. “I do charity to ensure my mother’s legacy lives on and it gives me great satisfaction to put a smile on people’s faces,” she says.
Aliguma draws inspiration from her late mother, a midwife and nurse whom she describes as the biggest influence in her career.
“My mother worked on everyone regardless of whether they had money to pay or not, especially the poor women,” she says. “Growing up and seeing what she went through inspired me to carry the torch when she passed on in 2012.”
However, Aliguma never really set out to do charity work until a routine walk around Acholi quarters exposed the plight of the people in the area to her.
“Around 2016, I was escorting a friend around Acholi quarters when we landed on a group of women breaking down stones,” she says. “It was a touching experience because most of them wore dreary faces and it was clear something was not right.”
Upon listening to their stories, Aliguma realised she can do something to help them.
“Most of them were widows and were earning so little yet the work they did was quite dangerous,” she says. “Among them I found this girl called Janet and I later learnt she was helping the mother raise her primary six school fees. I immediately offered to pay her fees, which was around Shs 100,000.”
It was at that moment that the spirit of charity set in and Aliguma has never looked back. In the following weeks, she visited the place to get a first-hand feel of the slum dwellers’ plight and within a month, she had raised enough resources to kickstart what has now become the Aliguma foundation.
Using her sports background, Aliguma was able to mobilise jerseys, balls and boots for the slum youth. Yet again, her journalism connections enabled her to get instructors to give these youth practical skills.
As for the women, Aliguma was able to secure sewing machines and get skills trainers in making sweaters, which has in turn offered them an alternative source of income.
This, however, has not come eaThis, however, has not come easy.
“There have been many times when people have rejected my ideas but that has not dampened my spirits,” she says. “I onetime approached a prominent friend to support us on a feeding programme but he scoffed at me asking; why are you doing these things when you are not rich? First get money then you can give to the poor, it was so deflating.”
However, Aliguma believes one doesn’t have to be rich to help the poor. “You just have to have a rich heart to help the vulnerable. Sometime last year towards Easter, I was preparing to throw a party for the kids and provide scholastic materials but I didn’t have money. I almost cancelled the event due to lack of funds but then, I had a personal conversation with God and I asked for guidance. A day to the event, a friend offered to buy 100kg of rice; another provided refreshments. These are people who don’t like the limelight but they support our projects wholeheartedly.”
Since then, the Aliguma foundation has gone ahead to have more than 20 children back to school and some have even won scholarships from good Samaritans.
Among them is first son Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who has greatly keep the foundation alive. “He is a pillar of our foundation and there are many more like him out there like KitAid UK, Rotary clubs and sports administrators such as Patrick Ogwel and Rogers Byamukama, among others,” says Aliguma, who is also a presenter and producer at UBC.
Going forward, Aliguma hopes to extend her support to the men in the area as well as other vulnerable people across the country.
“I also have a dream to build a home for poor people but I’m now focused on the girl-child and we hope to launch them into sports through a new venture called Miss Sports which is aimed at attracting more females to sport,” she says. “But we are also sensitizing men about the need to let girls be girls without forcing them into a specific lifestyle.”
The sky is the limit for Aliguma.