Makerere University held its 71st graduation ceremony from May 17 to 21 and among the graduates was 24-year-old Edward Kasenge, with a bachelor's degree in Industrial and Organisational Psychology.
Shortly after his graduation on May 21, pictures of Kasenge in a graduation gown kneeling before his grandmother in a Lungujja market went viral with many people praising his humility and appreciation to the people who helped him reach that milestone.
Graduating from university has not been a rosy journey for Kasenge. He was abandoned by both his parents when he was just a year old. If they could see him now!
Although he was born in Mityana, his mother brought him to his grandparents' home in Lungujja and left him there; his grandmother took up the role of raising him.
“My grandmother told me that my mother brought me here when I was just a toddler and dumped me. I have grown up with only my grandmothers taking care of me and never in my childhood did I ever say ‘mummy’ or ‘daddy’ to anyone. It was always ‘grandfather’ and ‘grandmother’, because they are the only parents I knew,” an emotional Kasenge told The Observer.
However, as a primary five pupil, Kasenge recalls seeing his mother for the first time when she briefly visited his grandmother’s home, but she did not stay more than 30 minutes.
The second time he saw her was when he went to Kampala city and looked for her when he was in primary seven.
“At school, everyone would talk about their mothers, but I didn’t know mine; so, I picked interest in knowing who she was and that forced me to go to where I was told she works from in Kampala, just to see her. It was emotional for me and I cried when I saw her. All I was looking for was the motherly love and bond,” he said when The Observer finally caught up with him in Lungujja.
Kasenge added that his father consistently said he was not his son, whenever he would visit his mother (Kasenge’s paternal grandmother); this made Kasenge more determined to find his mother but still, they have never been close.
During one family meeting, Kasenge’s father disowned him in front of all the family members, but the grandmothers continued to take care of him.
However, Kasenge says he holds no grudge against his parents, especially for not educating him. Interestingly... wait for it... they attended his thanksgiving graduation party, where to his surprise, they even gave speeches.
When it was time to start school, Kasenge’s grandmother enrolled him in the neighbourhood kindergarten, Afro Nursery School, but it was not long before the school administrators started sending him home for school fees he had not cleared.
His grandmother was selling charcoal at her home; so, she struck a deal with the teachers to supply the school with two sacks of charcoal every term as a form of barter for Kasenge’s school fees.
For primary, Kasenge went to Mirembe Infant School in Nateete, where his aunt, Betty Namugenyi had pledged to help him pay the school fees, but unfortunately before he could finish Primary One, she died.
“When my aunt died, my grandparents had to resume paying for my education even though they were not doing well financially. Because my grandfather was not working, my two grandmothers joined efforts to see that I went to school. One would pay half of the fees at the beginning of the term and when I got sent home, the other would complete the balance,” he said, fondness and gratitude heavy in his voice.
Kasenge then joined Mengo Senior School for his secondary education, and it is at this stage that he started doing odd jobs around Lungujja such as collecting rubbish from people’s homes, vending avocadoes and cleaning a local supermarket every evening, from which he got some money for his upkeep.
Mengo SS is a prestigious and not cheap school, despite being government-aided and a day school. Joining senior one, one of Kasenge’s aunts had to lend his grandmother the Shs 500,000 (about $140) for term one school fees, and again for the second term.
At this point, his grandmothers, determined to see their boy get the education he deserved, started applying for soft loans to raise his school fees.
“In the second term of S.1, my grandmothers started getting loans from Uganda Microfinance Ltd, Bulenga branch, and they would top up with the little money they were getting from their businesses,” he says.
In senior two, Kasenge admits to having become a very playful and naughty boy, which eventually made him fail the class but after so much pleading with one of the teachers, he was admitted into senior three, because to repeat a class would have been like crucifying his struggling benefactors.
He learnt his lesson and gave extra focus to his books; he passed his Uganda Certificate of Education (UCE) with a first grade and returned to Mengo SS for his HSC. Kasenge knows quite a bit about falling down and getting back up. He recalls failing his senior six final exams the first attempt.
“I think at some point I had forgotten where I come from and how my grandmothers were struggling to raise my school fees. I got taken up by the lifestyle of my fellow students from well-to-do families and that eventually made me fail.”
After begging his grandmothers to give him one last chance at education, Kasenge rebounded at Makerere High School, Migadde, where he got 13 points in History, Economics and Art.
When he was admitted to Makerere University as a private student, the grandmothers went back for a loan to pay his tuition.
On his graduation day, the jajjas still owed the microfinance Shs 300,000, but a well-wisher settled the debt on May 31.
As other graduates were posing for photoshoots and celebrating with friends, Kasenge’s mind was on the wonderful old women that had believed in him.
When he went in his graduation gown and knelt before one of them, who sells foodstuff in Lungujja Kitunzi market, Kasenge says he could have thanked her from home, but he saw it better to honour her from the workplace that raised the money for his school fees all these years.
He says when he reached the market and knelt down, his grandmother rushed to get him a mat so that he would not soil his fancy suit and gown, but he refused; he wanted to kneel right there in the matooke from which his school fees had come.
“I am a very thankful person and cannot forget whoever has helped along the way. My grandmothers have sacrificed so much and I cannot even repay them for what they have done for me. While on the roadside kneeling before her in my graduation gown, she congratulated me, prayed for me and thanked me. She said she was proud of me, and I had made her proud,” he recalls some of the 1,000 words that picture spoke.
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Makerere University held a mostly virtual graduation ceremony this year; Kasenge, who attained a second class upper degree was crushed by that decision, because he has always dreamt of walking into Freedom Square sandwiched by his two grandmothers.
Kasenge was raised by two grandmothers from his father’s side: Theopista Nakungu, his father’s mother in whose home he grew up, and Teo Mulebe, a sister to Kasenge’s grandfather.
Nakungu sells charcoal from the garage of her home, while Mulebe sells foodstuff in the Lungujja market. When The Observer found Nakungu, she said she was overjoyed when she saw her grandson finally wearing that graduation gown.
“I feel pity for those who do not take care of their children or grandchildren, because you never know what plans God has for that child,” Nakungu says.
For Mulebe, her grandchild’s action of kneeling and thanking her in the market left her amazed.
“Most young people do not want to acknowledge their humble backgrounds, but I am happy that my grandchild did not feel ashamed to come kneel before me and thank me from here,” Mulebe says.
Kasenge’s grandfather (Nakungu’s husband) who preferred anonymity, has also been very helpful during his education journey.
Kasenge recalls one time when his aunts and uncles gave his grandfather money to go for a medical check-up, having developed a hearing problem, but he instead gave the money to Kasenge to top up on his tuition; up to now, the hearing problem persists.
He prays for long life and success in life, so that he can make it up to all these loving people who have made his journey possible.
Though he currently does not have a job, Kasenge who became a born-again Christian in his primary five, has great faith that he will get one soon. His close relationship with his grandparents has taught him to be a loving person and never to forget his roots.
Maybe one day, he will pay it forward.