Just when Nadia Bukirwa had lost hope after failing to join secondary school, fortune smiled and turned around her life. She emerged one of the best performing students at O-level, writes MOSES MUGALU.
Shortly after the release of senior four results, a group of students from various schools visited The Observer to express their joy at passing with flying colours.
Each had fascinating tales to success until one of them recommended me a friend who had just beaten extreme odds to top the class at St Mark’s College Namagoma. That’s how I chanced upon the story of Nadia Bukirwa, who defied a broken family and poor upbringing to get nine aggregates at O-level.
Meeting her days later, she was so humble as though it hadn’t sunk in that she was one of the best students countrywide.
It was a struggle to get her to open up but when she did, it was quite compelling. “I’ve got quite many plaudits for my performance from people who know nothing about its source,” she says. “I missed the normal upbringing due to a broken family and poverty but somehow I have persevered.”
She was raised in Bwaise, a shanty suburb renowned for its filthy ecosystem, by a mother who did menial jobs to raise school fees for her. She has little recollection of her father, who abandoned the family when she was still a toddler.
After completing primary seven in 2012, Bukirwa couldn’t join secondary school due to lack of fees. She had impressively attained aggregate eight but didn’t study for the entire 2013 until her auntie advised her to enrol with Brac, a programme that helps needy but outstanding performers.
That’s how she ended up at St Mark’s College Namagoma.
“It was a hard adjustment for me at first,” she says. “It was a challenge to focus on studies when I thought of the struggles back home.”
Paddy Sematimba, her mathematics teacher throughout O-level, recalls his first impression of Bukirwa.
“She was a bundle of distress and didn’t associate with the rest of the students. Even in class, she was so quiet and we were worried she had a traumatic past,” he says.
“I befriended her and she confided in me her past struggles. We enrolled her in the school’s counselling and mentorship programme and it helped her focus on studies.”
“Whenever I was mad or sad, teachers and friends would give me hope,” she says. “That comforted me.”
With time, Bukirwa made it her mission to not let a rough past limit her potential. Academics provided an outlet for pursuing excellence.
“By senior two, she was among the best in class and never looked back,” says Sematimba.
With Brac paying her school fees, the school topped up by exempting her from payment for education tours, among others.
Sematimba admits that although Bukirwa’s performance was exceptional, it wasn’t shocking. “she was always confident of herself and never felt the pressure of expectation.”
For someone who joined the school as an introvert, Bukirwa honed her academic skills through interaction with other students. “I’ve always been a person who likes to prove a point,” says Bukirwa, whose bursary with Brac has already been extended for A-level.
“I was on the verge of becoming a destitute. I’ve seen some kids in my situation who easily lose hope, give up on life, but I made sure I wasn’t going to be that person. I want to be something special,” she says.
“I am proud of St Mark’s College Namagoma. It has made me what I am. I like the system, especially the teaching and the mentorship programmes. I appreciate my auntie and grandmother for nurturing me and for keeping close to me every time I was in school, especially on visiting days.”
Going forward, Bukirwa plans to study biology, mathematics and chemistry with the career goal of becoming a doctor.
“God has a plan for me and I want to be a role model for the underprivileged,” she says. “He made something great out of nothing. And in academics, that was a way for me to show my emotions and to cope.”
For now, sky is the limit for Bukirwa.