AISHA NABUKEERA is the founder of the Aisha Nabukeera Foundation that advocates children’s rights. Recently, she was selected among 12 beneficiaries of the three-year Thomson Reuters Generation Africa programme funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Quick Talk caught up with her upon return from a one-week training in Johannesburg, South Africa.
You are a shy lady…
Am I shy? Are you sure? Ehhhhh! Even right now? Do you remember when you last met me? [Quick Talk last interviewed her in October 2018] I was shy but I am improving, naawe.
Ok. Who is Aisha – that terrible fire incident aside?
I am a very hardworking person. Yes, am a bit shy. I am so determined and get so impatient if I need something. When we met last time, I told you I had plans to register my foundation. [People] advised me to ask my uncle [Frank Gashumba, the man who adopted her after the incident] to help me but I wanted to do things on my own.
I don’t want to go to offices and tell people that my uncle this, my uncle that. I got a friend who is a lawyer and helped me on this process. I updated my uncle a few days ago that I had done it and he was shocked.
Does the statement “everything happens for a reason” hold new meaning for you now?
Oh, yes! If this had not happened to me, I really don’t know where I would be. Maybe, I would have dropped out of school or be married in Masaka with kids, because it was a tug of war to get school fees from my dad. Truth be told, I really don’t know where I would be. OMG! I don’t want to even remember my past life.
You mean there’s nothing to miss about your former life?
[Instantly] I don’t think there’s anything to miss, as long as my mum [Sophie Nakandi] and siblings are [not there].
You are in a house full of very outspoken people. How do you manage to keep so quiet?
Right now, I stay with my mum in Maya, but when I am at uncle’s home [in Ggaba Bunga], I am so quiet. [Laughs…] My uncle doesn’t know that other side of me, because I talk more when I am with my mum.
You’ve stayed with Gashumba for more than 10 years! A single father – how does he keep all you girls in check? [Gashumba’s biological children are also girls.]
It’s a good experience staying with him. He’s a kind person and very principled. Whenever you are going somewhere and inform him, he doesn’t mind that much. Personally, I had to ensure that I was home before him. When I joined campus, my latest time to reach home would be before 11pm. Before that, I was entirely in a boarding school.
What has been the biggest adjustment you have had to make?
Uhmm…. [She scratches her hair, looks at her fingers, then bursts into laughter] Can I answer that last?
Okay… Are you dating?
Eh! Why that question, naawe? [She tells Quick Talk she is 24 and a big girl now] Is it a must for big girls to date? Are you dating, too? Just know I am not dating.
But you’ve dated before. What happened?
Yes. I dated someone, things happened and we broke up. We dated for two years. I don’t know where he is now.
Is this the man who leaked screenshots of bitter WhatsApp exchanges with you last year?
Can we kindly not talk about it? Next question, pleaaaaase!
How many pairs of shoes do you own?
I like heels but I wear them for specific functions. I am more into pumps but I don’t like flat open shoes. But don’t ask me how many pairs I have in totality because I have enough shoes for me.
I can imagine…after all, you are Sheila Gashumba’s “sister”! How has that changed you and your outlook on life?
[Whispers] Next question, naawe. [After some deep thinking…] Yeah…it has been great. Sheila and I were not that close; I was in boarding school and she was in day schools. When I joined campus, I would come back at night and she’d be asleep or working. By the way, I like Sheila’s confidence and she doesn’t mind what people say about her.
Do you ever see your biological relatives?
I see my mum and siblings. We are six children and I am the fourth-born. Four girls and two boys. When they separated, my mother didn’t produce more children.
How do you spend your free time?
This is weird, but I love sleeping. I love being with my family and my phone. I also watch TV, mainly Zee World. I can’t sing but when I am alone, I dance. When I go out with friends, I just sit and listen to music.
About the Generation Africa Programme… How is your story going to help your peers?
We are going to move around talking to people in communities. When you tell someone your story, they get hopeful about life. They will see me, they will believe me, and I will leave a smile on their faces.
Do people easily recognise you?
Some do and others don’t. Others are happy and say; y’ono gwe bayokya (she’s the one they burnt). Actually, some kids touch my scars and they can’t believe that I survived.
You’re always dressed in turtleneck, long-sleeved clothes…
I do wear sleeveless tops and vests at home. I put on the long stuff while moving in town to keep myself private for fear that people will look at me. During the Miss Uganda boot camp, we wore open stuff and the girls were comfortable with me. [A few years ago she contested for Miss Uganda.]
What are you currently reading?
I am reading an autobiography, I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb. Malala is a Pakistani girl who was shot during her fight for a right to education. In her country, girls’ education was not taken seriously, but she wanted to prove society wrong.
Who is your favourite musician?
I listen to music from Geo Steady, Eddy Kenzo and Sheebah Karungi. Outside, I like Rihanna and Patoranking.
And your favourite MP…
I am not into politics. For public figures, I would like to meet the president and we talk about child abuse. I want to ask him why I didn’t get justice, and the job scarcity in the country. I [am educated] but you can’t believe I haven’t got a job yet. I have applied to several organisations but no feedback since 2018. I am now focusing on my foundation as I wait.
When was the last time you cried?
Last week in South Africa when they told me to share my story.
If you met your stepmother, what would you tell her?
I have not met her since I left Masaka in 2006. However, I would ask her why I had to pay the price for something I had no idea about. Maybe, she didn’t like mum… I really have a lot of questions for her and my dad. I last met my dad while in S4. We talked briefly… he told me I should forget what happened and that was it. Personally, I forgave them and moved on.
As the interview ends, she reminds Quick Talk about her most life-changing adjustments: contesting for Miss Uganda, the Generation Africa Programme and meeting Frank Gashumba.
On February 6, 2006, Nabukeera got burnt while lighting a local lamp (tadooba) in Kyabakuza, Masaka. She says her stepmother ordered her to wear a new, long-sleeved dress that was doused in paraffin. As soon as she lit the lamp using her right hand, flames engulfed her. Nabukeera’s condition saw Gashumba mobilise funding for her treatment.
Then in P6 at Nyendo Public School in Masaka, she was transferred to City Parents School where she completed primary seven in 2008. In 2009, the late Prof Lawrence Mukiibi gave her a six-year scholarship at St Lawrence School, Horizon campus.
During her S6 vacation in 2014, she contested in the 2014/15 Miss Uganda beauty pageant and emerged among the top 10. She also won the Miss Rising Woman accolade.
In 2015, Nabukeera joined Uganda Christian University, Mukono and graduated with a Bachelor of Social Work and Social Administration last year.