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Nankinga Justine’s childhood was taken away from her all too early. Now that she is a teacher, she ensures that her students are making the most of theirs. This World Teacher’s Day, let us celebrate the teachers who were patient enough to play and sing with us.
Nankinga Justine jokingly asks me how I do not know her. The 27-year-old once had her pictures published in the region’s newspapers every day for nearly a month when her family was searching for her. She admits it was a difficult time, but has moved past it now. She is now a passionate play leader for children in BRAC’s play lab in the Wakiso district of central Uganda. She exudes a very playful aura, a natural result of spending long hours with small, excited children.
“I want to give children the guidance I never had as a child. I always tell young girls to dream first, and marry later.
My daughter is now in the same grade I was in when my class teacher raped me. I was pregnant at 14. My father chased me away out of shame. I lived on the streets, until an elderly lady took me in. She was a devoted Catholic. I was afraid to tell her that I was pregnant. She loved and cared for me still, without judgment. She inspired me to become a nun.
I worked in a market downtown during my pregnancy. Soon my family was trying to look for me again. My photographs were on newspapers. It said I was ‘missing’. When I finally gave birth to my daughter, her father’s family took her away. It broke my heart. But I soldiered on. I joined school, and finished a course on childhood teaching.
I love teaching children. I love seeing them sing and dance. I always make sure they feel safe. My daughter and I are very close. I try to be open with her. We are like close friends. I want her to be able to share her feelings and experiences with me. I do not want any child to go through what I went through.”
7,200 children in Uganda, Tanzania and Bangladesh gather in 240 of these learning spaces under the guidance of play leaders – all of whom are women recruited from the local community. Play leaders are trained to build confidence and empathy in students, and create a culture of play in the classroom.
Edwinah Nassuna is a communications officer of BRAC Uganda.