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School CP - April 2005

Corpun file 16308

New Vision, Kampala, 12 April 2005

Former housegirl goes back to S1 at 21 years

CHEERFUL: Katwesige pictured at school

By Elvina Nawaguna

The students in Senior One Blue at Bethany High School, Naalya are chatting with each other. Everyone is contributing to the conversation, except one light skinned girl.

As though to make up for the lost years, Margaret Katwesige reads her book, oblivious of the noise around her.

There is nothing unusual about her. In fact, she looks very much at ease in her class and is about the same height and size as most of her classmates. It is almost impossible to tell that she is 21 years old, among mostly 13-year olds.

After her P6 at St. Jude’s Primary School in Hoima in 1995, Katwesige’s father declared to her and her siblings that he no longer had money to keep them in school. Katwesige became a house girl in Makindye, Kampala. As a maid, she worked hard to learn how to read English.

“My boss used to give me newspapers for lighting the sigiri, which I would first read,” Katwesige says giggling.

She would read out loudly and try to pronounce every word correctly.

Fortunately, Katwesige got another job as a house girl in the USA. During the five years she worked there, she built her English vocabulary and mastered pronunciation.

“I would watch movies and learn how words were pronounced,” Katwesige says.

When she told her boss that she wanted to study, she (the boss) was shocked.

“She told me ‘Where are you going to start from? People will think you are the teacher's wife!” Katwesige says.

With her savings, Katwesige returned to Uganda and enrolled for Primary Leaving Exams at Parajwoki primary School in Hoima. She got 13 points and was admitted to Bethany High School.

“So far, things are going well, except the caning,” Katwesige says.

When the class is caned for making noise, she also gets caned. At first, she wanted to resist, but then she realised that she had to follow the rules and obey authority like her S1 classmates.

Katwesige says she is comfortable that the students treat her as one of them even after finding out her age. She has even cut off her hair exposing a large scar on her left temple, which she got when their house caught fire. The fire damaged one of her nerves, which remains sensitive to the sun. Because of this, Katwesige cannot participate in sports. She, however, joined the music and drama class.
Her biggest challenge is catching up with the rest of her class. “Most of them have been in the system longer than I have, so I have to work harder,” she says. Katwesige also has to get used to wearing a school uniform and particularly having to pull up her long white socks.
Some of Katwesige’s classmates don't believe that she is 21 years. One time, when filling in a form, one of her classmates told her that she had written her age the other way round as 21 instead of 12! Kiconco Flavia, 12, says, “When she told me that she was 21, I did not believe her. It was after she told me her background that I believed her.”

To most of her teachers, Katwesige is just one of the students in S1 Blue. The S1 class have only had one test, so it is hard to judge Katwesige’s academic performance.
“All I know about her is that she is active in class,” says Issa Balisanyuka, the class teacher of S1 Blue.
Katwesige wants to do a combination that includes literature at A’ level and become a journalist.
Mary Mwanja, the deputy headmistress has already informed the literature department about Katwesige’s talent in writing.
While in USA, Katwesige had her book Mother's secrets published by PublishAmerica. She hoped that the proceeds would pay her school fees. However, she may never be able to get her fair share because the book is only available in America, where it is not selling well. She now is depending on donations from a well-wisher to pay her school fees.
“I'm not sure where I will get school fees for next term,” she says.

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