A pregnancy while still in school forged a different path for her

23 year old Rita is a mother of two, a 7 year old and 2 year old. She doesn’t often see the older one who she says she had, unprepared. “I did not even breastfeed her. As soon as she was born, my mother took her, while I began to look for work. She still lives with my mother.” While in Primary School in her home district Mbale, she became pregnant; that was the end of her education. “My father was furious and could not stand the sight of me. He said that I had disappointed him by getting pregnant and that I had now become a spoilt child.” Rita wishes that her father had accorded her a second chance. “Who knows, if he had allowed me to continue with school, I might have made something better of myself and my life.”

A friend brought her to Kampala to work in a bar. She worked there for nine months. “My boss treated me well, gave us food and even accommodation. But the bar revelers were mostly annoying and unbearable.” It is at this bar that she met her now, husband and father of her second child in 2015. “He used to be one of the bar patrons. One day he propositioned me, asking to take me away and give me a better life. At first I was hesitant because I had been warned about men in Kampala. My friends said they were always looking to exploit women and nothing more.” She eventually gave this man the benefit of a doubt. Rita now lives with this man, a builder by occupation, together with their second child. The father of her first child often sends money as part of child support, and sometimes, takes his daughter for the school holidays.

       Ritah during a light moment at work

The job

Last year, Rita decided she wanted to supplement her husband’s salary, but most importantly make her own money. She came to the flower farm and applied for a job as a flower picker – she was hired. She is happy to be working, and is most grateful for the daycare on the farm where she and the other mothers’ babies of, right from day zero up to 2 years old are taken care of while they work.

The farm at which Rita works is right by the lake shores of the Lake Nalubaale, which causes flooding within the flower beds. And while gumboots are provided to them, they wear away overtime and many old ones have holes in them. “In such cases, we’re supposed to requisition for another pair, but sometimes they will say that new ones have not yet been purchased.

She however wishes that she earned more than the UGX 90,000 (USD 24) per month that she is paid. Has she communicated this issue? “We, (with the others) have brought it to management before, yet it has barely been addressed.” The most they do is make a 10% increment every other year.” She nevertheless keeps going in the hope that she will eventually find something better and move on.

The farm at which Rita works is right by the lake shores of the Lake Nalubaale, which causes flooding within the flower beds. And while gumboots are provided to them, they wear away overtime and many old ones have holes in them. “In such cases, we’re supposed to requisition for another pair, but sometimes they will say that new ones have not yet been purchased. With the flooding and flower plant thorns in that water (we do not have gloves), many women end up with infected feet and thorn pricks most of the time. This is also why many of our colleagues end up leaving this job.”

The workers here are treated, in case of an illness or accident, at the farm’s dispensary for a subsidized fee. She says that whereas it can be costly, it still is cheaper than the Health Center IV clinics in the town outside.

Lessons from Akina Mama wa Afrika’s Feminist Transformation Leadership training

Rita was able to change the ways in which she responded to authority before. “When I had just come here, I didn’t want to be told to do anything other than what I wanted to do. Taking orders was very difficult for me. In the training, we had a session on conduct which I think helped me a lot.” Rita has now taken it upon herself to help orient new workers who might have challenges adjusting in the beginning. “Some even say to me: you used to be that way too,” she laughs.

She has also taken to body exercising, a practice she also took away from the training, even when she says it was difficult to adjust to. “When they asked us to get up early on the first day I was irritated. I thought that we should be left to rest for the period of the training.” By the third day, she said she felt more alive than ever and wanted the exercises to become a daily routine. “I don’t always have time because even before I get to work I have to get the child ready for school. But over the weekends especially, I go to the nearby football field and jog. My husband has started joining me too.”

The woman at home

When she is at home, she likes to sit on a particular couch and relax, watching TV or listening to the radio. Other times, she is cooking a meal for her family, or playing with her younger child. Rita wants to be listened to more when she raises her concerns. Something she says does not happen enough in communication with her partner.

Ritah’s optimism for better days ahead  is etched in the wall inside her livingroom; Tomorrow must be greater than today.

In the future

Rita is not certain yet what she would do after here. “I have been saving about UGX 30,000 (USD 8) per month, mostly. When it accumulates, I can think of a plan then. For now, I hope to get a better job, or maybe have a piece of land to grow my own food.”