Judith is a mother of three who raises her children on her own single-handedly but without use of her legs that were stricken and debilitated by polio as a child.
Judith has had to come from absolutely no income or financial support from her family and her father’s inadequate police wage. There is no welfare in Uganda for anyone in any situation and help from NGOs and other governments is by luck and being in the right place to join the right kind of program.
Instead Judith had to fight for herself which is exactly what she did. In the remote mountainous community of Kapchorwa on the mid-step of the gigantic inactive volcano, Mt Elgon, she asked a woman she knew if she could use a small room for two months rent free which she would pay back by the end of those two months. She also had another friend who was able to lend her 8000 Ugandan shillings (around $4USD at that time). With this pittance and simple grace from others she was able to buy firewood and then on-sell for a small margin. The small margin grew gradually and within two months Judith had paid her rent and just got her nostrils above water (figuratively speaking).
Through continuous hard work and determination she got herself into a position where she was able to set up a small mandazi stand selling hot fresh mandazi (local doughnuts). Continued fortune to also not have major surprises like sickness or natural disasters, these days Judith has her mandazi stand as well as a few simple goods like salt and sugar to sell from her living space to support herself and her three children. It is obvious Judith is a fighter, an entrepreneur and someone who displays the essential qualities of resourcefulness and resilience that so many others are forced to have living here in Uganda.
I was able to meet with Judith after speaking to the head of the Kapchorwa Child Development Centre, Samuel, while we were discussing the launch event for the Uganda polio Supplementary Immunisation Activity (SIA) for 37 border Districts. I suggested for the launch we should have a polio survivor speak and honour them as a heroic figure who takes on challenges each day and can share the importance of immunising against preventable diseases like polio. Samuel said he knew of a local polio survivor because her children attended the school he ran – and this is how I met Judith.
Judith contracted polio as a two year old and was supported as best as possible by her financially poor parents. She had her first child at age 20 and then had her next four years later and her third two years after that. When I said I was looking for someone who might be a heroic figure I had never thought they would be heroic to the same extent as Judith.
At the polio launch event we made sure the country knew about why we had to vaccinate 275,000 children house to house over three days.
The event consisted of speeches from the Director General of Health for Uganda, the local Chairperson, members from UNICEF and WHO and others, however the crowd and special guests were completely silent as Judith told her story. Her story was not of being a victim and asking for help but of how she had to empower herself against all challenges and extra adversity from polio to be a proud and providing mother of three beautiful healthy children. I don’t think there was a more significant moment of the event.
After a lunch for special guests – that of course included Judith and her children, I dropped her back at her mandazi stand (and bought a few for my breakfast the next day). I know she will still have to struggle each day without having the use of her legs but I also know she will continue to fight to provide for her children and be an active community member. I also know that she convinced hundreds there on the day and thousands through the coverage of the launch that, receiving two drops to keep Uganda polio-free is an important responsibility not because others pity her but because they don’t want their children and communities to have to be as heroic as Judith, if it can be prevented.