Aziza Kauma’s whack sent the cricket ball skyward. It was greeted with wild cheers as three pairs of hands shot into the air as fielders waited for the ball. Kauma had offered the fielders a cheap wicket, a dolly — an easy catch in cricket.
Among those cheering for the dolly was Isaac Imaka. He had been speaking to a group of cricket trainers when Kauma batted.
All attention had turned to the expected wicket. Except that Kauma had another life to bat as the three, who scrambled for the easy catch, inexplicably dropped a sitter.
Imaka walked back to continue with his interface. The players were only children after all, much so, beginners in the hit-and-run game; cricket.
The former Daily Monitor journalist, now in the private sector, nowadays spends his weekends in Busoga where, tasked with running the Gabula Royal Foundation, he has taken to helping the Kyabazinga fight teenage pregnancy in the region.
Imaka’s views on child pregnancy and community response to the vice borders on the acerbic. He believes most of the responses make teenage pregnancy “lucrative” because the incentives to victims, though noble, “do not address the root problem.”
“Trying to address teenage pregnancy by giving capital and other material help to a girl when she has already been impregnated is akin to making the problem lucrative,” Imaka recently grumbled on Facebook as he shared a Daily Monitor article, “Kamuli child mothers receive Shs3.5b funding.”
The article said about 1,800 child mothers and school dropouts in Kamuli District had been empowered with skills to support themselves and their families through a Shs3.5b project dubbed “Smart Up Factory” by Plan International, an NGO.
Days later, this newspaper reported that a random assessment of the situation of Primary Seven pupils in Kamuli had found that at least 187 girls got pregnant during the Covid-19-induced lockdown.
The March 16 article, quoting Kamuli Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Robert Mutemo, saying many girls have been married off or dropped out of school during the lockdown.
The government closed schools in March 2020 during a national lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19. The schools have only been partially reopened for candidate and semi-candidate classes.
“Some of these children [victims of teenage pregnancies] are vulnerable, from destitute families. If, say, Sauda gets pregnant and overnight, she has a small business in the village centre and is given a new skill from which she can make some money, chances are that Mariamu will eventually get pregnant so that she also gets a similar incentive,” Imaka argues.
“To me, that is precisely why the numbers keep doubling year in year out despite all other efforts.”
However, he argues his approach does not mean pregnant young girls should be neglected.
“I mean, they have got pregnant. You cannot send them to hell fire,” he adds.
Imaka urges stakeholders to not spend the biggest chunk of their budget “sitting in town waiting for a pregnant girl to come knocking for help.”
“Let us focus on initiatives that will give us headlines such as ‘There has been zero teenage mothers reported in Busoga in the last five years’ instead of those that will give us headlines such as “Over 2,000 teenage mothers have been skilled and given start-up capital.’”
“With the latter, we will only be postponing the detonation of a time bomb.”
While releasing a report on the effect of Covid-19 pandemic on teenagers on March 6, the Kamuli assistant health officer-in-charge of maternal and child health, Dr Moses Lyagoba, revealed that between August 2020 and January 2021, at least 3,126 teenage pregnancies were registered in the district.
Kamuli is the second most prominent district in Busoga Kingdom after Jinja.
Several reports on the rise in teenage pregnancies during the lockdown have blamed the vice on the lack of activities for children to engage in while at home.
And while Plan International is facilitating local governments of Kamuli, Buyende, Namutumba, and Luuka — all in Busoga Sub-region– in making and enacting four ordinances and two by-laws to end child marriages, Imaka has decided to use the powers the kingdom handed him to tackle the problem from its roots.
Gabula Royal Foundation
On January 22, 2018, Kyabazinga Nadiope Gabula IV dropped a challenge to Imaka. He appointed the 35-year-old to steer the Gabula Royal Foundation with a mandate to cause long lasting sustainable positive change in Busoga and the country at large.
As chief executive, Imaka has to oversee the administration, programmes and strategic plan of the foundation, raise funds, market their activities, and take the lead in community outreach programmes to ensure development of Busoga and the surrounding areas.
The new responsibility means the Mojabet business development manager and director at Outcome Communications has to delicately balance his time between the jobs on top of his MBA studies.
From grumbling about how most initiatives only exist to help teenage girls after they get pregnant, Imaka now has the ball in his hands to cause social impact on the issue.
He chose a cricket ball.
“We knew we needed a solution that arrests the problem before it happens. Cricket is fairly a new game in rural Busoga where the problem is rampant,” Imaka says.
“So we chose it because something new and attractive will grab the attention of the teenagers.”
Imaka and his team came up with the ‘Cricket is Life’ initiative targeting teenage girls in rural communities, who are exposed to the danger of becoming teenage mothers if they are not helped to keep away from bad company or given the right information.
“As the youngsters play the hit-and-run game, they are taught about the dangers of teenage pregnancies,” he says.
“The sport keeps them away from idleness and bad company and, most importantly, keeps them in school. Cricket has the capacity to educate a talented child up to university and if they are good, even earn professionally from it.”
While it is easy to dismiss Imaka’s vision under the Cricket is Life initiative as just another thick cloud that excites a farmer who has just sowed, the Busoga Katukiro (premier), Mr Joseph Muvawala, draws from the region’s history with the sport and has strong faith in what the foundation is trying to achieve.
“Busoga is known for its supremacy and as a giant in cricket among schools and has produced national materials such as Kenneth Kamyuka, Charles Waiswa, and Daniel Batuwa,” he says.
“With Cricket is Life, we are comforting ourselves in a sport that is familiar this side of the country and I believe if these youngsters go out there to hit and run, they get attached to the sport in their free time, hence forgetting about so many misleading activities.”
It is approaching dusk one Saturday at Kivubuka Primary School grounds in Budondo Sub-county, Jinja City, where the Cricket is Life initiative is running. The youngsters have just been given tracksuits donated by Uganda Cricket Association to the foundation.
The stumps, bats and balls are packed into bags. Cricket instructors Steven Mugabi, Charles Waiswa and Mike Ina Baraza are ready to retire for the day. But the children demand to be allowed to continue with their practice.
After some persuasion, the instructors give in, with Mugabi opting to stay back and oversee their enthusiasm.
Aziza Kauma, 13, a Primary Six pupil at Kivubuka Primary School, says when she shared the idea with her parents, they never refused her to train as long as she didn’t lose focus in school.
“I also want to fly outside the country like Joshua Cheptegei,” Kauma tells Sunday Monitor.
Like Kauma, Hope Alikoba, 17, has embraced the sport that she says has helped detach her from bad peer groups.
“Some of my friends are not going to be in school because they are pregnant, others have given birth during the lockdown,” the Senior Two student of St Joseph SS, Wakitaka, says.
“I want to learn cricket since it is one of those unique games to see where I can be like other stars in the world.”
In a recent media interview, Butembe chiefdom prime minister Edward Munaaba thanked the Kyabazinga for choosing to give the county the first priority.
“This means we have to work hard and ensure that it is a success so that our brothers and sisters in the other chiefdoms can have something to benchmark on,” he said.
Imaka says the foundation has other options such that those with no interest in Cricket is Life can sit in for the mentorship and sensitisation sessions, or simply keep in school through the Foundation Education Initiative.
Fighting non-communicable diseases
As youngsters hit and run about the pitch at Kivubuka Primary School from Friday to Sunday evenings, middle-aged and elderly persons can be seen engrossed in aerobic sessions on the side of the pitch.
Under instructors Ronald Owora and Coach Sammo, the older persons later sit to listen to healthy lifestyle advice.
Like with teenage pregnancies, the Ebisaizi-Twekembe Edhituluma (literally translated as “aerobics, let us fight illnesses”), is an approach to health and wellness and emphasises prevention.
Launched on February 5, Ebisaizi is a community wellness and mental health programme that promotes healthy living and mental health through physical exercises (aerobics), yoga therapy, right nutrition and other activities aimed at addressing mental health issues such as stress and depression among older persons (35 years and above) in Busoga.
Mr Muvawala says the kingdom has always put the health of the Basoga and Busoga at the forefront of its mandate.
Holding her walking stick firmly, Florence Nambogwe makes every effort to twist her muscles and joints during the aerobic sessions. The 80-year-old is, however, in high spirits, grinning from ear to ear.
She has been battling aching gouts for three years and even at such an advanced age, she believes the physical exercise will help her body all the same.
“Ever since I started coming here, there has been a remarkable change. I walk around the compound much easily and this makes me feel better than taking the drugs that sometimes makes you sleepy,” she says.
Florence Nakayima, 38, says the Ebisaizi initiative has been a worthwhile getaway for the stress she was undergoing recently.
“I had family problems that were stressing me that led me to getting pressure,” she said.
“But I feel like I am getting back my faculties now.”
Bugabula chiefdom deputy premier Ronald Watongola says he cannot wait for the initiative to crossover to his chiefdom.
“They are not only benefiting through sweating, they are now socialising. They have something to look up to every weekend instead of remaining lonely in their homes,” he says.
He adds: “Non-communicable diseases and teenage pregnancies are one of the biggest problems Busoga is facing among its people and these projects touch on the nerve centre.”
But looking at the activities involved, it means Imaka and the foundation he runs have deep pockets to sustain their initiatives beyond a few hits and runs of cricket and aerobics.
At the end of their bats, some of the youngsters such as Kauma would want to see more than just a game that keeps themselves from bad company.
Imaka says they have already invested in some partnerships, including with Uganda Cricket Association, with the intention of forming strong teams.
“All the projects are run and coordinated by volunteers who are not even paid. We have Eric Kaluya with Gabula Talks on radios and TVs, who has been with us since inception, Edgar Kabaale is volunteering as the finance and administration manager, Daniel Gulere is coordinating Ebisaizi together with Owora and Coach Sammo.
“Steven Mugabi is handling Cricket is Life with cricket veteran Charles Waiswa. Mike Ina Baraza is always at hand to offer guidance on all projects. When you have a dedicated team of volunteers, even when the times are tough, you somehow get going,” Imaka says.
Presently, the foundation raises funds through donations such as when Kakira Sugar Limited donated Shs50m to the foundation last year, publishing and selling magazines and calendars and from donations from individuals such as politicians.
Imaka also hopes to roll out an education programme to boost the current initiative where they are paying tuition for vulnerable students at Jinja Secondary School such that the foundation sends 10,000 best and deserving vulnerable children through to university in 10 years.