Growing up in a place like Busu was tough, it is the epitome of the African villages you see on TV. There was no running water or electricity and I had to walk the seven miles to and from school since the age of six.
I was born in 1973 in Mukono in Uganda, but was raised around 100 miles away in the village of Busu by my paternal aunt. I was one of 12 children, and have 4 brothers and seven sisters.
I still managed to have a fun-filled childhood, possibly because I knew nothing else. We cooked on firewood and fetched water from a well around 2 miles away, which we shared with cows, snakes, frogs and tortoises.
These hardships managed to make me resilient rather than resentful; I played freely in and enjoyed abundant fruit from the trees that are dotted all around the village, which still grows wild today, due to the fertile soil.
However, there were constant reminders of the poverty we lived in and death seemed to always be lurking around a corner. Many of my childhood friends and cousins died young from preventable diseases like malaria. Even though I was ill quite regularly, and have had malaria at least fifty times, I somehow managed to survive.
At a very early age I was aware of the needs in my community and had a dream then that if I ever got out of Busu village and got better opportunities, I would come back to help my community.
My primary school education was tough, as I had to make money to pay my school fees as well as essentials like books and stationery. I used to do this by picking fruit in Busu and then walking miles away to sell it, even though this did mean I was missing some days of school.
When I was 12, my luck changed. I got a sponsor who had been a missionary in Uganda for over thirty years. Pat was my aunt’s employer, and when she realised how I funded my education, she started to pay for my school fees all through my qualifications as a secondary school teacher. Two years later, I was invited to the UK to train as a youth worker, which gave me a career I enjoyed for more than ten years.
I later retrained as a therapist, which is part of the various work I undertake now. I never forgot my promise to Busu village and my plans for it. My time in the UK opened many doors for me and gave me chance to meet useful people and make good friends who I confided in, many offered to help me.
My father – Victor Ntalo Ssalongo – gave me part of our family land where I had been meant to build my own house, as is the custom in our culture. However, this is the land I used to build Suubi Medical Centre, which gives mothers in labour a safe place to give birth close to their own homes. We started with just a single room and then gradually added bits to it whenever I had the means to do so.
I am humbled by my community’s relentless hard work daily. They manage to survive day-to-day, finding food, water and medical treatment, without electricity and running water.
As you can imagine, the plight of new mothers is not the only struggle in Busu and the surrounding areas. We have many orphaned children due to HIV/Aids, and some wander around the villages, looking for food.
Even now, in 2019, children still die of the same treatable illnesses that took lives when I was young. Some children are abandoned by their parents, who cannot afford to feed or care for them.
Until now, Suubi has been run on very little resources and we have supported limited numbers of people but I recently decided to begin the huge task of fundraising and mobilising people here in the UK and other parts of the world to help us make a difference in the community where we work.
The ‘journey’ that began many years back is a testimony of determination, hard work, self-belief and the support and encouragement of many friends in the UK and in Uganda.
Today, the Suubi Medical Centre, through our projects, supports over 25,000 people and we have had a tremendous impact on the local communities in Busu village and the Iganga District as a whole.
Suubi Medical Centre is very different in its approach to the local community. We believe in empowering local people in Busu village and the communities where we work, to directly be involved in what we do. This is because it affects their community directly. We only employ local Ugandans at Suubi Medical Centre and don’t have Westerners in paid positions. The charity is very small but it is making a huge difference in Uganda.
Suubi Medical Centre is committed to long-term work. Everything we do has the involvement of local people operating at a grassroots level. We would love your help to ensure that the local people have a positive, prosperous and peaceful future.