Barbara Nankya Mutagubya was appointed the Executive Director of Sanyu Babies Home (SBH) when she was just 24 years old and just a few months out of University in 1982.
She applied for the job through the church even if she had not worked with any organisation dealing with children or babies. She had only served as a Sunday school teacher at the Anglican Church for many years. She had also worked six months with an NGO educating ex-SPLA soldiers in Sudan.
She says her ability to manage a children’s home at such a young age was questioned.
“It was a challenging task for me but I sought God’s divine intervention,” she says, “The job required working with nannies as old as 70 years so I utilized some leadership qualities way back from school and church to handle the task.”
Nine years later, Nankya still heads the institution. It had for 53 babies when visited although numbers vary as they are often given up for adoption and new ones arrive. Sanyu means happiness and so the main aim at the home is to restore happiness to the children abandoned by their birth parents and needing care and love.
The children arrive at Sanyu Babies Home in disheartening ways; most of them are throwaways of society; found on the side of the road, pit latrines, and rubbish bins.
Perhaps, it was useful that Nankya had grown up in a family of 12 children raised by a single mother. She was a middle child and her father passed on while she was only in primary six at Nakivubo Blue Primary School in Kampala. So she knew about being needy.
“Everything changed when he passed on because previously our house was always full of relatives but they couldn’t help,” she recalls.
Her mother, a trained midwife, switched to retail business to fend for the big family. She could only afford to pay school fees for all in over five installments. Some of Nankya’s siblings missed exams on several occasions. Nankya learnt early to fend for herself.
“I worked so hard to top the class and also made friends with teachers and the headmaster of Mengo Senior School to let me into school,” she says.
Even then, she knew her mother’s meager earnings could not push her past senior six. But university education was free back then, although admission was very competitive. Luckily she passed and joined the only university then- Makerere University for a Bachelor’s degree in Education. She graduated with first class degree.
A year after getting the job, Nankya married and got her own children. But, she says, it is as if nothing changed in her work. After all, her family resides within the premises of the babies’ home for easy monitoring.
“It was a hands-on experience because even when I had my own children, I consider them all as my own,” she says.