Sajuwa Namuli and Bahiyyah Nagawa of Bilaal Islamic Primary School in Bwaise are aged 10 and seven respectively – but what they do is a shock to many observers. While it is rare to find a woman cobbler, these two girls are already in the trade, helping their father raise income to maintain the family.
Husain Kamulegeya, their father, has been repairing and polishing shoes for many years – basing at the National Theatre. On this Saturday morning, his daughters have not attended school because it is a weekend. So they will work with him.
How did it start?
Namuli, the elder of the two, says it all started when they asked their father to buy them some toys. “We had seen our friends with toys and we always admired them,” she says. “But when we would ask dad to buy us some toys he would say ‘today, tomorrow, I don’t have money’ until one time he asked ‘but why don’t you come with me and see how I struggle to get money?'”
Namuli was only six years old then and her sister just three. Ever since they have not looked back. When they are not at school they are making money from repairing and polishing shoes.
“Our father pays us. We can now buy some of the things we need such as clothes – and pocket money,” Namuli says. “He teaches us everything. He told us that we have to know where he gets money from so that we grow up understanding how to live in the world. He told us not to ignore his work because he has never failed to pay our school fees or provide the basic things we need in life,” Namuli says.
For Nagawa, the seven year old, working with her father is also a good outing. “My father is a good friend. He answers my questions. I love dad and I love what he does,” she says.
Kamulegeya says his children have the opportunity to learn what he does when they are still young. “Right now they have so many questions. Their brains are fresh. They don’t feel any shame. It is very rare in Uganda to find a woman doing this. I want them to grow up used to this trade,” he says.
“What I have done is theirs. It is all they have. They have got to acquire the necessary skills. They have a big chance to do what I have failed to do. With the necessary knowledge and skills they can start up a big workshop. They can even make shoes instead of just repairing them,” Kamulegeya adds.
Kamulegeya says that Uganda has changed so much that it so difficult for many people to find jobs. “We have to give our children technical skills,” he says.