Remember: Christmas is About Giving
A beggar on Ben Kiwanuka Street.

Remember: Christmas is About Giving

"Christmas is for those who are well off. For us, we stay in our suffering"- says beggars in Kampala, Uganda.

By Enoch Mutabaazi and Risdel Kasasira
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First published: December 25, 2005

He is called Samson Kyolaba, seven years old. He was born and raised on streets and baptized Samson by his own mother, who probably wished his son to be like the biblical Samson, a strong and admirable guy. I encountered him on Luwum Street very early in the morning. He was dressed in wet cloths and is suffering from a vicious shiver, a sign that he had been hit by an over night torrential storm.

The shiver seems to have been so acute that it cannot even allow Kyolaba to effectively raise his hand and do the duty he lives for- begging every by passer. I placed a five hundred coin in his left hand, which slid through his fingers almost immediately. Looking at Kyolaba and the other kids surrounding him on the verandah, you wonder whether things like Christmas really make sense to them.

To Kyolaba and many other kids bred and raised in dehumanizing conditions of Kampala streets, celebrating Christmas is really a ‘waste of time’ and a not-so familiar vocabulary to their ears. In fact, to them Christmas holiday has been marked as a ‘dark period’ where scarcity and starvation abound.

Mubisera bya sekukkulu abantu tebagaba ssente-during Christmas period people do not part with their money,” says Kyolaba who has his entire family of two young sisters and mother living on streets.

Betty Akullo seated on Kampala road near Diamond Trust with her two-year-old daughter is another of the beggars. Although Akullo’s daughter has mastered the art of begging more accurately and cunningly than her mother, her day’s collection is not enough to see them through a ‘dry spell’-Christmas, leave alone enjoying it.

Akullo says that Christmas is a memory of the past. She only remembers to have celebrated it during her early child hood. And now she has to plan on how to get what to eat and survive on streets by begging. But how would Akullo wish to celebrate Christmas if she were well off?

“I would like to eat goats meat and rice on a Christmas day,” she says with her face billowing to reveal a far off smile.

Like Akullo, physically handicapped Losio Ssebugwawo, 53, who operates along Luwum Street would wish to have a Merry Christmas. For the past two years, Ssebugwawo a staunch catholic has woken up every morning to his duty of begging with hope that he will make enough money and have the luxury of celebrating Christmas with his family back in Butambala, in Masaka district. But that has not come yet in his last three years of begging.

“This year I have only saved ten thousand shillings, which can not be enough for my transport back home and buy some meat for the children,” says Ssebugwawo as he counts on his rosary.

But it is amazing how inequality exists in every human setting! Unlike Akullo and others, Ssebugwawo looks quite clean and modern. He is smartly dressed with a well-kept beard and dyed hair in addition to having a clean handkerchief to wipe off a stream of sweat running down his fat cheeks.

For Abas Steven Kabuye, a former cancer victim, begging is like any other work, which should fetch enough money to allow one enjoy Christmas. In fact, at his stages of operation at both Luwum and William streets, boda boda cyclists call him ‘uncle millionaire’.

Uncle Millionaire olusi a tuyamba ne change we mitwallo ettano-uncle millionaire some times helps us with change even for fifty thousand notes,” said one boda boda cyclists at Luwum street.

Kabuye, who crawls on his arms and knees after both of his legs were amputated due to cancer, says that Id El Fitr is better than Christmas because Muslims normally donate to fellow Muslim destitutes, probably the reason he has adopted both Christian and Moslem names-Abas Stephen Kabuye.

On how he plans to celebrate Christmas, Kabuye formerly a farmer in Luwero District contemplates for seconds, then; “I will buy some clothes in Owino for my children and take two chickens for my two wives” he says affording a smile.

For Apollo Kenyi who looks to be a new kid in the world of begging, and operates at Kafumbe Mukasa and Kisenyi market, Christmas is a continuation of his misery.

Sekukkulu yabalina wo mwana. Ffe tusigala tubonabona- Christmas is for those who are well off. For us, we stay in our suffering,” says Kenyi as he limps on improvised clutches, gathering his entire belongings of a broken basin, a dirty five litre Jeri can and a two-inch mattress that seems to have gained another inch from collecting dirt.

By Enoch Mutabaazi and Risdel Kasasira
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First published: December 25, 2005
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Enoch Mutabaazi is a media practitioner at Ultimate Media Consult with more than six years experience in the print and electronic media. Since he majored in Broadcast Journalism at his graduate studies Mutabaazi first worked as a reporter at Uganda Television (now Uganda Broadcasting Corporation TV) before he discovered his multidimensional skills in writing and public relations at Ultimate Media Consult. He is currently the Production Executive at Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and writes occasionally.

Risdel Kasasira is a graduate Journalist who reports for Ultimate Media Consult. He has worked for The Daily Monitor, Radio Uganda and has done several communication related consultancies. He is also the Research Executive at Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd.