Patience. I don’t know what comes to mind when you think of a lady called Patience. I would almost guarantee you don’t imagine the reality of Patience Namanya. But I’d like to introduce you to her – she’s astonishing.
Patience is a gently spoken woman with eyes that glisten as she talks and an inner strength belied by her slender frame. She is a woman who burns with a passion to end injustice, a woman who risks everything to see that happen.
But life for Patience began in Kyebando, a slum in Kampala, Uganda, mired by unemployment, alcoholism and malnutrition. In Patience’s own home, tragedy was relentless. Her father died of AIDS, the disease that would gradually take the lives of her mother and two of her younger siblings. While AIDS still ravaged her body, Patience’s mother enrolled her at Compassion’s Gayaza Road Child Development Centre.
After her mother died, the 12-year-old moved in with her aunt and uncle. Though Patience was able to stay at the Compassion centre, home life was grim. Every day she awoke at 4 a.m. to prepare meals, wash clothes and care for her younger cousins. She rarely went to bed before 1 a.m., and was regularly denied food. Keeping up with her studies was nearly impossible. Her grades began to fall.
She came home from school with a bad report card. She was failing literature, history, civics and maths. Her teacher had scrawled a note at the bottom:
Patience can do better than this. Should please put in more effort.
Patience sat alone, ashamed. She ached for her parents. She was afraid of her abusive aunt. Who would she show this wrinkled piece of paper to?
She knew one person who would understand. One woman who would both challenge and comfort her. Patience picked up her pencil and began to write.
This year was not wonderful for me because of the problems I had. I lost my grandma and my mummy in the same year and month.
Terribly hard words for any 12-year-old to write, but Patience took great strength from the letters that made their way, across the ocean, to her sponsor Diane. She thanked God for the blessings even as her family endured death, disease and loss. In Diane, Patience found a provider and protector.
“She was always encouraging me to carry on. She told me that if I worked hard, there were better things. She told me that she was impressed by me. I always shared everything with her. She was and still is, my prayer partner and encourager.”
That encouragement and the support of her local church project helped Patience improve her failing grades, and she began to rise in the ranks at school. At 18 she was accepted into Compassion’s Leadership Development Programme and began attending University, where she studied social work and administration.
Initially, Patience wanted to give back to children whose lives reflected her own childhood and she led a Compassion project for two years, pioneering new lessons in sustainability and environmental health. Then she joined the army where she fought in Iraq. But eventually Patience grew indignant with the injustice she saw in the world. She had seen corruption all her life and she wanted to do something about it.
“My uncle is harassing us,” Patience had written in a letter to Diane. “He has even grabbed the little property Mummy left us with - that would help pay my brother’s school fees. As if that is not enough, my uncle is chasing us out of grandfather’s home.”
That acute awareness of injustice gave Patience a purpose — but also put her life in danger. She began working with Volunteer Anti-Corruption Campaign Africa. At great personal risk, Patience hosted radio programmes each week to educate people about corruption.
“The corrupt people in Uganda are very rich and have authority and powerful political offices,” she says. “They are almost untouchable and very dangerous.”
Patience was eventually promoted to the Anti-Corruption National Strategic Planning Team for Uganda. A job at the national level affords her both freedom and safety. Her team has appeared on radio and television in their efforts to protect fellow Ugandans from government corruption. Last year, Patience helped reinstate 6,000 teachers who had been illegally removed from their jobs.
On 11 November 2016, just under a month ago, the court finally passed the judgement of government officials who were siphoning people’s pension funds. The officials were given prison sentences of seven to ten years and ordered to pay fines. This was the first justice of its kind in Uganda’s history. “It took patience, persistence, determination and unwavering follow-up since 2012, to deliver justice to the cheated Ugandans,” Patience explains.
Since August this year, she has helped 113 civil servants back onto the payroll, allowing them to receive their due money, some of them for the first time in four years.
Just a few weeks ago Patience met with a group of adolescent young mothers, encouraging them to return to school: “I believe these ladies will rebuild the broken walls in Jesus’s Name.”
As if all of that work combined wasn’t enough to be involved with, the Parliament of Uganda recently passed a law to establish the National Children Authority. Patience was appointed to spearhead the establishment.
Tenacious. Dedicated. Persistent. This is truly Patience. Anchored by her identity in the ultimate Justice-giver, and Advocate for the wronged.
“The rigorous Leadership Development Programme sessions instilled integrity in me. I learnt that I must stand for the truth, even if I am alone. Because I know the One who was called me.”
And Patience has no intention of giving up the fight. Acutely aware of the devastation of AIDS, she compares corruption to the disease: “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome has decimated parts of Uganda, but just as great a problem is Acquired Integrity Deficiency Syndrome. My country cannot flourish whilst it prevails.”
Patience dreams of running for government in the 2021 elections so she can fight corruption from within. Talking with her, seeing the strength that guides her, I believe she can do it.
Words by Bekah Legg, Patience Namanya and Ella Dickinson.
Photos by Caroline A Mwinemwesigwa and Patience Namanya.
A version of this blog was originally published in December 2015.