Catherine: a trailblazer


1st March 1936-22 October 2017.

On the 22 nd October 2017, Catherine Zawedde Kisumba passed away peacefully at her home in Muyenga, Kampala. She was an outstanding mother of four, a grandmother of three and a great- grandmother to two boys. Outside home, she was celebrated as the first woman pharmacist in Uganda(1960) and among the first in East Africa. She came from a privileged family; her father had been the finance minister of the Buganda Kingdom in Uganda. She attended the prestigious girls’ school- Gayaza High School up to Ordinary Level. She excelled as an all-round student but had a knack for mathematics.

In her quest to become a medical doctor, she had to transfer to a co-educational school- Kings College Buddo to study chemistry and Physics at Advanced Level. By then Gayaza High school was not offering those two subjects. After some months of uncertainty and teasing, she and her best friend Alex Sempa settled down comfortably. They both passed so brilliantly that they won themselves Buganda governmemt scholarships to study pharmacy at Bristol College of Science and Technology in the United Kingdom. Alex later changed to Human Medicine and graduated five years later to become the second Uganda woman medical doctor after Dr. Josephine Nambooze ( 1959)

Catherine graduated as a pharmacist, worked for some time then returned to Uganda in 1962. She was that unique person who had brains, beauty and modesty so it was no surprise that in the same year she got married to an old Budonian: Dr. David Kisumba who later became a professor and head of Orthopaedics. Much later in 1976, Catherine’s niece : Winnifred Kalagi Senoga, another mathematics wizard from Gayaza High School was among the first women to graduate from Makerere University Faculty of Engineering and Technology . She currently works with Eskom, the South African electricity public company. A year later, Sarah Nalumansi Senoga graduated among the first women engineers from the University of Nairobi, Kenya.

Catherine worked diligently as  a pharmacist in many hospitals in Uganda including Mulago, Gulu, Masaka and Bombo. She rose through the ranks to become a Principal Pharmacist and a tutor at the Pharmacy Technician training school at Mulago Hospital. After ten years of exemplary service, she joined the private sector. By 1980, she was running her own pharmacy: Equator pharmacy along Johnston Street in Kampala. For many years she was a member of the Executive Committee and Pharmacist Advisor of the Uganda Red Cross Society. She also represented the Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda on the Committee on National Formularly.

I have known her for more than four decades. She was an extremely intelligent person, was passionate and terribly confident. She was every inch a pharmacist both at the office and at home. She was incredibly organized; everything had a place and there was a place for everything. She defined her image and statement and lived them then protected them jealously to the end. She carried herself with dignity and respect and was treated likewise.
At the Equator pharmacy, she always looked the part as the managing director and the staff always welcomed and served us with a genuine smile. It was very reassuring to know that whatever product you bought from the pharmacy was the real ‘McKoy’, be it the simplest cough linctus or cream for eczema. You always went back for more. She was a warm and loving person who cared about people and made them know about it. She valued her friends and was incredibly loyal to them. Adelina Lubogo her best friend since childhood can attest to this.
As a mother, her family came first; she nurtured, guided and sustained them with a lot of love.
Her greatest joy was when she served on the board of the Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda along with her daughter; Jennifer Nakabugo Kisumba. Jennifer is currently a practsing pharmacist in Los Angeles, USA.

Catherine lived her life with purpose; mentoring and tutoring many young girls and men. Throughout her life, she was always willing to give back to the two schools that shaped her. She gave of her time, energy, knowledge, skills and money.
In her last years, she was enormously grateful for what she had achieved in the fifty years or so but as a trailblazer she was greatly unsettled by the huge shortage of trained pharmacists in Uganda. Uganda has a population of close to forty million yet it has less than five hundred licensed and practsing pharmacists! This works out to one Pharmacist serving 100,000 people compared to the recommended World Health Organisation ratio of 1:1,000. However she was lightly comforted that Makerere University which started offering a 4-year degree course in Pharmacy with 10 students in 1988 was now admitting about 60 students annually. Catherine created her success, managed and protected it. Her success left indelible footprints for others to follow. She opened the way so it is now for the young ones to pave it with gold as they write their own stories.
The following two quotes are very relevant to us today.
“All good men and women must take responsibility to create legacies that will take the next generation to a level we could only imagine.”
– Jim Rohn (1930-2009) American entrepreneur and author.

Shannon L. Alder- inspirational author: “ Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.’’

Catherine, I had to share your story out of my admiration and immense respect for you. Thankfully, a part of you became a part of me.


Thank you for reading this post. Feel free to share it with family and friends. May it encourage you to give of your best wherever you are.



Two Of a Kind 11

I crossed paths with the second Eleanor or Erina as she was popularly called, when I got married to her nephew, Christopher, in February 1981. She was from the Tooro Kingdom on foothills of the famous Rwenzori Mountains- Mountains of the Moon, Africa’s third highest mountain. She came from a big family of twenty one children.

They all welcomed me into the family with open arms. Aunt Erina visited us often and we got to know each other at a deeper level. She had been a nurse for over fifty years, having been trained by none other than Dr. Albert Cook: the founder of the school of Midwifery and Nursing at Mengo hospital, Kampala. She had raised five children with her Kenyan husband, John Wainaina. She had many things going on in her life but her husband and children always came first. She was the heart of the home.

For most of her working life, she was stationed in Jinja barracks, eastern Uganda. Jinja is 80 kilometres from Kampala, the capital city. By then, Jinja had developed into the industrial town of Uganda and many people had migrated there to work in the factories. As expected, many of Erina’s relatives were among these migrant workers. She helped them settle in and up today, members of the second generation live in Jinja. A number still live in Aunt Erina’s rental houses. One good thing common to both Aunt Erina and her husband were their good hearts and spirits. Together they raised many children on top of their biological five. I remember among these was a Karamajong boy coming from one of the remotest areas of Uganda. He went on to excel in his studies and ended up in USA.

All the time she was in Jinja she helped people especially the women to take care of their health and to improve their social welfare. She taught the women how to make handicrafts- beadwork, needle work and crocheting for their own use and for sale to increase family incomes. She did all this with a cheerful heart and with the support of her husband. She was always calm, smiling and on the lookout for opportunities to help the needy. She never maimed those she helped for she ensured that she empowered them to help themselves. She restored their confidence and dignity. This stands out as the key element of her great legacy. She also had some business sense; she built shops and rental houses in Jinja and Makerere and a small bakery in Njeru near Jinja.

My favourite author: Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese- American artist, poet and writer said that: “You give but little when you give of your possessions. It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.’’

She gave of her time, talents, skills, knowledge and money.

She finally retired to her home in Parklands, Nairobi, Kenya and opened it up to her big Ugandan family and friends, and from 1993 she opened it for her brothers and sisters of the Gospel Assembly church.She remained the glue of her big family until she died on the 24 the August 2017.  We all celebrated her long, rich, fulfilled life while our eyes were being opened fully to what we could do to carry on her legacy.

Erina my father’s sister and Erina from the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains in Tooro had a lot in common :

They treated everyone around them as they would themselves have wanted to be treated.

They respected themselves and were able to win respect from others.

They both gave without taking the receivers’ dignity away.

All they were able to do emerged organically and easily from who they were: simple women, passionate, compassionate, and hardworking and with big hearts.

They gave cheerfully and joy was their reward. For those of us who believe in the Bible, this is what Jesus Christ himself talked about when he said: “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.’’

They are still giving from their graves for they empowered their children and grandchildren, friends to develop an attitude of gratitude and a positive attitude about life to sustain them for life.

Taking my children as an example; they had the rare privilege at a tender age to be around both Erinas. They learned something from these two role models. They may not have been attentive when listening to them but they watched them go out to do good for others. The sixth verse of the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Proverbs in the Bible says : “Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their lives.”

In a country like mine where people are driven by desires and are controlled by money, the young generation needs more Erinas as role models. They will teach them that we depend on each other and will motivate them to do better and to want to give more.

May this post inspire you to use whatever you have to make a difference wherever you are.

Thank you for reading this post. I would like to hear about your experiences with people who have big hearts and high spirits.


I have been around for several decades and among the most generous people I have known are two women from two different worlds. By sheer coincidence they were both called Erina and both lived for more than a hundred years!

The first Erina I knew was my father’s young sister: she only had primary school education but by the time she died at 104, she was popularly known as Erina the teacher. For the fifty five years I knew her, she lived in Mulago village, Kampala just a stone’s throw from Uganda’s biggest and referral hospital.The day my young mother delivered me in the Private maternity ward of that hospital now developed into the paediatric wing of the Uganda Cancer Institute, Aunt Erina waited patiently until I screamed my way into the world.  She was to do this over and over again for all her nieces and nephews in her family of seven siblings. As we grew up we thought her home was a sort of “waiting place” for mothers-to – be who came from far. For over thirty-five years, the antibiotic prescribed to patients  for most common infections was in the form of injections – Procaine Penicillin Fortified. The patient would go down to the hospital once a day in the morning for five days and sometimes longer. As expected, all our relatives who were given  this treatment and came from far, stayed at Aunt Erina’s home to complete the course.

She was of the Ngo – Leopard clan and had married in the Mbogo- Buffalo  clan so it was no surprise to us that the patients found in her home were a mixture of those groups and some friends. In today’s jargon I would say that the Password to enter her home was Ngo! There was always a big kettle of about seven litres boiling water for tea on a wood fire. As for the meals, Aunt Erina always added four extra portions for the unexpected visitors. I cannot count the number of times my sisters and I carried hot meals to different patients in the Mulago hospital wards. When my father was operated on for a perforated acute appendicitis in the early 70’s, Aunt Erina was seated on a bench near the theatre as he was being wheeled back to the private ward on Christmas day!

When I was about thirteen years old, I had my first real understanding of my own mortality.One of my friends called Rhoda, went  for holidays in the village. While there, she was bitten by a snake and had to be referred to Mulago hospital. Her mother was Aunt Erina’s friend so as soon as Rhoda was admitted , Aunt Erina was informed. She dropped everything and went to be with her friend. Unfortunately, Rhoda died within a few hours! Her mother was too distraught to accompany the undertaker as he returned Rhoda’s body to her home village. Without any hesitation, Aunt Erina accompanied the body and Rhoda’s parents followed later. Aunt Erina made sure that we attended Rhoda’s funeral – it was her way of teaching us the meaning of death.

When my father helped his sister to have piped water in her house  he was not surprised to learn that most of Erina’s friends had pleaded with her to collect water from her house for a nominal fee. It saved them going down to the well almost a kilometer away.

Early on in her life she had joined the Young Women’s Christian Association(YWCA) and would attend all the trainings and workshops offered there.After the  Nursery School Teacher’s course, she opened a Nursery school  in her sitting room. It grew so fast that she had to buy land and start a Primary school nearby. The school still stands today in Old Mulago being run by Erina’s daughter –in –law. In the mid-sixties, YWCA focused on increasing family incomes by encouraging women to form clubs where they lived. Through these clubs, women were taught to make a variety of crafts for sale.  Aunt Erina took to it like a duck to water and before long women in her club were weaving sisal bags, making beads from natural seeds, table mats from the bark cloth and crocheting table cloths. She became a remarkable tailor and financial manager in her own right.

A few years later she teamed with another of her kind , Mrs Mary Kiwanuka from the western side of the city to open the first handicraft shop: Tusitukirewamu , ran by women along  Kampala main Street. Aunt Erina made some money from the crafts and used it to build some small houses for rent. They were quickly taken up by some of the many workers of the hospital.

She always tried to find out the needs of the people around her other than giving them what she thought they wanted. She was therefore able to connect and relate to these people. She paid school fees for many needy children in the family and her village. Without her realizing it, she became the heart of her village. She is most remembered today for helping people to help themselves.

When I look back at her long and rich life, I consider myself incredibly privileged for having known her. She was one person who woke up each morning to be intentional about giving. She gave just to give when she saw a need. She first gave to her family then widened the circle to touch others.  She gave her time, attention, care, advice, encouragement, support and money. No doubt she was the Capable Wife that King Solomon talked about in the last twenty-two verses of the 31st chapter of the Book of Proverbs.

She continues to give from her grave through the seeds she planted in her own children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and her numerous friends.

I can never be as generous as she was but her life was exemplary to many and each time I reach out to give gladly, I am honouring her memory.

Thank you for reading this post. May it inspire you to love unconditionally and to give gladly for this is the closest you can get to being godly in character. Feel free to share this link with family and friends.





table mt

The Table Mountain, a prominent landmark overlooking the city of Cape Town, South Africa.  The photograph was taken by Jane Nannono.


Amazingly, I did not know what kind of children my husband and I had brought up until our second son called me in the night some years back. He was by then in his second year of a master’s degree in structural design engineering at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. By habit, I never answer the phone once I go to bed. This particular phone rang insistently forcing me to wake up and to check who was calling. It was my son in Cape Town and the time was a few minutes after midnight.
“Mama, I’m terribly sorry to call you at this time of the night.”
My heart sank and I started breathing hard. He continued, “I’m with some Police officers and a friend at the Table Mountains……
“ Are you in trouble?’’
“No, Mama, I’m safe and sound. Unfortunately, my Mozambican friend‘s young brother has not been seen for three days……”
It was becoming increasingly difficult for me to let him finish a sentence. “Why are you at the Table Mountains at this awkward hour?”
“My friend’s brother has been depressed for a while, the last calls he made to his brother and roommate at the university have been traced to the Table Mountains.’’
My hair stood on end on and a cold shiver went down my spine.
My son continued, “My friend was in my undergraduate class but now works in Joburg. He flew in today to follow things through. He needed someone to drive him around and to accompany him where he had to go. I’ll catch up with my lectures later.” He sounded guarded.
“ Have you found the brother yet?’’
“No. His phone is off.’’ He was obviously worried and frightened.
I was touched by my son’s deep- felt concern. “Thank you for being an all-weather friend.
Please keep me updated.’’ I said , almost whispering.
I said a silent prayer for the missing brother, his brother and my son.

As expected, I could not go back to sleep. The call got me thinking about friendship. My father had great friends whom we looked upon as relatives only to learn later in life that they were just friends!
One quote had come to me then: “ Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.’’
And one proverb in my local language when loosely translated says: Tell me who you walk with and I ‘ll tell you who you are.’’ It emphasizes that friends influence us in greater ways than we can imagine.

We take our children to school not only to acquire knowledge but also to develop the right attitude about life, and have a great aptitude for work and to make friends. My best friend and I and most of my long lasting friends befriended each other during our school days, donkey’s years ago!
The American minister and author Robert Fulghum made the same observation when he said that he learned all life’s lessons in Kindergarten. In his book of short essays (1986) his first essay is entitled :All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. He listed the lessons that he learned in the American kindergarten classrooms. No. 1 on the list is Share everything – this includes sharing your heart. And number 13 of the 16 on the list : When you go out in the world, hold hands and stick together.

My husband and I always advised our children that when choosing their friends they should look for the goodness in their hearts. We also advised them to choose friends who were smarter than themselves; these could help them get to where they wanted to go.
Later I came across this quote by Tennessee William (1911-1983) a master American playwright: “Life is partly what we make it and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.’’

That same night, I also remembered vividly how my children’s school friends used to gather several times in a week round the corner of our house to play cricket and football. Among the group were boys from Botswana, Sri Lanka, Seychelles, India, Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia , Eritrea and Ethiopia. I watched over them from our house. They could come into the house one by one to greet me and collect drinking water, a piece of cake or a fruit. As a mother, I felt terribly comfortable with this arrangement for I always knew where my boys were so I just made sure that there were plenty of home-made scones, cakes and juice.
Fast- Forward in this Digital era, most of those friends are still connected on Social media.

Our children must have been watching us going out to help others and also seen the many friends who used to come to our home for medical advice and help. Most likely this is what inspired them to become ‘all weather’ friends to their peers. King Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived tells us in his Book of the Proverbs: “Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their lives.”

Much to my relief, following that chilling night, my son rang at dawn to inform me that the missing brother of his friend had been found alive at the Table Mountains and admitted to a hospital. After some weeks of treatment and counselling for depression, he settled down to complete his degree course. My son and his Mozambican friend still visit each other in Johannesburg and Cape Town. They have continued to be there for each other.
This quote by Ernie Banks(1931-2015) the American professional baseball player holds true to them as it does to me: “ Loyalty and friendship , which is to me the same, created all the wealth that I’ve ever thought I’d have.”
They say that the best way to make friends is for you to go out and be a friend.

Thank you for reading this post and may it stimulate you to go out to make and retain friends. Please leave a comment about it and feel free to share it with family and friends.