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.