For those who have stayed in Jinja long enough and those who are into philanthropy and charitable work, the name Mama Jane shouldn’t be a new one. Located on Gabula Road in the town center, Mama Jane is the pioneer children’s home in Jinja, if not in the eastern region.
The story goes that immediately after the bush war that brought in the current regime, orphans and vulnerable children were left behind. Some of these had lost their parents to the war, others had no way of tracing their relatives, and others had simply been abandoned by their parents.
The community in Jinja was concerned and raised the need to create and facilitate a children’s home. With a history working with vulnerable children, Agnes Nabawanga was entrusted with this responsibility. At the time, the HIV/AIDS scourge had also taken its toll on the community and there were just too many needy children at the time.
A home was secured and named Mama Jane Children’s Home in memory of Jane Babirye who, childless herself, returned to Uganda in the middle of the 70s after a 12-year dance career in Europe and the USA. Upon her return, she adopted two orphaned babies, Jane and Moses, and welcomed orphans, needy children and mothers with dying children. That home currently is St. Moses Children’s Care Center in Bukaya, Njeru Town Council.
“we are in the center of town and every time there is a child situation, we are the first option anyone has…”
Mama Jane, as Agnes Nabawanga has become known in Jinja, took on the mantle to be a mother to these children around 1986 and still runs the home to date amidst challenges that stretch from finance to community spillover problems.
At the time Mama Jane started this home, the building that had been identified by the Jinja community to house these homeless and vulnerable children was property of a departed Asian family that had relocated to Europe in Australia. With the government directive to return all property that belonged to the departed Asians, the building was taken on and sold by government and efforts by the home and the original owners to recover ownership were futile. Mama Jane later mobilized and secured funds to buy off the property but before the procurement had been completed, the Madhvani family donated the neighboring building to the home. Madhvani still extends help whenever needed to this home.
With over 700 children having gone through the care of Mama Jane, the home currently houses 28 children and directly cares for 58 other children though outside the home.
“We currently take on children in what we call Institutional care for three years after which we make efforts to return them to the community. There is still growing need and we can’t stop,” said an administrator at the home. “We find ourselves in a situation where we deal with symptoms rather than the disease. Some of these children are abused and run away from their homes. Now putting them back into the places they ran from without addressing the reasons of their leaving is a very big disservice to the children. We are trying but it is still challenging” he added.
As a way of paying it forward, children who go through the home always have reunions where they offer testimonials and career guidance to the children in the home. These reunions happen towards the end of June and this year’s reunion will be on 24th June 2018 at the home on Gabula Road.
For her time at the helm of this huge social responsibility, Mama Jane has been able to stand by the home’s core objective which is to provide care to vulnerable and homeless children. She has tirelessly and effortlessly given missing love to these children some of whom have never experienced anything like that in their lives.
Despite her efforts since the 80s, the number of children just keeps increasing. “We have a challenge that even with government directives, we are in the center of town and every time there is a child situation, we are the first option anyone has,” intimated the administrator we spoke to. “As long as the underlying community problems that span from poverty to health are not worked on, we have to continue doing what Mama Jane started out to do.”
For her big heart and perseverance for more than three decades, for her efforts at giving hope to homeless and vulnerable children, Agnes Nabawanga a.k.a. Mama Jane deserves recognition as a super woman in Jinja.