At first glance, Shamim is like any ordinary nine year old primary two pupil. One may even fail to notice her from the crowd as she is not the kind of child you’d see running about or poking at her classmates. As a member of the Music For Life team that has been working with the children at Nkumba primary school in Uganda for the past two years, it’s quite easy to notice children with clear signs of sickness, low self-esteem, domestic abuse or on the other hand those with outstanding talents like singing, acting, and dancing. In my first week working with this class, Shamim struck me as the average well-behaved girl who does as she is told and hardly ever gets in trouble. She looked healthy, had a high concentration span, enjoyed Bible stories and like any child, her age loved to play.
It was not until a month later when Kate, a colleague of mine, was taking the class through vocal practice that I really got a chance to interact with Shamim during a break. Shamim’s life story made me take a reality check on what happiness should really count for. To think that it was a tale from a girl who had only lived for nine years was even more astonishing. Here is her life story the best way I can put it in words…
Shamim is the second born of five and the only child from her mother and father. She was born in Masaka, Uganda, a district ravaged by early marriages and a high unemployment rate. Her father was a Muslim hence her name Shamim. Being a daughter to a teenage peasant mother and an illiterate father in his early twenties, going to school was never a high priority, so she only went to school when her parents had a little money to spare.
Her father died in a motor accident on his way back home in 2010. With her father gone the mother found it increasingly difficult to fend for her growing child and it was only a matter of time before the situation dictated that she re-marry in a bid to find a bread winner for her small family of two. Her new step father did not like her at all and she was often harshly punished and subjected to manual labor. She was at times forced to walk to the well which was almost a kilometer away late in the night. Her situation was so bad and her misery seemed to see no end until last year when her grandparents visited and asked to take her with them where she currently stays. This idea was met with stiff resistance from the mother and step father as they reasoned that people in their evening age would not find taking care of a quickly growing child a walk in the park. After a while of continuous pleas, Shamim was finally allowed to come and stay with her grandparents.
In terms of living environment this was a move from grass to grace. As had been anticipated by her parents, her new guardians barely had enough for themselves yet they took a step further by taking on another orphaned grandchild called Caleb. With the little that her grandfather earned as a pensioner supplemented with the minor income they got from subsistence farming, they managed to send these children to school and begged the school to allow them to pay school fees in installments as there was no reliable source of income.
I found this young girl’s story so captivating that my team and I decided to take an extra step, buy a few household essentials and pay her grandparents a visit that very day.
Her home was an hour’s walk away from the school and yet not even six year old Caleb complained. This made me wonder how many other kids would go through these hardships on a daily basis and still show up with brilliant smiles in class.
On our arrival we received a warm welcome from Shamim’s grandmother who we found doing the laundry. The house was in very poor condition, no electricity, missing windows and rotting furniture. Yet the personalities of our hosts was something to behold, the grandmother was a jolly woman who appreciated us for the good work we were doing with the kids. Her grandfather’s ageing features showed more; he spoke with a lisp, his hands trembled and his posture was that of a tired man.
I was impressed that on her arrival home, Shamim quickly changed into her casual wear and immediately embarked on a number of chores like sweeping the whole compound and washing her uniform along with Caleb’s. The guardians told me this had become the norm having experienced harsh manual labor, she really enjoyed this work.
I asked her grandfather what pushed him to the decision of taking on two children yet he hardly made enough money for himself and his wife. He responded that rather than looking down on himself as an old man, he believed he could do anything in his dwindling power to ensure that these children had a shot at a proper childhood. He further explained that according to the Bible, one commits a sin when one neglects a good deed that he ought to have done but looked the other way. It’s at this juncture that he told me he and his wife were both born again Christians and had started teaching their grandchildren the ways of Christianity.
As we left that afternoon my mind was lost in contemplation at how a family with so little beamed with so much joy and then it finally occurred to me. In life, we are oftentimes so busy looking at what we could have had or achieved that we overlook what we are fortunate to have. We pay a heavy price for this, and that is true happiness from within. After all, “you are how you see the world.”
Written by: Edwin Muyise
Edwin toured with Choir 19. As well as volunteering for Music for Life, giving back at the centers that help children like Shamim, Edwin is also in his second year at Makerere University completing a Bachelor of Science in Quantitative Economics. Edwin holds great appreciation for Music for Life and the African Children’s Choir program saying “The biggest impact being in the African Children’s Choir has had on me is my relationship with Jesus Christ. The organization has also played a massive part in my academic life.”