Just one of many stories

Hanifa’s Story

(Because of the COVID19 lockdown, poverty has increased. Many girls now are at risk of being child brides. Let us pray for these young women. Hanifa's story is the story of far too many women. )


Kampala, early 2010s.

A man leaned out of his car at a busy intersection. “Hey, you, 3 Matooke[1] please, and hurry!”

Hanifa rushed over to the man’s window with her basket of Matooke on her head. “Yes, Ssebo,[2] that will be 1500 Shillings,[3] please.”

The man scrambled to get the money out of his wallet while Hanifa pulled 3 portions of Matooke out of her basket. With all the cars, motorcycles, and trucks, you had to move fast. Any sale had to be done before the light turned green.

“Here you go, Ssebo, have a good afternoon.”

The light turned and the man drove on. Hanifa sighed. She has been up since 4.30 in the morning, and over 12h later, not even five customers. Again.

She stood up straight and adjusted her balance. Time to go home. “There’s always tomorrow. At least Auntie and I have money for dinner.”


“Hello, Auntie!”

“Good evening, mukwano![4] How did you do today?”

Hanifa shook her head: “I didn’t sell much. But it was enough to buy fish and rice.”

They started the fire to prepare dinner. The smell of burning charcoal and boiling fish filled the room.

Hanifa put her basket away. She tried to sound hopeful: “Another day, I guess.”

“Ah, it’s not your fault, mukwano. Business is hard. I just wish a young girl like you didn’t have to work like this.”

Hanifa frowned. A few years ago, she had worked just as hard. Only she wasn’t selling Matooke. She was at school. Back home in her village. She had started with so much hope. She had studied well, made it until 7th grade, even been class president. But then her parents couldn’t afford any more.

“I work as I can. Let us hope tomorrow will be better.”


But business didn’t get better. Eventually, Hanifa had to return to her parents.

“Good bye, Auntie. Thanks for everything.”

She took a long bus ride out to the country, to the village where her family lived.

Hanifa’s parents and some of her 15 siblings greeted her.

“Hello, Hanifa. Come in.”

Not all of them were there. Seven have already died of HIV/AIDS. The ones who saw her looked at her feet. She had shoes on, something her parents could never afford. Not when she was little, not now. How could they possibly support her?

There was only one way: marriage.

“Please, don’t. I am only 16.”

But her parents insisted: “What choice do we have? A husband can feed you, buy you clothes, keep you alive. Something we cannot do.”

Hanifa cried. But she knew they were right. What choice did they have? Hanifa was terrified. The man was older, she would be his second wife.[5] She only hoped that he didn’t have HIV, so she wouldn’t end like her seven other siblings.

“Do you take this man to be your husband?”

She trembled as she took his hand. “I do.”


The village, a few years later.

Hanifa gently stroked her belly. Her second child on the way. Her first daughter, a toddler, came in. “I can’t sleep. Where’s Papa?”

Hanifa carefully lifted her daughter on her lap.

“Papa isn’t coming back. We must take care of ourselves, now.”

The next day, they got on a bus and moved back to Kampala. To one of the many slums. It hadn’t worked, before. But Hanifa was determined to make it work, now.

To make ends meet, she went door to door and washed people’s laundry. She scrubbed, pounded and swung scarves and skirts until they were clean. Every day for at least 8h. But it only made about 5000 Shillings[6] a day. “Not even enough to buy fish and rice.”

The hunger was bad, but the lack of hope was worse. How would she pay rent? How would her kids ever go to school? A good job, that’s all they needed. But where would she ever find that?


She heard a familiar voice. “Good morning, Hanifa, how’s life?”

Hanifa looked up. “Hello, Brenda, it is fine. And you?”

Brenda was no more than 15. Like Hanifa had been when she sold Matooke on the streets.

“I am well. I’m off to the soap workshop.”

Hanifa tilted her head. “A soap workshop? You know how to make soap?”

Brenda grinned: “Yes, they teach us, we work together. And we sell it in the market. Come see!”

Hanifa quickly finished up the laundry she was working on and followed Brenda to the workshop. She met Sylvia, the leader, and was immediately fascinated by her work with the women. She learned all she could: “How do you choose the ingredients?” “How do you weigh everything?” “Can I help stir the oils?”

The next day, she came back. And much every day since. She worked with the group from morning to evening and even volunteered to do extra work.

Sylvia was impressed. But she had to tell her: “We don’t have enough money to pay you.”

Hanifa smiled: “I will stay, anyway.”

“Really, why?”

“Food is a powerful motivator.”

They laughed. There were meals at the workshop, her kids wouldn’t go hungry.

“Also, I have friends, here. I will stay, because with this job, I have a place to be.”


Nine months went by. And still, Hanifa was faithful. Sylvia and the other women trusted her. So, one day, they called her in for a surprise.

“Hanifa, we love having you with us. You do great work. Since we now have the means, we have decided: We want to hire you as the assistant manager of our workshop!”

Everyone applauded, and Hanifa jumped up and screamed with laughter: “Haha, my goodness! Thank you so much, thank you!”

Hanifa danced so all could see. And even after they closed up for the day, she strolled home with a swing in her step. Finally, a good job! A regular salary! Now, she could pay her rent and feed her family. She could buy clothes. She could even send money to her mom, for her medication. More than she ever had hoped for.

“Yes, a good job, that’s all I needed!”

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[1] Steamed plantain banana, eaten in a similar way as mashed potatoes.

[2] Luganda for „Sir”.

[3] About 30 US cents.

[4] Luganda for “Dear”.

[5] Polygamy is common in Uganda, especially among the Poor. Also, it is common for poor families to marry their daughter off as child brides. Both practices are a way that families try to get by, but they lead to things like domestic violence, disease, and also, more poverty: The father may have many children, but he doesn’t necessarily take care of them.

[6] About $1 (US-Dollar)