end, visibly fearful about what the future holds for his family.
With hands gnarled, Bululu stands offish with a fixed gaze in his eyes. He seems not only lost in thought but oblivious of what to do to extricate his family out of its narrow circumstances.
Constantly inundated with thought, it is no wonder that Bululu looks older than his real age.
After his father’s death in 2012, Bululu was tasked with the responsibility to provide sustenance for his six younger siblings, 17 year old Irene Shisolo, 13 year old Ivan Wasolo, 10 year old Khurure carol, 6 year old Wangota Susan and the 4 year old twins, Timothy and Dan Nangalama. On a day in, day out basis, Bululu has to go out of his way to provide food and other necessities for the family.
At present, Bululu has to pays school fees, buy clothes and buy scholastic materials for his siblings.
Around the family’s home in Mukhuwa village, Bumboi Parish, Mbale, a thick pall of smoke emerges from a burning fire wood shelter. It is apparently where the family heats up after the rains and chilly weather subside. May, june, july and august are particularly cold months in Bugisu.
Even the heating up as it seems has not mitigated the sombreness, i find the family. Inside the family’s small scruffy sitting room, i notice an occasional waningflicker from a phosphorescent candle light. It is the family’s only remaining source of light as evening winds down. As we relocate to the sitting room, we sit check by jowl and what i notice is that everyone is plaintive. All the while, it is only Wangota who occasionally cracks up with a genial smile.
The past fortnight, Bululu and his siblings have gone without a square meal. All they have been subsisting on is roasted dough, locally known in the local language as tsimuma. Tsimuma is what most families in Bugisu use to make malwa. Tsimuma however can be cooked, soaked in hot water and eaten, provided one has sugar.
Sugar particularly makes the soaked Tsimuma a nice treat.
“When Dad passed on 2 years ago, everything turned topsy turvy. I did not expect it but the responsibility of educating and providing food for the family fell on me. Mum had already deserted us, even before dad died. She kept around for a short spell, then left. Playing father figure to my siblings has been a formidable task, but am not daunted. I have to rise up early every day, as early as 5 p.m to go look for odd jobs. Odd jobs are hard to come by in this village, so sometimes i have to move as far as Namatala (a suburb in Mbale) or Silonko to get something to do. Brick making is what i do best. The Problem however is that some people do not return the favor when i make for them bricks. On several occasions, i go without pay because some people think am too young to be paid. They do not know the kind of predicament, i and my family are in,” Bululu says
As things stand now, the family owns only a small piece of land on which their late dad built the house they are staying in. It is almost next to Impossible for the family to do any kind of subsistence farming there because it is small.
Bululu says the family had been given land to carry out subsistence farming by a rich neighbor, but neighbor forfeited the land after he had disagreements with Bululu’s late dad over his drunken ways.
“We have nowhere to carryout farming from. Not even on a small scale. Dad’s land in Butserima in Bududa was from snatched away from us. If we had some acres of land, we would be much better off. At least we could be able to carry out some subsistence farming and i would be able to make bricks for sale. In a day, i make over 1,000 bricks for my clients. At times i sit and rack my brain. If only we had land, my siblings would not be suffering wearing the same untidy clothes every day. I would be making lots of bricks for sale,” Bululu says
The family’s relationship with neighbors has also not been smooth sailing. At some point, everything seemed to be on a slippery slope.
“There was a time when our neighbors were bent on chasing us away from this village. Dad always bore the brunt of their insults. They always plotted against dad. Though he was a drunkard, he never at any single time attacked anybody. Dad did not have a violent streak as some purport,” Bululu says
There are experiences that the family will not just let slide by like the proverbial water from the duck’s back. Casting his mind back, Bululu says his heart bleeds when he recollects the events that transpired prior to his dad’s death.
“We struggled to pay dad’s hospital bills with the help of a few relatives. It was a trying and traumatizing time for us. Never do i ever want to see my brother’s and sister’s bear witness to such a horrid experience again. What really came as a shock to us and exacerbated our misery was the absence of mum at dad’s death bed. We were later informed that she was 6 months pregnant with another man’s baby and that she could not make it to the hospital. That was an experience that still haunts and preys on our minds,” he says
Though the family is pinched for money, Bululu says he and his younger siblings have lent to make the best out of their bad bargains,
“You will not find us going to the neighbors begging for food, money or clothing. That is out of the question especially with the many mischievous people we have around us. There are neighbors who have been really good to us in our times of need though. Some of my siblings have been offered free education and medication,” Bululu says
CHALLENGES OF YOUNG PARENTING
Paola Punsoda, Child clinical psychologist with the Psychological Services, International, Uganda, says teen parents like Bululu face more difficulties than adult parents because by virtue of age, they are still developing emotionally and cognitively. “Longitudinal neuroimaging studies show that the brain keeps on maturing well into one’s 20s. It has been scientifically deduced that the area of the brain where key skills like planning, reasoning, judgment, and impulse control are formed, develops rather slowly. It is one of the last areas of the brain to mature. A 19-years-old adolescent, therefore, is biologically less mature than a 29-years-old adult to take care of themselves and to take care of someone else,” Punsoda says
HOW IS ONE PSYCHOLOGICALLY AFFECTED WHEN THEY BEGIN PARENTING AT A YOUNG AGE
The tough mental demands of parenting can, by and large, be overwhelming. Coupled with adverse economic times, a poor background and a lack of psychological support, it will bear down negatively on a young parent’s mental health and behavior, says Paul Wanetosi, psychologist at the Mbale center for treatment and rehabilitation.
Lt Col Koire Dennis, Psychologist with the Uganda Amison contingent in Somalia says family economic hardships, death, poverty and emotional well being can, in many respects, compromise younger parenthood.
“The pressures and hustles of parenting can be a tad overwhelming for somebody, on the sunny side of 19. Shouldering parenting responsibilities at a young age is no walk in the park. Responsibilities such as paying fees, buying food and clothing will present an enormous strain on a young mind, because the young parent has not attained the kind of maturity desirable for parenting. Young parents in most cases will be hard pressed in making decisions, they will procrastinate in making decisions, because they are still growing up and mastering the complex social systems of communities around them,” Koire says
There are certain virtues and responsibilities associated with Parenting that require a mature mind. Bululu may just not be ready to shoulder every responsibility that is before him but he is showing signs of maturity, Wanetosi says
“From my deduction, Bululu is way ahead of his time. He may be on a learning curve but on the surface, he seems to have wrapped his brain around the family’s problems.Shouldering impromptu parental responsibilities at a young age can real hard work. It can be even harder without the support of family and friends. The apprehensiveness about how his family will cope financially, now that they are orphans is understandable. He seems to recognize the tough demands of parenting and he is intent on working hard to help his family. He just needs to summon up poise because it will get more inundating for him. At his age, moral support and pep talk is important. Bululu needs to be taken to a qualified counselor. There he will be helped,” Wanetosi says