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The legacy of indiscriminating love - Catherine Nyirinkindi lives on

Catherine Nyirinkindi lives on – the legacy of indiscriminating love

We are in 2017, on a beautiful October day in Bugonga, Entebbe, Uganda.

Betty, the chairperson of the community, starts telling us the history of the community and how they came together.

She speaks one name: Catherine Nyirinkindi.
Suddenly, the ten to twelve members sitting in the circle under the tree light up, their faces bright with warm memories of a woman whose indiscriminating love transformed their lives. 

And Betty tells the story. Around 2007, Catherine lived in Kiwafu Entebbe, and she was touched by the challenges that fellow older persons, widows and orphans, were experiencing around her, and about how lonely many of them felt. Having gone through similar struggling herself, being a widow and raising her 6 children and grandchildren herself, her heart went out to them, her love was genuine.

She would always tell others: what does God tell you to do? If you have more than one, give the other! Her grandchildren still remember: she always told us to share whatever we have because others are not so fortunate.

So, she started to visit her neighbours in their homes, particularly those who were sick or struggling, and they shared about their difficulties but also their hopes. She brought with her small things to help them with basic necessities, such as sugar and soap, she even cooked for people.

She visited everyone: be they Protestant like her, or Catholic, Muslim, Born-again, well-off or poor. Her love knew no discrimination. She used to say: “God does not discriminate, so why should we?”

She was a lay reader and very active in her church. She started involving other parishioners to do visits also, among them Rose, who became her best friend. Rose tells us: “I think she saw something special in me.”

After having made these visits a regular practice, she felt that it would be even better for them to meet altogether so that they could support and inspire one another. So she started to organize weekly gatherings for tea and a chat.

When she would visit someone in need, she would mention the monthly gatherings and invite the person to join, again indiscriminately of faith or social class.

This last point is important because, as Liz told us later, in Bugonga tensions were very strong between people of different social classes. But what Catherine began, and which soon turned into a community enterprise of older persons doing things for and by themselves, slowly but surely began to chip away at people’s prejudice.

Catherine truly was a uniting factor.

When the growing community came together, they who had always had the feeling that they were considered useless by society began to feel appreciated and important.

Pretty soon, it wasn’t just Catherine anymore, it was all of them who started doing home visits to one another, especially when someone was feeling sick, or particularly lonely.

And the group met regularly, and became more robust. As Lilian, another community member, shares, “of course we used to meet our neighbours and talk to them before, but somehow this was different. Gossip turned into empowerment as we shared about what we were doing to better our situation; and got inspired by what others were doing.”

With a small boda-boda enterprise, Catherine started to support her fellow members’ business ventures in selling vegetables, weaving and crafts, piggery, raising poultry etc. Today the members continue to meet, and their desire to do things for and by themselves has been further fuelled by the arrival of HENU who helped them clarify their vision and the actions that would lead to fulfilling this dream.

In the two days we spent with the Bugonga community, we had an opening prayer told by a Protestant, were welcomed into the home of a born-again Christian, paid our respects to a mourning Muslim family where a prayer was shared in Arabic, visited homes of women who had extra houses they rented, and others who did not have enough chairs for us visitors to sit on. And yet Catherine herself passed away a couple of years back.

You see, Catherine Nyirinkindi, you are not dead: your love lives on, and its legacy shines so bright it has empowered a whole community to action and solidarity.

Here is the lesson I drew from Catherine's story: When we give unconditional love and solidarity, we naturally inspire others to spread this love and care. 

Which would be your lesson from the same story? Please share as a comment below :) ! 

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Comment by Célicia Theys on October 30, 2017 at 10:07am

Thanks much Rituu and Sohail. Sohail I love the lesson you have drawn from the story!!! "giving priority to others" really does sound like Catherine as her friends remember her... Liz told me that at her funeral, her sons were flabbergasted to learn everything she had done with/for others. They had no idea where the money they had sent her had gone, and only then did they understand that she had spent every cent of it helping others help themselves. 

Comment by Sohail Amir Ali Bawani on October 29, 2017 at 3:00pm
Very beautiful and moving story Célicia!
I like the way you collapsed the boundaries of time and weaved it to present as you write. One moment I felt as if you are talking to Catherine and she is listening to you. I learnt that when you give priority to others social differences begin to fall apart, and the energy which is wasted in managing these differences, is suddenly available for sharing.
Comment by Rituu B. Nanda on October 29, 2017 at 2:25pm

Thanks for this vivid description. I felt I was there with you in the SALT visit.

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