Nagginda Cissy is a Community Health Promoter for Living Goods in Masaka district. She lives at Weaverbird Campsite and Sculpture Park with her husband and son where she makes arts and crafts. Every summer, the campsite hosts 150-180 runners who come from around the world for the annual Uganda International Marathon. On weekends, Cissy works with her husband to provide additional classes and extracurricular activities for local youth at Creative Canvas Uganda (CCU).
Is there a meaning or a story behind your names?
Nagginda is one of the names for kabaka’s wife, the prince’s wife, so for my clan it’s really a big name.
So you identify as a muganda from the Buganda tribe or kingdom, but what is your clan?
It’s musu clan – edible rats.
How do you want others to identify you (African, Ugandan, Muganda, Musu, etc.?)
I always call myself a Ugandan or an African because we’re many people and we’re different clans.
Where are you from in Uganda?
What languages can you speak?
There are languages I can speak fluently: Luganda and English. But I hear Swahili and Madi as well.
When do you find yourself using different languages?
When I find someone who doesn’t share a language with me, sometimes I try to fidget, to use Swahili and Madi.
You do so many things. What are your responsibilities?
My big responsibility is to take care of people in my community, teaching them about health and treating them, most especially the children from two months to five years. Every month or twice a month, I organize a community event, and I teach about malaria, diarrhea, and another time I will teach about malnutrition. As my hobby, I like to teach children art and English during the holidays.
What are you most commonly treating people for?
I treat pneumonia, malaria, diarrhea, and fever, then I counsel pregnant mothers.
What is a common practice you see causing health problems?
Taking safe drinking water. In central Uganda, most parents don’t want to educate children. They just get water from the basin and take that. It’s really simple, just boiling water if you don’t have a water filter. I think we have some carelessness in us, in people in the community.
What do you think causes the carelessness?
Last year in December the people visiting us brought in like 400 mosquito nets, and we were walking in the community house-to-house giving mosquito nets according to the number of people living in the house. But like last week, I received two children who had malaria from these same families, so I was asking the children, “Do you sleep under the mosquito nets?” They said, “No.” Then I asked why. One told me that, “Daddy sold the nets to get money.”
These are the people you find. They have big land – they don’t cultivate it. It’s just there. They’re wanting money, selling things, not even bothering to work hard. It’s really the big problem we’ve found. Like many parents come saying, “Help us, help us.” Yet sometimes they have compared to others.
Do you teach about condom use to youth or students?
We have a secondary student, but still I can’t talk about family planning. Sometimes we find volunteers coming here to bring this as a topic, so we talk about it for [the secondary students] to know, but not to encourage it. At the college, they are still students, so they went to school to study and not to couple. They are just doing it without you knowing, doing it behind parents’ backs. Still, we can talk about [condom use] – not encouraging it.
I remember a friend came in, and we found out one of the girls here had a boyfriend, and she could go and visit after school. [My friend] didn’t see [family planning] as a big issue, maybe we can talk about it with her, but I felt like we can’t be encouraging her. She has to be focused on the studies, not coupling or getting a boyfriend.
When I was in school in secondary level, I never had a boyfriend. When I finished school, I had nothing to take my mind. My future husband approached me, [and] I was thinking about him all the time. If I was in school and taking him as my boyfriend, I couldn’t study. In America, they told me they could be having their boyfriends, and then continue with studies, but here in Uganda, if someone takes a boyfriend at that age, they don’t take studies anymore.
Besides your healthcare work at Living Goods, what are your interactions with the community?
We have a cookery group we share with different ladies in our community, so we go to parties and cook and get some money as well. I want to be a friend to everyone, and I want them to get money ‘cause I’ve seen many of them are single mothers like my mother, so they struggle hard to get money.
What sort of crafts do you make?
I make jewelry most of the time.
What’s involved in that?
It’s really cheap to get [materials], like the guavas, and then I can get some good money out of that. That job doesn’t put on pressure because I don’t do it on a daily basis.
Where do you sell your crafts?
Sometimes in [Masaka] town. At the end of the year, we take them to the trade shows in Masaka. They’re like big exhibitions, and some companies come, the jewelry makers and the painters as well.
Are your customers mostly tourists or Ugandans?
Most of the time visitors buy it. There are few Ugandans buying our things. I think sometimes we Ugandans don’t value art.
Do you think Ugandans are more likely to buy something made in another country?
Yeah. You can’t tell a Ugandan person, “This necklace is made from guavas.” A tourist can buy it because I think that most of the time we are used of seeing the same things. We see paper beads, and we’re not interested in buying them.
How would you describe the kind of crafts, art, paintings, and sculptures that you and your husband make?
Usually I do recycling, not using the plastic beads, not using the already-made things. Sometimes I get sculptors to carve beads out of wood for me, and then I use clothes, polythene bags, the papers like old calendars to make beads.
My husband does abstract art. It’s called abstract because it contains many things, and you can’t really understand what it means until a person tells you, “I’m trying to make this, this is from my community, the activities in there.”
And then modern art, you’re just sitting there and paint a city, like “this is Kampala City.” Or painting a jerry can.
When Victoria sits there, and I paint her face, that’s called visual art.
If you didn’t have to make money, would you still make the same things?
I think I would because it’s in me. If I don’t want to make something, I don’t make it. I make it because I love it. When I pass a guava tree, I have that feeling like I have to pick them!
I think it’s also in my husband. If we’re watching a movie, and he sees a piece, he says, “Eh! That art piece is really good,” and then you can see that the following week he will be making, painting, doing what.
What’s the story of Weaverbird Art Camp and Sculpture Park?
The owner is based in Denmark, and he has a similar campsite in Rwanda called Ivuka. He is my husband’s cousin’s brother who taught him how to make art and crafts, how to paint. That’s how he came to the camp site. It started in 2010 with some buildings and some musicians coming with some painters to the community, a lot of artists.
Were you interested in art before working there?
I didn’t like it much, but when I came to the campsite I loved it more because I saw many people doing arts and getting money out of that. They had a simple life – not too much pressure on work.
How did Creative Canvas Uganda start?
My husband grew up as an orphan and he saw a lot of people with needs in our community, a lot of children. I grew up with a single mother, so I knew how hard it is to take care of children. That’s why we started this project. I was like, “How are we going to do that? We have people who aren’t even interested in the Sculpture Park. Are we going to get volunteers or what?”
We had a lot of questions, but he was like, “No, let’s start it.” We started with 40 pupils, and then the International Uganda Marathon started as well the following year, so we got a lot of people to help us because they gave us mattresses for children, blankets, and even books, so it was really empowering us to continue. It’s now two years. I think we have like 60 [pupils].
They range all the way in age from…
…All the way to…
…Like 15 years.
Do you have any goals for yourself?
Me and my husband bought a plot of land just opposite CCU. We want to build a house there. This holiday, we want to stay with some of these pupils who are really in need.
Do you have any goals for Creative Canvas Uganda?
At first we said we’re going to do it for ten years, but I think we shall go on and on until we see [the pupils] settle, pursue their goals and get their families.
Do you have any goals for the sculpture park?
When I started in 2012 as a receptionist, we really had a lot of customers, a lot of tourists. I used to really make good money in a week and save a lot. I remember the owner was really happy with me. He would say, “Hey! You’re really a strong woman because you work so hard.”
Now, we’ve found ourselves not getting good money as we did, ‘cause I think some people didn’t get him right, or some people didn’t like it because in that same year, he talked about electricity, and he gave in two million [shillings] to our community. Whoever has any money can bring and help us to get electricity in our community. We got different reactions from people, and they said, “these are illuminati, these are what, why don’t you bring electricity if you want? He already gave in two million, why can’t he put in the other money to bring in electricity?” He really felt bad.
And even the thieves we got. They’re stealing – it’s now the fourth time bringing the solar panels, stealing the bedsheets and breaking into the rooms. Some time back, we found out that some people we worked with at the sculpture park are the ones doing that.
How did you come to treat children in the friendly way that you do?
I think this is a character from our family. The lady who taught me how to read Luganda was from Sweden. She really taught me. I think I have that character of being kind to people in me, of being loving. I don’t want to see people crying, I don’t want to see people sad, I really want to live a simple life. I saw that our dad wasn’t really hard on us. He was such a lovely father. The way he treated us, they way he educated us at home how to live in the community, to be kind to people.
Is that different from what you see in other community members?
Yeah, I think it’s different. I remember by the time we came in this community I was only four years, and most of people in the community usually called us Abakyope because our mother didn’t know Luganda and we were dark-skinned. They could abuse us, and then our parents could gather us and tell us, “We have to be kind to them. We’re not different from other people.” People see non-tribal members in the community, they treat them differently.
I really want to listen to the youth. Sometimes my friends, the youth’s parents, come to me for counseling when they have problems with their husbands or wives. I had a friend who always told me, “Hey, you’re really different. I really like your character,” and she was also a single mother. I usually helped her when I could. I sometimes called her to help me to wash and get some money, then sometimes come at home and help me to cook…we eat together…yeah.
What was it like to experience tribalism from your own tribe members? How has it changed over time in the community?
As I grew up, I respected everyone in the community. I saw that people really changed because they no longer call us names. Most of them come to us. My mother is so friendly to them. They saw us growing up, and now we’re having families. I think they saw that we’re not different from anyone.
Do you still experience tribalism?
Even yesterday someone in town asked me, “Where did you learn Luganda from?” I told her, “I’m a muganda, my mother is married to a muganda. We have different parents from different parts.”
How do you feel working with foreigners who come to Uganda as volunteers?
I welcome everyone who comes. Sometimes we receive volunteers some holidays here, and you see these people are from different areas, have different characters, so I try to learn them ‘cause I know they can see different characters from me, and then they maybe don’t act kind to me. I welcome them, I try to learn them. I understand we’re not perfect.
We’ve heard baganda described as being very welcoming; historically, the baganda invited the European missionaries to Uganda. Do you think this value is part of being a muganda?
I think this is personal because even other tribes are welcoming. Some say that people from northern Uganda are really welcoming, people from eastern Uganda are really welcoming.
How many siblings do you have, and how old are they?
There are seven. The first-born is 28, and the second-born is 26, and I’m 25. I’m the first girl at home, the older girl. Then 20, 18, 13, and 7 years.
What is that like?
I find my siblings, even the elder ones, running to me and telling me their problems. I think because I found myself growing up when I was still young. I could sometimes find myself comforting my parents. Before marrying another wife, my father usually told me, “you know, I will leave this family.” He could tell me problems and tell me, “I’ll come back.” Sometimes he would send money through me.
My husband always tells me, “if you were not in your family, they couldn’t have been together.” I always tell them to be together. Like, our brothers are not here. They’re working in different areas. I always call to tell them, “Hey, we have to see Mom. Let’s go surprise her.”
I was working as an evangelizer before, as a Jehovah’s Witness, so I learnt a lot of things from people.
Are you still a Jehovah’s Witness?
Yes I am, but if like with my husband you get a person who’s not a Jehovah’s Witness, they stop your preaching work until you get married fully because it’s like committing adultery, so we have elders in the congregation who call you, show you the scriptures, and then you have to stop for some time.
Sometimes Ugandans say, “my husband” or “my wife,” but they haven’t had a wedding. Can you explain that?
We always call each other that: “omwami wange,” “omukyala wange,” but we’ve not wedded. It’s just to say, “this is someone I’m committed to.”
Do you feel you have a culturally traditional relationship with your husband?
We share everything. Sometimes we wake up in the morning and he bathes our child. In some families, the ladies do house work, take care of children, cook or what.
How do people react when they see you and you husband breaking cultural norms like that?
The Buganda people, if you are the husband to someone’s daughter, you are not supposed to face her mother. But my husband doesn’t take it. For us, in my mother’s tribe, they don’t take it a as a big deal. They face everyone: the in-laws, the grands. Because we are here in a village, the people think it’s really bad for him to face my mother. It was really a challenge at first, but now they are used to that.
I was trying to ask one of the elders why they do that. Some time back, the elder people used to marry young young girls at the age of 13, 14. They saw that happening, and it’s really bad, so they had to stop it. To avoid that, they could put on that a slogan, a behavior: you’re not supposed to face your in-law.
What is your schooling and training?
After I finished the Ordinary Level, Senior 4, I had to stop going to school and go look for jobs. Our dad left our family and married another person, our mother didn’t have a job, only our elder brother was working to take care of us. We were many in our family. My younger brother was just joining secondary level and my younger sister was in lower primary. The situation really wasn’t good at home, so I had to work hard at the campsite as we paid school fees for them.
I met my husband, and we started living together because sometimes he’d help me to pay school fees for my sisters. I think it wasn’t my goal in my heart to get married at that time, but I had to ‘cause I needed help at that time. He was helping us as a family, getting some money for my sisters and brothers, and I didn’t go back to school. Last year, we received some visitors from London, England, and they wanted to sponsor me to go back to school. Still I didn’t go back because my brother’s in college, and my sister’s now in vocational school. I talked with them and they understood, so they had to sponsor my siblings. They’re really helping us.
Our local council leader called me and said, “I know you know English, you’re a good person, you just go and do an interview, and you’re going to work with these people.” I didn’t know much about Living Goods, but we did the interviews and I was one of the people who passed. I really wanted to do fashion and designing as my course, but I just said, “let me go and help my community.” It wasn’t really much in me to treat, but we really did good practicing through police hospital, and I saw this is really good, helping people. We started treating, doing MRDT [Malaria Rapid Diagnostic Tests], and I really passed well because I think I was the second person. I graduated last year in October.
If you could do fashion and designing, what kind of clothes would you design?
I think I would design for both men and women. I would make every piece of clothing for women because I have seen some may like a dress, others skirts or trousers. When you make a business, you’re targeting two things: to get money, and to keep going.
I love watching Fashion with Sylvia Ward. I see she’s using natural things, she’s using the second-hand clothes to make a different design.
When you work with youth, what do they say their biggest problems are?
In our village here, the youth I meet are the youth who really want to go back to school. They really want to have good families, to help their families, to get good jobs, but they find themselves not. I think some of them just hate their lives. There was a time where I found it in me that I hate myself. I usually said that if it wasn’t my dad, if I had gone to school, if I had a house, I wouldn’t have done this, I wouldn’t have done that.
Like for example, I have a friend. She got married when she was only 15 years, and she has two children now. She’s a single parent. Just this year in January, she got a job in a shop, and it was a man who gave her that job. She had her two children with her, and she was looking for food still. The man wanted to marry, so the girl gave in, I think just because she saw that the man had a shop, he could take care of her. The man used her as a sex material and then dropped her and chased her away from the shop because the man also had his wife, he had his family. So when I was talking to her, she was like, “No, let me just go back and stay with my mother.” She stays somewhere in the village there. I saw that she really hates herself because she couldn’t talk, she was really crying hard.
What brings them happiness?
Everyday in the evening some of the girls in the community are looking for me and they’re like, “You come! We want to watch a soap!” It’s continuous, so everyday we sit together and watch. It’s called Balika Vadhu, for the Indians. It’s really good. On Sunday, we also watch another soap called Strange Love. They really love it ‘cause sometimes it’s almost stopping at midnight. They tell me, “Don’t leave, don’t leave please!” And you really find many many people at my shop laughing and enjoying.
What else do you do for leisure?
We run on Sundays and Thursdays. The first time, I went with my husband and the children. After going back, most of the youth told us, “Why didn’t you tell us? We could’ve have joined you. We also want to run!” I think they will come.
Is there some country you would like most to visit if you could?
I’d really love to go to London, America, ‘cause I read about them most of the time. It’s one of my hobbies to read books. I did literature at school. It’s really a very nice subject.
And then there’s a friend of mine in Sweden. She told me that they have a greenhouse. I was wondering, what’s a greenhouse?
Do you have a favorite book or author that you like a lot?
Do you have a favorite local language author?
I don’t remember the author, but the book is called Tokiiya Ngange Nto. I found this book at home because [my younger brother] did Luganda in school as a subject, and they had to read that book.
Last question: what are your hopes for your son?
We have this project helping children and people in our community. I know time will come and we will be no more to be seen. I want him to continue with that heart of helping.
We talked with Cissy in May 2017. Since then, Cissy has been working with Villa Katwe to make breakfast for guests and is now managing Weaverbird Campsite. Soon, she will work with the Braveheart Foundation assessing children, counseling pregnant mothers, and teaching youth about HIV/AIDS. We plan to co-facilitate a Grassroot Soccer six-week camp with Cissy for local 12-19 year-old girls to teach about various topics related to HIV/AIDS starting in September.