“My father George William Kiragga gave birth to over 50 children but I was the third oldest of my mother Gertrude Nabukeera who bore 10 children. We attended nearby schools and grew up planting all our food. We were really poor. We had a close-knit family where we visited our grandparents and other relatives on a regular basis. We also went to church and had to participate in church activities,” recalls Joyce Gaalimaka.
Education was a priority in the Kiragga household. Gaalimaka’s father, who had little education, wanted to ensure that they had a better and easier life than he did.
Gaalimaka started her education at Bishop Brown Namagabi Primary School after a brief stay at Wankyayiraki Primary School.
She then joined Ndeeba Secondary School, Bukolooto in Kayunga before moving to St John’s SS Nandere in Bombo where she completed her O-Level in 1979.
Start of the journey
While she tried to find jobs in her vacation, she ended up at Nakaziba Primary School in Nakaseeta, Kayunga where she was initiated into teaching. Being the only female member of staff, she received a number of proposals for marriage but chose the late Rev Can Dr Herbert Gaalimaka as husband. They got married two years later in 1981.
As a licenced teacher, she taught at Buwugiro Primary School Kanjuki in 1986 before joining one of Mukono District’s oldest private primary schools, Vincentalex where she taught from 1991-94.
During this time, she started pursuing a nursery teaching course at YMCA, Mukono. In 1995, the director of Top Care Educational, Juma Lutalo, called her up to teach reading.
She was earning Shs60,000 monthly but tragedy soon struck.
After a disagreement with her supervisor on schemes of work, she was docked Shs10,000 as a penalty.
“I felt so bitter and walked away. I used my little savings and rented a garage in Nasuuti (2kms along Bugerere Road in Mukono) to start my own school,” Gaalimaka says.
The birth of a dream
In 1997, Gaalimaka together with her husband and Benjamin Sekiboobo Kigongo Kikonyogo, the Kyaggwe Ssaza cultural leader, started a partnership. Initially, they agreed to call the school Trinity in reference to the three people. When Kigongo pulled out, the name remained but focus was now put on the trinity of pupils, parents and teachers, what Gaalimaka calls pillars of successful education.
“I started out just trying to get financial freedom. Nothing was guaranteed. I started with four pupils, three of whom were for my landlord but I stayed in the garage for two terms and I moved away. My landlord would ask for rent whenever the other child paid fees and I thought it was improper because her children were studying for free. I set up a wooden structure on the plot I had bought next to her and moved the school.”
One of her first teachers was Winnie Mutesi, who had dropped out of school in Senior Three. “I needed someone to help me. One day I was going to the market and met this young girl (Winnie). It did not take a lot of convincing as she had reported to work the following day. I always briefed her on what I wanted her to do and supervised her until she was ready,” Gaalimaka said.
She helped Mutesi return to the nearby Fairland High School in Mukono to complete her O-Level before taking her to Shimoni Demonstration School where she obtained a teaching certificate.
Gaalimaka has had an influence on two generations of her family and enjoyed seeing nieces and nephews grow and mature. Her hard work and dedication earned her the title ‘Mrs’ even by her children.
“I do not know how many graduations I have attended and how many professionals I have nurtured,” she boasts.
“Before I closed the school, some schools would even book our pupils in advance and some even reduced their tuition for our former pupils,” she says.
The school operated until 2014 when she rented her structures to Insight Secondary School.
“When my husband died in 2013, I was totally gutted and life became meaningless. That is why I rented the buildings out,” she says.
Her plans to continue teaching hit a dead end when district education officials closed the school she had started at her house for lack of a licence.
Now she teaches her grandchildren and a few others from the neighbourhood.
Gaalimaka’s admirable lifestyle is shaped by humility, patience, love, empathy, sympathy and tolerance, among others. She never sent any pupil home for fees. She says a good name is worth more than school fees.
“Teaching was never a business to me but a way to educate a child to become useful citizens. Actually, I never gained financially,” she says.
Gaalimaka’s approach to teaching was soft and tactful through friendly engagements.
The courageous woman
Although her husband provided everything she ever wanted, she always felt incomplete without a university degree.
In 2009, she was among the 60 people that graduated with a Bachelors of Arts with Education at Ndejje University. But her academic success had been scripted by her daughter, Gladys Mirembe.
When Mirembe, the Finance & Administration assistant for the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, completed her A-Level at Nabisunsa Girls in 2005, Gaalimaka felt challenged.
Recollecting how Mirembe inspired her, Gaalimaka said: “Children, family and business had taken over as my priorities but the urge to study was still alive. I took her History, Economics and Luganda books and I started reading them,” Gaalimaka said.
She soon felt ready for the challenge and registered at Nakivubo Blue Primary School UNEB centre from where she obtained results making her eligible to join university.
“I was excited when I was admitted to Ndejje because I knew my dream of becoming a professional was now near.”
Gaalimaka’s name was 12th on the graduation list of the 60 students awarded Bachelors of Art with Education.