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David Wycliffe Tindyebwa: Impactful Ugandan hero

David Wycliffe Tindyebwa: Impactful Ugandan hero

 My childhood memories are dominated by the exploits of famous athletes and other high achievers who inspired us to aim high in whatever we did. Kigyezi was a small place where we knew pretty much who-was-who among the great celebrities of the day. 


One of them was David Wycliffe Tindyebwa, a champion high jumper and soccer goalkeeper who, had he lived in a country that placed a high premium on athletic giftedness, would have earned university scholarships and national acclaim. 


As it was, he grew up at a time when an exclusive career in athletics was not an option. It brought fame and provided priceless entertainment to spectators, but did not put food on the table.


Happily, Tindyebwa had a brilliant mind that enabled him to pursue teaching, in which he excelled just as much as he did on the sports field. A graduate of Kibuli Teacher Training College in Kampala, he was one of the first non-Muslim Bakiga students to study at that institution.


Tindyebwa, who died on Friday night at the age of 78, made a mark on generations of students that he taught at schools like Muyebe and Kihorezo, two rural Anglican Church primary schools, and Ndorwa Muslim School as well as the prestigious Kabale Preparatory School (KPS).


The testimonials of his students who have written since his death are consistent in their description of a dedicated and kind teacher who cared about his students. Dr. Precious Ndomeirwe, a medical doctor at International Hospital Kampala, was his student at Kabale Preparatory School. She wrote: “David Tindyebwa, whom we called DT, was a dedicated teacher who taught mathematics to pupils in Primary 6 and 7. He was warm, friendly and always emphasised his points with a smile. Even many years after we left KPS, he still recognised our faces and names.”  


It was his work as a specialized teacher for the blind at Hornby High School in Kabale that distinguished him from his professional peers and earned him a place of very high honour.  


Throughout his years at Hornby High School, Tindyebwa, a sighted man, was the only qualified teacher for the blind.  He was so devoted to the cause of giving full education to blind children that he soldiered on even after the school lost funding from the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind (now known as Sightsavers).  


His contribution to the blind was recognized by many, including people outside Uganda. After learning of Tindyebwa’s death, Dr. Samm Bbuye Musoke, an agricultural economist, wrote from his current post in Laos: “I had the misfortune of never even making the acquaintance of Teacher David Tindyebwa. However, I have two friends - a Sri Lankan (sighted teacher in a School for the Blind) and a Nigerian (a blind professor of physiotherapy) - who have, independent of each other, been speaking to me of Teacher David for years. I think they met at some international fora on education for the blind and maintained contact. Each of my friends testifies to David being a ‘light and salt in this world’.  The comments about him on Face Book are a sure confirmation of my friends' testimonies of a person who had shared gifts that never pass away.”


His ability to motivate others was a trait he exhibited at a relatively young age. Dr. Shaka Ssali, the distinguished Ugandan-American journalist and host of Straight Talk Africa, a weekly TV program on the Voice of America, recalls an encounter with Tindyebwa that illustrates the latter’s deep concern for discipline among students. 


“Tindyebwa was one of those who inspired me,” Shaka told me over the weekend. “I always look up to him and I recall a powerful experience I had at Kigezi College, Butobere,” he added. 


Upon learning that the young Ssali had been suspended from Siniya because he had been out of school and had returned late, Tindyebwa gave the wayward student a thorough tongue lashing. “He was angry with me that I was in a hurry to cut short a potentially illustrious future,” Shaka told me as we reminisced about our mutual friend. “Tindyebwa told me to grow up and live up to the expectations of my father John Wilson Mushakamba.”  


Tindyebwa was born in Bushuro, Mwisi, Kabale in 1940 to Zipora Njuyaarwe, a daughter of the Batimbo Clan, and her husband Mburomwina wa Buhaburwa bwa Baryaruha ba Bujune bwa Muyaga gwa Bugwahabi bwa Mutaasya wa Kazooba ka Maniga ga Mukobe wa Mureebya wa Kazigaaba. Thus Tindyebwa was a Muzigaba of Bamungwe Clan whose totem is Engabi (Aepyceros melampus). 


He was a first cousin of Dutki Bakeiha mwene Zikereeta wa Buhaburwa, a pioneer Makerere University graduate in forestry, who has been an invaluable source of information about Tindyebwa’s story. Dutki spoke of a committed civil servant and a man of integrity who was “very clean and smart all round, sober, frank and honest.” 


One of his traits which endured even after he was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer was a fighting spirit that had seen him win many battles. His courage enabled him to face an extremely painful illness without self-pity.


When I last shared a meal with him in Kabale nearly two years ago, Tindyebwa was fully aware that he wold not survive his illness. But he would work with his doctors to tame the aggressive spread of his cancer. Towards the end, the disease had so devastated the great athlete’s body that death came as relief.   


Tindyebwa’s first wife, Dorothy Birihanze, a teacher, predeceased him. He is survived by his second wife, Anna Kanwangari muhara w’Abarihira, a son, 3 daughters and 5 grandchildren. He was buried on Sunday December 9 among his ancestors at Bushuro, Mwisi, Kabale. 


We are now left to celebrate the life of a man who ought to have been called Honourable Tindyebwa while he lived. We salute a teacher whose greatness was not founded on his excellent basic and continuing education and certificates, and not even his brilliant mind.


Like the best teachers in the world, Tindyebwa was a very patient and resilient man who never gave up. He toiled for years, unrecognised, under difficult conditions, including  a salary that was well below what he was worth.  


However, his impact is measured in the transformed lives of thousands of students who passed through his hands and those whom he inspired through his words, through his actions and through his being.


Liz Aggie Komugisha, who studied at Hornby High School in the 1990s, wrote: “He was such a dedicated man to the blind.” This would be a fitting epitaph for a sighted man who helped many blind students to thrive in spite of their handicap. 



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