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Jovia Battaka employed kindness and respect as a tool for teaching

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Jovia Battaka employed kindness and respect as a tool for teaching

(Photo: A teacher with her former student, July 1999. © Muniini Mulera) 


Another dark season. Depressing news from Kampala. One of my favourite primary school teachers is dead. Her beautiful smile stilled forever on Saturday July 23. Her wisdom and industry filed away in our memories. However, our sadness softened by memories of an outstanding teacher, more a parent than a traditional instructor. 


Truth be told, I do not remember what subject or didactic material, if any, she taught us. However, she was gifted in music and singing. Her voice was worthy of emulation even as adolescence transformed ours. She won a national music competition. But all that was trumped by her warm disposition and her easy laughter. To her, teaching was parenting, not terrorism. Nurturing, not torturing was her approach to her job. Where many teachers used scowling faces to strike terror in us, her reassuring smile telegraphed her understanding that our mischief and failings were part of early adolescence. 


One might think that her pleasant nature was because she was a young, 18-year-old newly married lady, still free from the mood-challenging struggles of motherhood and wifedom. However, that same agreeable and warm-hearted teacher that I first met in early 1964 did not change. Meeting her in Kampala decades later was always a joyful and enriching experience. 


Her name was Jovia Molly Battaka, daughter of Edinansi Nyamishana and Andrew Bajegye of Kinkizi, Kigyezi. When she was born on April 10, 1946, they called her Tumwine. This daughter of Abakimbiri Ba Mugiri, one of the great clans of Abakiga, chose a career as an educator, which she continued even after her marriage to Ezra Jack Battaka, son of Yoweri and Tezera Kagemera, Omusigi wa Kashaki near Kabaare, on January 11, 1964. It is then that she joined Kigezi High School Primary (Lower School) and quickly became one of our beloved nurturers, protectors, and teachers. 


Our school had a well-earned reputation for excellence. Opened in February 1922, Kigezi High School had laid the foundation for some of the most successful citizens in Kigezi and Uganda. The school’s reputation for excellence in academics, sports and music had made it a magnet for gifted boys that walked over hills and valleys to learn from an outstanding crop of teachers. These teachers gave their all to meet the needs of our young and curious minds. 


However, some of the teachers subscribed to a Victorian, militarist tradition that could be unsettling. One of our schoolmates, having been invited for some high velocity caning, elected to jump through the classroom window and sprinted towards the nearby main road, destination unknown. Fifty-eight years later, I still do not know what happened to our schoolmate. It is highly likely that his school career ended that day, thanks to the terrorism that a teacher mistook for discipline.


Mrs Battaka and Mr Francis Kasigazi, my primary six teacher, were in a different league. Very friendly, approachable, and respectful towards students, these two made learning a pleasurable experience. Mr Kasigazi encouraged us to ask questions, even to challenge what he had taught us. I do not recall him raising his voice or caning anyone. To this day, my classmates speak of him with genuine reverence.


Why did our teachers do an outstanding job, with passion and commitment, and great pride in the successes of their students? First, they were very well educated and prepared in the teacher training colleges before they were assigned to teach without supervision. Second, they received very good salaries, free housing and, in many cases, free land on which to grow food for their dinner tables. Third, they had relatively small, manageable class sizes that enabled them to get to know their students. Fourth, they enjoyed respect – not just by their students, but by the parents, the district school supervisors, the governments, and society in general. To be a schoolteacher was a prestigious profession. It would have been inconceivable to hear central government politicians heaping abuses, warnings, and threats against teachers instead of engaging them in very respectful dialogue. 


Things began to change with the advent of the Second Republic. Following the coup d’état in 1971 and the economic collapse that followed the precipitous expulsion of Ugandan Asians in 1972, teachers began to abandon their profession in droves. Jovia Battaka, Kasigazi and other teachers at Kigezi High School Primary joined the ranks of shopkeepers and other business owners to make ends meet. Battaka sold imported goods and opened a successful shop in Mmengo, Kampala. She went on to become a farmer and a key player in the national tree planting programs to the point of being recognized as woman entrepreneur of the year. 


Her most important commitment remained homemaking and motherhood. In addition to raising her biological daughters Charity, Pamela, and Annette, and her sons Ivan and Willis, she opened her home to many children that needed nurturing and support. She remained very energetic, loved to travel, and regularly walked long distances along the streets of Ntinda, a Kampala suburb where she spent her last years. 


He death at 76 was shocking because it was unexpected. Yet we are very thankful even as we mourn this wonderful, loving woman upon whose shoulders we gratefully stand. Our gratitude is to her and all who have taught us along our unfinished journey of learning. 


Our thoughts are with her husband, their offspring, and other relatives. We know she is safe because she was a born again Christian.  Mrs. Battaka’s earthly body will be buried at her family home in Nyakagyeme, Rukungiri, Kigyezi on Thursday July 28. Her impact endures. Her smile shines comfort. Our hearts are full of gratitude and sing with joy to the Lord who lent her to us. Forever indebted.

 ©Muniini K. Mulera

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