Changing the World One Child at a Time — Victoria Nalongo Namusisi

Andrew G. Wilson - October 10, 2013

Kwagala makes Victoria Nalongo Namusisi’s world go round.

Kwagala is the Ugandan word for “love,” and her father’s love for her is the reason why Namusisi, a fisherman’s daughter, received an education and became a journalist, a government official, a supporter of scouting for young people, and ultimately, the founder and executive director of the Bright Kids Uganda, a children’s home in the city of Entebbe that she established in 2000. 

Victoria Nalongo Namusisi, Founder of Bright Kids Uganda speaks with Dr. Suzanne Mellon
Victoria Nalongo Namusisi of Bright Kids Uganda speaks with President Mellon

“I would hear people say, ‘there goes the fisherman’s daughter,’ whenever I passed by,” she told an audience of education and psychology undergraduate and graduate students at Carlow University on October 2. “My father used to tell us that the only gift he could ever give us was an education.”

Once she had her education and became a journalist and then a district administrator in Uganda, Namusisi discovered that her entire family’s status had been upgraded.

“Once I had my education, I would hear people say, ‘there goes the district administrator’s father,’” she said, noting that there was little difference between her family and other fishermen’s families except for one thing. “The difference was that my father took education seriously.”

Namusisi came to Carlow through the invitation of Carlow professors Mary Burke, PhD, and Susan O’Rourke, PhD, who visited Uganda and the Bright Kids orphanage in July. One of the purposes of the return visit was to broaden the horizons of Carlow students by hearing Namusisi’s exceptional story.

Victoria Nalongo Namusisi, Founder of Bright Kids Uganda and Carlow delegates
Chair of Special Education Programs and Professor Susan O'Rourke, EdD, Professor Pauline Greenlick (and treasurer of Bright Kids Uganda), Victoria Nalongo Namusisi, President Suzanne Mellon, PhD, Chair and Professor, PsyD Mary Burke, PhD

“We have very little experience of what it’s like to live in a country with very little resources,” said Margaret McLaughlin, provost and vice president of academic affairs at Carlow University, who introduced Namusisi to the audience. “Victoria demonstrates how much a single individual can influence what goes on in a country.”

Bright Kids Uganda provides a home and education for more than 60 children who have been affected by violent conflicts in Northern Uganda, HIV/AIDS, poverty and abandonment. One of the first children she cared for at Bright Kids Uganda was a young boy living on the streets of a city in northern Uganda that was ravaged by war for nearly two decades. The boy appeared to be no more than three or four, but she was stunned when she discovered how old he actually was.

“He was six and a half years old, but he was so malnourished that he looked like he was three and a half,” she said. He had a swollen face and a distended belly, but, when she took him to a doctor, she found he was disease-free. Still, because of the malnourishment, the doctor gave him only about two weeks to live.

“If you want to save him,” the doctor told Namusisi, “keep him warm and give him food.” But even with that treatment plan, the doctor wouldn’t—or couldn’t—give any guarantees that he would survive. 

That didn’t deter Namusisi. She went to see if she could find any parents or relatives, and when she asked if she could take the boy with her, she was stunned at the one word answer, “Take.”

“It was a big shock to me that a whole human being had no value,” she said. “Life had lost its value in northern Uganda because of this war.”

With food, shelter, and especially her care, the boy thrived, and now he is a teenager, healthy and strong, but still a grade level or two behind his age group due to the neglect he experienced early in life.

“I thank God that through Bright Kids I had the chance to save some lives,” said Namusisi, who turned her attention to the Carlow students in the audience. “You are blessed in this country. Education is a right. In Uganda, education is not a right. It is a privilege.”

She illustrated the impact that education can have on the children of Uganda by telling about the impact O’Rourke and Burke had when they visited in July. A mother brought a baby that was unresponsive and feared to be developmentally delayed.

“Susan spent a few minutes with the child touching it on the feet, then the hands, making sounds for the baby to follow, and soon he was turning his head and responding to the sound, something he hadn’t done in months,” Namusisi said. “The situation was changed by an expert in just one hour. How much can we gain by having a team from Carlow visit Bright Kids for just two weeks?”