Growing up as a child-orphan and getting raised by a foster widow woman (to whom I am privileged to refer now as my mother) in the village of Masaka District, one of the underserved communities in Uganda, I didn’t understand so much the environment around me. But I remember so well how my mother used to wake up my other older cousin siblings to go in the plantations and try to plant some food - vegetables to which we refer as subsistence agriculture.
On many days I joined the taskforce (as we used to call it) because I was a curious child and believed in collaborative efforts. But I recall days we could plant and never look forward to harvest time unless the heavens came down with raining miracles - because that’s what the changing climate and weather patterns had gotten us used to. I remember seeing my mum muffled up each time because now she was wondering how to feed us. This not only happened in my home, but to the entire neighborhood around us - we all experienced the same uncertainty.
At the age of 9-10, I got more curious about what was happening and why we had to go through such insecurity and hunger. Besides being an orphan already, I cursed being born and living at such a time. But I told my mum 'I am going stand with you and we are going to fight together.' I kid you not, I can’t explain how I even managed to say that. But I was angry, and tired. My lived experiences have been so tender, and given me so much to say already.
I asked my mom if other children were experiencing the same. She said yes - all of us in the same region. That broke me more! My mother was already grappling with being a widow with many foster and biological children in a patriarchal and capitalistic society. In many African countries, when men die their widows can be dispossessed of their homes, land and even children. So her situation was already a highly uncertain and challenging one. I came to feel that patriarchy and capitalism must be the worst things that have happened to humanity so far.
At 15 years old, I started joining and organizing groups. I was hugely inspired by my mother, my late father and my sister-friend Esther Nakajigo (my their souls shine on wherever they are!). They were radical organizers for social change, and clapped back at injustice.
The systemic oppression and injustices like climate inaction - especially by the global north, gender stereotypes, and abuse of women and children, and lack of rights all stem from unlived experiences, from capitalism, from individualism, from fascism, and from a profound lack of empathy.
I shouldn’t have been a child jumping right into activism, because that’s not how it should be. I needed to have a better childhood, I wanted to play so much, have some more good memories, but I didn’t. Joy came and went, lasting for a few hours. But all I really remember was crying and constantly asking “why me, why us?”
Being 24 now, all I know is organizing and campaigning against injustices. Injustice is so unfair, but fighting it is also fulfilling. The impact I have been able to have in my communities, and the minds I continue to change, is all very grounding for me. But it’s not a lifestyle that we want the future generations to inherit. Let us make things right now.
My life took a serious turn in 2021 when my organizing made more sense. I lived in fear everyday. I was deprived of my social life and couldn’t organize anymore. But I had never more proud of myself until that moment. Part of my organization work at the Phoenix Children Foundation (our website could use so much digital support!) is to ensure that no child or woman, especially single mothers, could be tortured and abused in isolation.
We need the kind of leadership and governance that will not fail the generations to come. We need systems that are rooted in community, because it’s the people, the grassroots people, that face the issues firsthand. I passionately say this as a grassroots organizer for about 8 active years now.
We have the solutions only if we dare enough to act and free ourselves from the cults of all cultures that dehumanize us and make us subconsciously ready to cancel each other. We owe it to the children to buckle up!
I want my children to know a world that is endowed, green, and safe, so they can play freely, and know that they can call this earth home and authentically feel it.
-- Darren Namatovu is a humanist and founder of the Phoenix Children Foundation. She is also a poet, storyteller, activist and writer, focusing on research and policy. She is also a Climate Justice Fellow with 350.Org, and a Young Rotarian serving with Rotary International as Young Rotarian. She says, 'But the bubble of being a humanist grounds me so much.' Read more about her bold and sometimes dangerous work in this 2022 article.