By Irene Lamunu
Hilda is the Executive Director of Uganda Women Writers’ Association (FEMRITE) who thinks it’s time for Ugandan writers to form a writers union. She says writers should be able to have a say about which books to be included on the Ugandan Education Curriculum. She shared
her story with our reporter;
Who is Hilda?
I was born and raised in Kacerere village in Kabale district. I am the second born in a family of nine children, three girls and six boys. I went to Kacere Primary school, then Muyebe Girls School for my O-Level. After O-level, I joined Uganda Martyrs Rubaga for A-level from where I joined National Teachers training College (NTC) in Nkozi where I acquired a diploma in English double main. In 1992, I was admitted to Makerere University to study Literature and Social Administration after which I continued with my Master’s degree in Public Administration. I pay tribute to my parents Fred and Jane Kahangura, my primary teacher Ms. Joy Tumwebaze who always believed in me and the former headmistress of Muyebe girl’s school Ms.Trail Elizabeth, where I first came in touch with books. I cannot forget to recognise two tutors from NTC Nkozi, Mr. Otim Rugabwa (RIP) and Ms. Hope Keshubi (RIP).
How did you join FEMRITE?
In my literature class at Makerere, Hon. Mary Karoro Okurut was my lecturer. One day, she talked about forming a female writers group and invited us for a meeting. No one showed interest from my class, but I went for the meeting. At the meeting, Mrs. Okurut talked about forming a female organisation for writers. And, after a few meetings, we registered the organisation as an NGO and FEMRITE was born. This was formed to bring forward and encourage women writers to write.
What inspired you to begin writing?
Between my study at Makerere University and National Teachers’ College Nkozi, I saw an advert about play writing, which was supposed to be handed over to the faculty of Music Dance and Drama. I got involved and wrote a play. Fortunately for me, my play was among the six plays chosen and we the six writers were invited for a conference in Nairobi; that placed me among young writers. I joined the likes of Professor Rose Mbowa who was already writing.Notably, I began writing while still in college where we were writing plays. I carried on with play writing in the university. The breakthrough was in 1996 where I wrote a play titled ‘Mobilised’ which was acted at the National Theatre. It was my first major play. I remember I was paid shs.1million for the play. Not everybody who does literature is a writer but, it nurtures one into writing. Reading other people’s works triggers the thought of writing one. This has worked for me.
What Challenges have you faced as a female writer?
Women’s writing has been boxed or shelved as ‘women’s things’ for a long time. When people find a book from FEMRITE, the comment, those are ‘women’s things’ is quite often. Women’s writing has been marginalized and yet, the female writers write for everybody not only for women. You always have to explain yourself and you find people wondering why women should write that instead of another. I want people to read me as a writer and read women’s stories as writers not as women’s stories.
The other challenge is time, our society being what it is; you need to give attention to family and career. Unlike men who will have time when they go back home, I am a mother at home; I therefore need to get things done. I hate the forwards which talk about how women should be that and how women should nurture families. These are similar challenges faced by women in other professions.
You were recently recognized with a medal on Women’s day, Can you tell us more about it and how it has impacted on your life?
It is God’s favour and I am very grateful for the medal I received. There are many women who could have got it and who could even have deserved it better. My medal was a beautiful surprise, it was the first time that literature was recognized in this country. It was the first time I saw the media being recognized as Keturah Kamugasa (RIP) was also recognized on that day. They have always recognized Education and the mainstream. My citation read; in ‘Recognition for Contribution to Uganda’s Literary Heritage and Women Emancipation.’ I recognize FEMRITE because it has been the platform for what I do. Many literature people were happy with the medal and they felt that it was a recognition to literature and a way of growing our society.
Books are our ambassador. Whenever a Ugandan book is being read, the seed is being planted somewhere. We are glad that the government recognized that. When I received the award, I started thinking generally about literature and the borrowed words from other languages that writers use in their writings. Such recognition is for our rich heritage; I celebrate and recognize my kikiga heritage.
How do you juggle career and family?
I have two daughters and two sons; but, three biological children. I want to ask others how they manage. I feel like I am not managing. It’s not easy being a wife, a mother and a career woman unlike our mothers and grandmothers who were purely housewives. It’s impossible to keep everything in check the way you want them. I try to be transparent with my children, I always tell them, I have deadlines to beat so I ask them to make me a cup of coffee and they know that mummy is busy. However, FEMRITE, ACFODE, Gracal Machel Trust Women in Media Network and other media networks I subscribe to have been supportive. My female friends and sisters are also very supportive.
How would you inspire a woman who would love to write but feels challenged?
Everybody you meet wants to write. What has worked for me is becoming part of a writing group. Form a group and begin looking out for each other’s writings. Read a lot because from reading, you get ideas for writing. I think people should keep journals and just note down things and attend workshops on writing because they are practical. Also, join FEMRITE, it has a writers club every Monday and we look out for each other. Importantly, you ought to focus on things you are passionate about and love doing.
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