Chai with Opio
by Dena Thomas, Monitoring and Evaluations Intern
One of the steadfast leaders at Shanti is Opio Job Odumo, an unassuming 28 year old man and single father of 3, who guards the birthing center every night between 6:00pm and 7:00am. Opio and I rarely had opportunity to get to know one another, as our working hours were offset. I was advised from others that I shouldn’t leave Kasana without sitting down with Opio, as I would miss an opportunity to be inspired…
Tell me a little about the family you grew up with Opio, and where about your village was.
I was born in Tororo which is in the eastern part of Uganda. My father had two wives and so we were 9 children in total. My mother left Tororo when I was very young, so my second mother raised me along with my other siblings. I went to school from Baby class to P7 in Tororo, and then when I was 18 years old I moved to Luwero to be closer to my first (biological) mother. According to the photographs that I had been seeing, I sought her out. I found her along with my sister at this time, and started my senior school education in Kasana. I completed S1-3, but then my mother had no further money to help with the fees and felt that I was spending more time in the garden and with cattle then with my school books. So I left school because there was a lot of quarreling about this, and she had no smile on her face anymore. I felt that I was a burden. So at the age of 19, I found a job working with New Hope Uganda as a night watchman.
So you found your first job at 19, and then what?
I worked for two years and one month at New Hope Uganda, and then was offered another position with more money at Nakaseke Primary and Secondary School. By this time I was 22 years old, and I worked both day and night shifts. I worked there for seven months and then my Uncle Ben (Shanti driver) brought me to Shanti Uganda Birthing Center, where a new position was posted as night watchman. I’ve stayed here a long time because I found the team to be very communicative, working well together, with good pay, and I feel respected here – more so than other places I’ve worked.
What are your main responsibilities as night watchman, Opio?
First off, when I arrive on shift, I survey the premises and especially the gate to make sure that no one has cut into the wire, and that everything is intact. When the gate closes and locks at nightfall, I am there to receive any mothers that arrive during the night. I sit over there (pointing to a hiding spot across the property) with my bow and (poison) arrow, should I need to react to an intruder or other threat. I know that I do a good job because the staff feel comfortable when I’m there. It makes me feel proud that Opio makes them feel comfortable and safe.
I have a son whose name is Joseph and is six years old. He is the eldest and in P1. Then comes Soloman who is five years, and then Shanitah who’s at home with her mother. Her mother lives separate from me because she wants to live at a better standard, so she’s found a man who can give her things I cannot. She is very beautiful and I first saw her when I would walk past her place on the way to church. I asked her to join me at my church on Saturdays (hers met on Sundays) and that’s how we started as friends. She (we) became pregnant at 16 and didn’t want the baby because she didn’t want to leave school and thought that she might be at risk delivering a baby at such a young age. She started taking drugs to end the pregnancy. But Joseph survived and was born very small – but strong!
Do you think you will find a new wife sometime in the future?
No – I’m done. My heart lies with the mother of my children. If she comes back to me, I may forgive her. But I will never take another (wife) because she may not treat my children well – like take them to a witch doctor or turn me against them – and I’m not willing to chance that. I’m not interested in new love.
What is your biggest challenge right now Opio?
My life is very good. I have a good job at Shanti – I don’t have to work 2 shifts each day, only night shift which gives me time with my children and time to work in my garden. Before I had no rest; now I do. I have time to grow cassava, beans, matoke, green, potatoes, yams – everything we need to eat except for meat or fish (which we buy only once or twice a month). Sometimes when I need supplies for my job like a torch or boots or arrows, it takes some time for the funds, but eventually I get what I need. In the future it will be expensive to pay for all three children’s school fees, but hopefully there will be provisions.
Thanks so much for your time Opio. I’ve really enjoyed our talk. Let’s go meet your children now!!