Namusoke Asia Mbajja is a nurse by profession, a public health specialist, a social worker, founder People In Need Agency and a woman dedicated to make a difference in the lives of less privileged children and their families and seeing her father struggling to educate his own children and to support dozens of orphans and other underprivileged children to graduate in various disciplines was my biggest inspiration.
Asia’s history of public service started during her student days when she was Rotaract President at Masaka School of Comprehensive Nursing where she used to mobilize donations from fellow students for less privileged children admitted on the children’s ward at Masaka Regional Referral Hospital. In 2006, she was employed by Joint Clinical Research Centre as the Regional Adherence Coordinator. Her role was to ensure was to design community, patient, family and facility based interventions to ensure patients initiated on antiretroviral therapy adhere to their life saving medicines.
Working with Joint Clinical Research Centre enabled Asia to witness live the challenges faced by children living with HIV/AIDS and their families in a bid to cope with HIV/AIDS. She also observed that enduring childhood with HIV/AIDS in Uganda coupled with loss of parents was very difficult. These orphans had lost hope and lived with weighty secrets, and feelings of isolation and anxiety about the future. They were often dealing with loss of parents, poverty, depression, discrimination, unemployment, under-education, and neuro-developmental delays.
The turning point was when Asia visited a 10 year old girl in 2007. Asia used to conduct un announced family home visits to better understand challenges faced by children living with HIV/AIDS at their homes, when she was working at The Joint Clinical Research Centre. When she visited the 10year old girl in Kajansi – Entebbe road- Uganda and she found this girl sleeping on the veranda at 7:30am in the morning. When she asked her why she was sleeping on the veranda at 7:30am, she told her
The 10 year old girl’s desperate act to kill herself, hit Asia like a punch to the stomach! Her words really shook her up! She spent some time thinking about this little girl being in such a vulnerable position. She felt inadequate, though later she realized that she needed to rescue and rehabilitate vulnerable children but didn’t know how to start. Though something kept gnawing at her. It was the desire to do more; to do something that would make the world a better place for less fortunate children.
In 2011, Asia applied for the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program because she wanted to fulfill her dream: making a difference in the lives of marginalized and disadvantaged populations [in Uganda]. Although she convinced the panel at the U.S. Embassy in Uganda that she would design a youth program to support vulnerable children living with HIV/AIDS on her return after her Humphrey year, but didn’t know how to do it. But when she met with President Jimmy Carter light came into darkness! His experience about he started the Carter Center was inspiring.
During Asia’s Humphrey year, she was placed at Emory University for 10 months -between August 2012 and June 2013. There, Asia studied HIV/AIDS Policy and Prevention in a cohort of Humphrey Fellows all dedicated to Public Health and HIV/AIDS Policy work, with the aim of applying what she learned in the U.S. to help vulnerable children in her home country Uganda. The knowledge and skills she attained during her Humphrey year have supported Asia to remain connected to her mission.
In 2012, she came to the conclusion that simply providing HIV counseling and HIV drugs to orphans living with HIV, did not deal with their core issues. She also realized that these children face unique challenges in a bid to cope with HIV. In addition to fighting for survival, in terms of food and shelter, they lack support and encouragement from the family and society at large, Stigma from the family, school and communities, Pill burden/drug side effects and lack of treatment supporters among others. In a bid to rescue and rehabilitate these children, Asia gave up her comfortable life at Joint Clinical Research Center to help orphans living with HIV and to better understand some of the challenges they face at home, school and the community.
After giving up her job to start People In Need Agency- PINA Uganda- www.pina-ug.org – (an organization that supports children and youths living with HIV to cope with the challenges of growing up with HIV/AIDS), she didn’t have money to hire an office. Asia sacrificed her home where PINA Uganda has an office, a tailoring and knitting facility, food demonstration gardens and a poultry demonstration farm. PINA Uganda is a national NGO that creates hope and happiness among less fortunate children, especially those living with HIV/AIDS and survivors of sexual abuse. PINA Uganda uses printed materials, counselling and live musical performances to promote their efforts.
Asia mobilizes resources from individuals, NGOs and partners to support children using social media, radio and local televisions. Because of Asia’s great advocacy work, she was recognized as “Humanitarian of the year 2015” by world savers Excellence Award, granted a Hubert Humphrey Fellowship award 2012-2013 – granted by the US Department of State, Hubert Humphrey Alumni Impact Award Winner 2015, granted by the International Institute of Education and the US Department of State and one of the 2016 Omololu Falobi Award for Excellence in HIV prevention research. Her plan is to establish a community rehabilitation center with multiple activities including training and community outreaches.