GRACE MUKASA – AN INSPIRED STROKE SURVIVOR!

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Grace Alice Mukasa is a Ugandan-born British Christian serving as a Minister at Divine Life Transforming Centre (DLTC), London, UK.

 

She is a freelance writer, who is passionate about gender justice and women's rights.

She is a proud mother of  four sons and was also blessed fantastically with a daughter too. Her earliest awakening to gender inequality stemmed from growing up in a family surrounded by seven male siblings and another 4-5 male relatives from  both sides of her extended family.

 

So the notion of  ‘history repeating itself’ was not lost to her when she initially became the mother of four boys before God finally bestowed on her the gift of her youngest, a baby girl!

 

Grace was born, raised, and started her work in development in Uganda. Being raised in a polygamous family environment in Uganda,  which is home to one of the greatest diversity of ethnic groups in the world, quickly impacted on her world view to notice the complexity,  diversity, and the unequal power relationships between men and boys; and women and girls.

 

She saw a stoic yet struggling mum of ten biological children plus 4-5 relative’s children under her care (Uganda exercises and esteems its extended family system). She experienced the ‘present’ yet mainly ‘absentee’ father.  He was their most important 'visitor' who would drop in once in a while and appear to exercise  parental strict discipline on his male-dominated, literary truant, children who were growing without a father-figure or role model to emulate.

 

Her mother was the second out of three wives.  Consequently, Grace learnt early to resent and detest the way polygamy dehumanises and consistently depletes the total worth, self-esteem, and self-confidence of any woman, in such a marital relationship.

 

Meanwhile, Grace could not suffer the selfishness of any father, who literary  “ate his cake and had it,”  and exercised authority and power over his family instead of authority with love. No wonder in her soft-spoken calm way, Grace has always been honestly outspoken about gender injustice issues both at home and in the workplace.

 

Grace’s sheltered world, under the wings of her dear mother, came crashing  and crumbling down on her like a pack of cards, in her teenage.  Her dear mum, single, yet 'married' mum, succumbed to cervical cancer after a well-fought battle with that diabolical disease.  It robs the glory of many African mothers in their prime,  and exposes hundreds of families like that of Grace, to extreme vulnerability, poverty, and suffering! 

 

Grace’s  mother was just 42 years old when the grim reaper kicked at their family door!

As if that was not enough, tragedy mercilessly struck again. Two days after her mother’s funeral,  she lost her best friend, schoolmate, neighbour and confidant to a botched abortion.  It seemed like death was lurking in the air for Grace.

 

The mother’s long stay in hospital had been the most emotionally draining incident  in Grace’s life.   She had to juggle decisions between attending school,  or drop out and care for her mum. However, the patient adamantly insisted she had to continue attending school at all cost.

 

Grace will never forgot the last words her mother told her in an emotionally, highly charged event. One evening, after school, Grace arrived at the hospital with two close friends (one of them died two days after  burying Grace’s mother)! 

 

They found the patient sleeping and stood by silently watching her not wishing to disturb her sleep.  The Carer said was often sick, tired, drowsy and restless and under the heavy influence of Morphine and other strong drugs to dim the incredibly debilitating pains. They stood around her hospital bed  tears rolling down as they watched her beleaguered breathing as if in an effort to still hold onto a life already drained out of that fragile little body. 

 

Her mum eventually came to and upon recognising Grace and her two friends, she put on a wan smile within an overstretched face with two  big rolling eyes in that hollow stern face.  With great effort, she stretched out he frail hand to greet them but surprisingly she had a strong grasp. She pulled Grace to her, and speaking in a loud clear,  but urgent voice, she said. “Stop crying, I know my body is closing down, I am dying, so start preparing for my absence!”

 

“OMG! That hit me below the belt like the divine track full of fire and brimstone!” Grace still remembers. She  says she had been living in her own shell; a mental bubble  of denial, convincing herself that, “She cannot die!” “She is all I have!” “Whom can she leave me with?" “Surely God will cure her because she is a good mum to all of us.” 

 

Yet her mothers message, she revealed recently,  “Is as cringingly clear to  me today as if I have just heard it.”  “I panicked in anguish.  She was dying.  My dear Mum was going to disappear forever.”   “But listen, as soon as you burry me go back to school and never stop till you bring back my degree…your brothers love you,  and they will always do, but they will love you better, if you finish your education, get a job, and establish your own home. 

 

“Never expect to become a dependant of your brothers. If you do that, their children and their wives will despise you, thinking every time you visit, that you go to beg for more of their money. Never become a beggar. And she turned to the wall to weep bitterly!  At that point, the schoolgirls went outside a bit, also in  deep anguish. 

 

“….But as soon as you burry  me, Grace, go back to school...”  That’s how Grace’s mother later on completed her entreaty and final legacy to Grace.  The  loving daughter had no option but to obey.

 

Fast forward, in 2000 Grace acquired her Masters degree in Gender and Development. Whereas many  relatives and friends, who attended her graduation party saw it as an academic  trophy for a ‘Lucky’ woman, Grace captured it as another   promise to her mother  being fulfilled once again, in addition to her bachelor degree.   To her it as a practical tool for her contribution to women’s emancipation through her workplace.  By this time she was established as a development practitioner who had already acquired great insights into the privileged lives of men and boys, compared to those of the less privileged women and girls. The stage was set for her intervention in the work places.

 

Many of her employers quickly identified a unique ability in her, to engage people at both an emotional and intellectual level; and to inspire, stimulate, and boost  her staff’s morale and motivation to serve their agencies with great engagement.

 

Consequently, over the years Grace has progressively held strategic leadership positions in 5 international NGOs; a leading national women's NGO in Uganda, ACFODE (which deepened and expanded her awareness about gender in practical terms and lit up the initial burning desire and fiery fire in her passion to fight for women's rights).

 

Grace’s role models have been two  giant women figures in her life. Her mother, the  life Coach of Coaches in all aspects of life skills (creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and development) imbued with a great sense of emotional intelligence.

 

The second domineering giant in Grace’s life was Sister Patricia (RIP), her primary  head teacher in a convent  girls-only boarding school.  She gifted her with extraordinary love, seasoned with many practical and emotional challenges, to develop in her, a strong character and leadership integrity.

 

An experience stands out  for Grace, when Sister Patricia discovered that almost the whole school had been clandestinely invading the school plantation of sugarcane and sitting in the middle, and chewing the  soft, very sweet cane till one couldn’t eat any more.

 

Upon discovery,  the shocked nun called an urgent school assembly and one by one, the pupils reported on each other as she silently ticked off the names of the culprits. However, when a student mentioned Grace's name the nun gasped and exclaimed: “Even you? “Surely the trusted coffee pod; proves empty!” (a local proverb meaning "that those we trust may prove to be the least loyal or productive"). That was the devastating Capone-like grand plan that transformed into Grace's rock of integrity.

 

On that evening, when the lights went out, the whole dormitory risked the ire of the sister and discussed the meaning of the proverb.  Some saw it as a horrible, demeaning reprimand.  However the majority saw it as an indication that Grace had literary captured Sister Patricia’s motherly love  and favour.  An amazing assessment because all the girls knew that sister Patricia would never bear children. That's when Grace discovered what she meant to Sister Patricia. It took her a full week to gather the courage to go and apologise to Sister Patricia.  

 

Trembling with fear, Grace proposed a punishment for herself.  To be cleaning her office for a week.  Surprisingly after the apology, Sister Patricia didn’t rebuke or punish Grace.  Her countenance relaxed and smiling, she instead called her a very courageous young woman saying, “It takes a lot of humility and strength of character   for any person not only to recognise one’s mistake but to appreciate the importance of apologising for it.

To Grace's surprise, after the apology, Sister Patricia  did not scold her, but instead, she gave her a responsibility to serve as the student In-Charge of Staff Affairs (cleaning the staff room, closing and opening it; ensuring safety in the staffroom, serving meals to the teachers and cleaning up afterwards). She surrounded herself with a team of willing helpers. This marked her first grasp at leadership.

She  had started gaining greater self-awareness about her gender from the routine, repetitive and boring burden of household chores that she had to bear compared to her older male siblings, simply because she was a girl child as soon as she developed a sturdy back, strong hands and legs coupled with the lonely battle they face when.invaded by adolescent menstrual hygiene management.

Looking back today, it's hard to pinpoint the specific reasons that prompted Grace to pick up the courage to raise her gender concerns and issues with the ‘stricter than normal’ mother. But she did!  Despite being very strict, her mother was also very affectionate.  She had a peculiar pattern whenever Grace  or her siblings, overstepped her boundaries: see/hear about one's mischief;  build up a terrible rage; punish in anger; but soon after calm down and take control.  , Yes…calm down completely; start a one to  one straight talk to express the reasons behind her anger; talk  at length; coaching and giving wise counsel why the act was not worth is not worth one's character/personality. 

So it turned out that the mum was such an intriguing character, in fact an enigma, to her children.  One  minute she could  be the embodiment of the proverbial bad cop due to her bubbling hot temper, yet a few minutes later she would transform herself into this fantastically amazing friend  who is engaging you deeply to understand the consequences of your mischief.

At those moments the children would have a three-in-one supporter working as a coach, mentor and a mother imparting life and survival skills to an already open and expectant youngster.   Whenever she got that animalist rage in control; that’s when she would inspire, Grace, reaffirm her as her beautiful treasured daughter and her greatest gift from God.

On the other hand, Grace’s dad was the good cop through and through. He simply loved the girl  unconditionally and defended her in all instances. Grace  can recall so many times when he would ask his wife to let go, especially when adolescence set in and some streak of stubborn rebelliousness started to rear its ugly  head.

“Why can't you leave the girl alone?” “She could have done worse, you know?” “Just leave her alone.” The father would plead and rationalise.  This approach many times worked, but sometimes it evoked more anger. “At one time my mum packed my school case and requested him to take me as he left in the morning for work,”  Grace shared.

As an adult, Grace says, "I  can definitely relate to both my parent's resources of kindness, compassion, and positive affirmation of their love and love for me.”

Another source of her passion for gender came from her most favourable hobby -  reading!  After her work, Grace saiys, she used to burry herself and literary disappear in her novels. All types of novels!"  especially those  of tragic female heroines,  romantic ones, and detective stories.

 

When she reflects on herself, she appreciates her loyalty to her friend/ and  the people  she loves. Grace places great value on self-reflection, self-awareness;  valuing humility and she also forgives easily. On the flip side, however, many people have exploited her trust and hurt her grievously.

 

However, as a born-again Christian, she believes she has to continue 'turning the other cheek', secure in the knowledge that her Lord will pay. 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay’  'the bible says (Deuteronomy 32:35). She is persistent and seems to possess an endless reservoir of resilience.  Grace believes it's not over until she has seen and held her trophy. "I am a very patient Stroke Survivor awaiting on the Lord until my healing comes and the and the Lord my God lifts the burden and yoke off my back and neck (Isaiah10:27; Isaiah 58:8), said Grace.                                                           

 

Since she was 33, all her employers (5 international NGOs, a national women’s NGO, and a government agency) have identified her leadership potential and appointed her into strategic leadership positions. Consequently, she has progressively matured into a credible, inspirational and transformative African Woman leader who is proud of leaving behind her, a marked trail of empowered, inspired, and gender-sensitive female and male leaders, in strategic development positions in Africa, South Asia, and the UK.

 

In 2015 Grace was nominated by the World Women Leadership Congress & Award (WWLCA Feb. 2015, the

 WOMEN LEADERSHIP ACHIEVEMENT AWARD).
 

The Award is conferred to:


"Outstanding Women Professionals who have the vision, flair, acumen and professionalism to demonstrate excellent leadership and management skills in an organization, making changes and achieving results".

 

She wrote Gender is a choice, a book on gender discrimination to add value to the international debates, gender studies’ education (with original perspectives from Africa) and advocacy for women and girls.

 

Her literary journey developed organically,  upon recognising that she held an arsenal of knowledge, deep insights, and stories captured from a diverse range of women leaders;  women and girls plus men and boys at grassroots level; and  government officials with whom she had interacted in her work in different countries of Africa. 

 

She also got insights as a woman leader in male-dominated agencies which  often claimed to be advocates for gender equality in their  communication strategies, coupled with her cultural shock  to find the pervasive nature of gender inequality not only in Africa but also inSouth Asia and in the UK where she currently resides.

 

With her background experience as a young woman  and later on a leader in a male-dominated family system, gender issues stemming from her life in a family dominated by male siblings and other  male relatives, her cup is overflowing with information to share.

 

Grace is naturally a very passionate person. As she undergoes her  Stroke rehabilitation she thrives on her Lord Jesus, reading and internalising the bible to enhance her spiritual maturity, but also researching and writing fiction to stimulate her mental agility. She is a uniquely busy and engaged Stroke Survivor!