Social networking platform, Twitter, is known for many things but among them is trolling – making random unsolicited and controversial comments, to provoke an emotional knee jerk reaction from unsuspecting readers to engage in a fight or argument. These trolls can mean to be mean and hit the lowest low when they choose to.
And many do it for Likes and Retweets or even an extra follower.
So, while the freshers (starting students) were reporting for their First Semester at Makerere University a few weeks ago, one of them fell victim of the savage and shameless trend of trolling. A hashtag #HeyFreshers had popped up and the Twitterverse had jumped on it, to send sarcastic and sometimes genuine advice to the university newbies. Advice on how to conduct themselves, how to adjust to the new and challenging school setting, if life is to be easy.
In the stream of tweets, came one accompanied with a photo of a male student carrying a metallic suitcase, a back bag and a paper bag in the right hand. He was approaching University Hall, one of the on-campus halls of residence at Makerere University.
The tweet was captioned; “#HeyFreshers A rare picture of a fresher attached to University Hall reporting today with S.1 metal case and Osoufia (paper bag)”.
— Aupal Emmanuel 🇺🇬 (@AupalEmmanuel) August 6, 2019
However, the tweet which was accompanied with laughing emojjis was viewed by many as insensitive and immature. Many commented saying the tweet wasn’t funny. They said the person who posted it had no idea what struggles the unprivileged student in question had endured to get to university.
The student in the photo later came to be identified as Ssuubi Henry Kiyimba.
The issue took a major twist (for the better) when Ugandan journalist working with the BBC, Alan Kasujja commented asking if anybody could help identify the student that had been ridiculed.
“We want to lay a table for him (Ssuubi) before his shamers,” Kasujja said in a tweet.
I wish I knew who the kid in this picture is!
Does anyone know him?
We want to lay a table for him before his shamers!
— Alan Kasujja (@kasujja) August 7, 2019
What followed was a stream of comments of people willing to chip in and help the boy.
Suubi Herny Kiyimba, 20, was admitted on government scholarship to pursue a Bachelors Degree of Science with Education (Economics). He hails from Kamengo sub-county, Mpigi district in a family of 8, all supported by a single mother. He was previously a student of St Bruno Sserunkuma S.S Goli where he studied Physics, Economics and Mathematics (PEM) and attained 17 points at UACE.
Like the saying goes, every dark cloud has a silver lining. For Ssuubi, the dark cloud was his vulnerability and humble background, but the good-willed Ugandans on the internet turned out to be the silver lining. In the last few days, the will to support Ssuubi in every possible way – financially and material – has been overwhelming. His story is a very rare one, especially regarding the internet space as it is known in Uganda.
Having lunch with #HenrySsuubiKiyimba now BSc student @MakerereU against all odds. Discussing many things..#Family #Education #Life #Football #Music (wants 2 meet @eddykenzoficial) Great kid & supersmart. Will send a brief to @kasujja to coordinate how all can chip in & help. pic.twitter.com/ctcasqNzBt
— Cedric B. Ndilima (@CedricNdilima) August 9, 2019
When the team coordinating the cause met with Ssuubi, he expressed some areas where he is in need. These included Shs 2 million which Ssuubi owes his former school in school fees. For this reason, the school withheld his UACE pass slip until the fees are cleared.
The other needs include a laptop computer, bed sheets, suitcase, stationery, clothes, a mobile phone and money for food.
And since this information was shared, several people have been commenting, pledging various items – shoes, phone, money for transport, laptop, suitcase, beddings, toiletries, books, rice among others. Someone pledged an iPhone 6 plus 16GB worth of internet data. But for most of those pledging, they have been asking to get Ssuubi’s contact details so they can send him cash.
The latest update shared on Sunday, August 11, shows that up to Shs 1.57 million has been collected from well wishers in support towards the student. There’s also a pledge for a Shs 380,000 monthly stipend until the end of this year. Items that have so far been received include a laptop, one suitcase full of clothes, one shirt and a smart watch. Anybody willing to support can use the number 0782246491 or Suubi’s personal contact which has been made public (0756511976).
Whereas Ssuubi was admitted to Makerere on Bachelors of Science with Education (Economics), this was never his course of choice. His desire was to pursue a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering, but he missed government scholarship. Hailing from a peasant family, he had no choice but to opt for the course where he was admitted on government sponsorship.
So far, Joadah Consult and Development Infrastructure, an engineering firm, has expressed willingness to sponsor him fully to study Civil engineering. Kasujja said in a tweet over the weekend that this is probably the fourth offer for a full sponsorship for Ssuubi.
There have been pleas to the University Management to change the program on which Ssuubi was admitted to Civil Engineering, although this technically implies that he would foot his tuition fees out-of-pocket. The University Vice Chancellor, Prof Barnabas Nawangwe said that will be looked into.
“For us at Makerere, we shall continue to play our part of making Makerere a better place for everyone. Everyone should feel loved,” Prof Nawangwe said in a tweet.
I have had the pleasure to meet Mr. Ssuubi Henry Kiyimba the student who was mercilessly attacked on social media as unfit to come to Makerere. I have encouraged him to enjoy his stay at Makerere and work hard on his future career. pic.twitter.com/PsTy5J1RRt
— Barnabas Nawangwe (@ProfNawangwe) August 8, 2019
Ssuubi is the first person in his family to attend university. He said he had no transport money on his first trip to Kampala city and when he reported to Makerere, his metallic suitcase for which he was mocked, was empty.
In Mpigi where Ssuubi’s family lives, Rose Nalwanga (Suubi’s mother) has worked tirelessly against all odds to ensure her children attain education. She recently told NTV Uganda that she has managed to finance their education using loans from financial institutions and money lenders, most of which (loans) are not yet settled.
“I told Ssuubi ‘Stay in the house and read your books. If luck is on your side, you will excel’. And he stayed in the house for two weeks revising for exams but without setting his feet at school”
“All these girls (daughters) you see here, they are in school but they don’t have school fees.”
She says that it has become a custom that her children do not bring their report cards home since the schools withhold them due to failure to pay their school fees.
Nalwanga, a Primary School teacher, explained that she has been forced to cut branches from her avocado trees in the compound, which the school demanded to use for firewood, to compensate for part of the Shs 2m (Ssuubi’s) school fees arrears.
The single mother says the last time she recalls receiving financial assistance from Ssuubi’s absentee father was when Ssuubi was sitting his Primary Seven (P7) PLE exams. He provided Shs 100,000. She says she has strived in many ways – selling pancakes, avocadoes and roasted corn, to earn some money to fend for the family. She places so much value on education and her bet is – an educated person can never fail in life.
“When you are educated, you relate with intelligent people. You cannot fail in life. That’s why I have so much interest in education,” Nalwanga said.
Ssuubi is a Luganda word meaning ‘Hope’. And for the 20-year-old fresh student at Makerere, his name has never been more relevant than it has been in this past week. His story is one that does not only inspire many others like him but is also a manifestation that regardless of how bleak the future seems, all HOPE should not be lost.