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Goodbye champion for women and girls
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Goodbye champion for women and girls

The sudden death of Commonwealth youth trainer, internationally recognized activist and TV presenter, Esther Nakajjigo has been like the falling of an Iroko tree whose thud has shaken her family, her homeland Uganda, and young people across the Commonwealth. 24-year-old Chimaobi Omeye, our Correspondent from Nigeria, penned this piece in tribute of the late activist.

I never met the 23-year-old champion for women and girls, but when I heard the news of her death and checked the internet, I was totally convinced that Uganda, the Commonwealth and the world have lost a rare gem who would have continued to make our world a better place.

According to New Vision Newspaper on June 13, 2020, Esther died in a freak accident in the USA when the car she was travelling in was hit by a metallic gate at the Arches National Park in Utah because of a heavy storm. Esther was an associate for international programmes at Drexel University, Philadelphia. and was on holidays at the time of the accident.

Essie, as she was affectionately called, was unbending like the distinctive Iroko tree which is used in carpentry in Africa and is popularly known for its strong and wide branches.

Esther Nakajjigo too was known for her strong and uncompromising character. She was only 11 years old when life in the slums of  Kampala, Uganda where she lived, had become unbearable because of the high number of teenage girls falling pregnant, being sexually exploited and having little or no access to quality maternal healthcare. By age 14 she had decided to do something about it and became a volunteer at the health centre serving these girls and women in her community.

When the health centre was closed, she decided to sacrifice her education by using the money her mother had secured for university​ to​ ​start a healthcare facility for these young women.

Esther’s branches spread wider and grew stronger as she empowered girls to continue their education after childbirth. At only age 17, she was named Uganda’s Ambassador for Women and Girls.

Esther has been described as a young leader with a big heart and a “never say never” attitude. What she did through LIFT (Living in the face of Trauma) is still a wonder in her country. This reality TV show brought girls from Uganda’s universities to Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, a large refugee camp in Uganda to help improve the lives of refugee girls and women.

In an interview in 2018, Essie recalled that her Sunday school teacher once told her: “ You do God’s work and he will do yours.” It seems her Sunday school teacher was right because Essie later received a scholarship that allowed her to pursue the university studies she had earlier sacrificed. Throughout her short life, she also received many accolades for her work including the Faith in the Commonwealth Peace Award.

When an Iroko tree dies in the forest, the other organisms in its habitat are impacted by its loss for different reasons, similarly, Esther’s passing has left her beloved family, friends, Ugandans and the Commonwealth family with a vacuum too big to be filled.

This is how some members of the Commonwealth family remember Essie:

Brian Okullo, Country Coordinator, Commonwealth Youth Peace Ambassadors Network, Uganda
My first time encountering Esther Nakajjigo was in 2018 for the Faith in Commonwealth Youth training of trainers. One thing that I remember is our discussion on how we could run a successful campaign and she shared with me about her“Saving Innocence Challenge” reality show on Bukedde Television, Uganda. This clearly showed to me how much she cared for the young girls facing different challenges. It is very sad for Africa and the world that we have lost a leader, a rock and a brave woman.

Desire Bulya, Office of Uganda’s Ambassador for Women and Girls
“She has inspired everyone through her projects ranging from Saving Innocence Challenge which is a reality show which has changed the lives of girls in teenage pregnancy and through her LIFT programme for the refugees. She has fought gender-based violence through sports and more. We have lost a great leader, a friend, a sister and an inspiration to many.”


Michelle Callander, LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security
Esther was part of a group of amazing young leaders from Uganda and Tanzania who came together in December 2018 for a workshop with the Commonwealth Secretariat. I remember being immediately struck by Essie’s extraordinary calm and poise. It was like she was a still presence in a shifting world.

I am so glad I had that time to talk with her; to learn about her work and her passion for women and girls, and to see her energy and generosity in that group. I remember sitting on the stairs with her and talking about life and drive and commitment and I am so glad that I could tell her how remarkable she was.

We stayed in touch and I was so proud to see her achieve the PEACE Award for her project to build resilience in girls across Uganda. The shock of losing her is acute; but only because the privilege of knowing her was so deeply felt. Bless you and your family, Essie, and thank you for the change you made to so many lives.

All of us in the Commonwealth youth networks will forever be grateful to our  Iroko tree, Esther Nakajjigo, for her courage, zeal and the seeds her work has produced. We owe it to her to grow, to spread our branches and to succeed. In Kiswahili we say:

Kwaheri Essie! (Good night Essie)

Hadi tutakapo onana tena! (Till we meet again)

Esther Nakajjigo, in an interview she did when she was 20 years old.

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Main photograph The Sunrise

All other photographs: Facebook, Esther Nakajjigo and Princess Diana Health Centre Munyonyo

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About the Correspondent: I am Chimaobi Omeye, a Geology graduate of the University of Nigeria. I’m currently a renewable energy (solar) mini-grid data analyst with a leading renewable energy firm in Nigeria and, most importantly, a lover of writing. The degradation of Nigeria has been of major concern to me and I hope to make a huge impact on the development of my country by writing and telling the truth even when it seems hidden. I love my career (geology), environment, renewable energy, politics and football.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/

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