Against all odds – Meet Dr. Catherine Nagadya

 

I got to know Cathy through a mutual friend called Teddy Nalugo. Here is our interview about Cathy’s journey in the STEM field:

Hi Cathy, it is nice to have you join us today!
Thank you, Winnie!

Kindly tell us your full name
My name is Catherine Nagadya, although people prefer calling me Cathy.

What do you do currently?
I am currently doing three main things: first, I am a medical doctor by profession, practising as a medical officer at Kiruddu National Referral Hospital. Second, I am currently in my 2nd year pursuing a master of medicine in general surgery from Makerere University. Lastly, I am also the CEO and Founder of Girls Unstoppable Uganda which supports the education of marginalized adolescent girls by investing in their education, skills, health, and opportunities. We give adolescent girls in secondary school scholarships, scholastic materials, and social support to make sure that they keep in school and get an education. This we believe helps them to realize their full potential, enabling them to be of impact in their communities and the world. My sister – a director and co-founder – and I were able to send our first girl to school in 2017. Currently, we are on girl number 8. We plan to keep these girls in school as long as they continue performing well and being disciplined.

Please take us through your life’s journey
I come from Kyaayi, a village found in Gomba. My parents are Mr. and Mrs. Musisi. I have 7 siblings and I’m the second-last born. Kyaayi is natively a home to Bahima (although I am not one, lol), who are nomadic pastoralists. My community is made of farmers mostly and remote. Growing up, we didn’t have good roads, schools, running water, and electricity – we still have no electricity, in this current Uganda, hhmm. We recently got water and the roads upgraded up to about 30kms from my home village. Currently, there is a Universal Secondary school but when I was young, we had only one Universal Primary School (UPE). Kyaayi P/S had 4 classes and 1 building that housed 3 classes and a staff room/office. This meant that the P.1 class found shelter under a tree that exists up to this day. I went to Kyaayi P/S for P.1 and then joined my siblings at St. Aloysius Bukalagi Primary School in Gomba. Where I studied from until my Primary Leaving Examinations PLE in 2003.

In my community, girl education was never a priority and hence few of my age mates and peers made it to upper primary school and beyond. Routinely, they dropped out of school to get married. The reasons for dropping out of school ranged from socio-economical to the fact that there were no schools and role models. My community equally had just a health center II equipped for just deliveries and immunization. So someone like my dad, who is diabetic and hypertensive had to travel to Mulago – Kampala every month for treatment. Illness in my community would sink people further into poverty as it was just an impoverishing expense. Taxis from my village are scheduled to leave very early in the morning, like 05:00, and return late in the night. Therefore, if someone fell sick during the day, they would have to wait till the next day to get to the hospital or better health center. There was equally a need to first sell something like ghee, poultry, or a goat to be able to afford that trip. As you are already guessing, most of them would die. All this pushed me to become a medical doctor. I wanted to be able to offer health care to people from my community.

Coming from a big family made achieving good private education hard! Our family was equally extended and my parents had to pay school fees for all of us! It was difficult and we got by through loans and selling off of farm produce like cows, maize, and beans

After primary school, I joined St. Mary Goretti’s college Katende for O’level and Mengo S.S for my A’level. I did BCM/FN (Biology, Chemistry Mathematics and foods, and nutrition). I was hard working and passed highly throughout the school. Following my A’level, I filled forms for government sponsorship and I got Human Nutrition and dietetics on government sponsorship instead of medicine and surgery that I desired because I filled my forms poorly! I was able to get it under private sponsorship but it cost a lot of money. My dad advised me to do my government-sponsored course first, get a job, then pay my way through medicine. The timelines were not in my favor though! Human Nutrition is a 4 years long course, I would need a few years to work and save and then go for medicine and surgery probably 7-8 years later!

I hoped to get a scholarship along the way like from the district quota, state house, possibly Madhivani, etc and I started looking for scholarships right away. Unfortunately, my dad got very sick during my second year holiday. He got a bad hand infection and given his pre-existent comorbidities and delay in seeking care, the infection advanced to a point of requiring multiple surgeries and a prolonged hospital stay. It was catastrophic on our finances as a family, lucky for us – he came out alive but with a non-functional dominant hand. Because of this, I almost dropped out of school! Thank God there was a timely scholarship from Wells Mountain Initiative. This miracle of provision impacted my family in ways I can never put to words and as for me, it set me on a path to pay it forward.

I graduated and started my medical internship at St. Mary’s Hospital, Lacor. I used some of my internship savings and money from my graduation party to start Girls Unstoppable Uganda. Before my current role, I worked as a Resident Media doctor at Mifumi Health Centre, then Deputy Director at Mifumi Health Services.

I believe we have captured what your challenges have been. Unless you have something to add
Not really! My initial challenges have turned out to be stepping stones or driving forces. For example, the challenges in my childhood pushed me to become the doctor that I am today. It is still a dream that I have and hope one day I will construct a hospital for my community.

We haven’t heard much about what inspires you. Please tell us about that
It was always inspiring to learn of people who have changed their lives because of the education they received and I have always had this gut feeling that there is more to my life than just existing. I have a divine purpose and that inspires me to press towards it.

What are some of your prestigious achievements and awards

  • I started surgical and in-patient services, blood transfusion, and Comprehensive HIV care at Mifumi Health Center.
  • I Led the construction of 1 borehole for residents of Nyakasana village funded by Ambassador self Help Grant from the U.S. Embassy.
  • I led the successful implementation of securing the healthier lives project for residents of Mifumi Heath services funded by comic relief.
  • I helped enroll Mifumi Health Center into the reproductive health voucher project network – funded by the world bank and implemented by Marisetopes Uganda.
  • In 2018, I became the 3rd recipient of the President Award given by Wells mountain Initiative. It was worth 1,000 USD and I used the money to promote Girls Unstoppable work.
  • In 2019, I traveled to the US as an ambassador for Wells Mountain Initiative
  • I have received 2 micro-grants because of the work I do in the medical field and with Girls Unstoppable.

What do you do outside work?
I bake, cook, read, write, travel, and watch movies

Share with us some words of encouragement
There is surely nothing impossible under the sun. Like the Bible says, “With God everything is possible”. If there’s a dream, go for it. The divine helpers will be aligned along the way. Have faith like God has called you into that life.

Favorite quote
Now and again a generation is called upon to be great. You can be that great generation” – Nelson Mandela.

Thank you Cathy for taking your time to share with us. Please keep doing what you do with those girls.

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6 Responses

  1. Catherine, you story is so amazing, it depicts someone ready to go against all odds. your are truly Unstoppable, keep going…

  2. While watching the “docshow” on UBC 5th May ’22, i just got this inspiration to do a google search of the host, Dr C. Nagadya. I found this page and am not disappointed.

    Dr Nagadya your humble background and the work you’re doing is extremely humbling. This rags to hero story is one we all ought to embrace to serve society with a sense of humility.

    Thank you and God bless you and your works.

    1. Thank you for reading, Andrew! Cathy is an inspiration and a true definition of humility at work. We are very proud of who she is.

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