Daniel Kabugo spent his childhood living without clothes and food during the Ugandan Bush War – a civil conflict that spanned 1981-1986 and ravaged many Ugandan villages, displacing an estimated 400,000 people. Today, Daniel is leading Adara’s Maternal, Newborn and Child Health work in Uganda. His mission? To gives others the chances he never had.
If you ask Daniel Kabugo about his heroes, his mother is the first to come to mind.
Stella Kabugo fled into the Ugandan bush with six young children as soldiers raided her village in the early 1980’s. This was the beginning of a fight for survival where she would spend her days foraging for food, cooking only under the cover of darkness, and negotiating with rebel soldiers to secure her family’s safety.
“I will die for my kids,” she told a neighbour when they suggested she leave her children behind. Abandoning them simply was not an option.
At the age most learn to read and write, Daniel and his siblings were living in the Luwero triangle – right in the heart of the country’s vicious civil war.
Over the next few years, up to half a million people across the country would lose their lives. The Kabugo family’s normal was a backdrop of never-ending elephant grass and dense forest, with many nights punctuated by gunfire and the cries of rebel fighters.
Daniel was nine years old when his family retreated from the bush to a home that had been destroyed by the conflict. Still a child, Daniel knew more about scarcity and fear than many experience in their entire lives, but he also knew more about love and sacrifice – it was taught to him by his mother.
“She gave what she had for our lives,” Daniel says, his voice heavy with reverence and respect. “Even now, she has not given up on supporting and caring for many people – even those we don’t know that have grown up in my village. She cares for them and is like a home. She’s like a mother to the nation.”
As Daniel sits in the Adara Sydney office talking about his mother, four decades separating him from the horrors of his childhood, it becomes clear how he became the man he is today. Kind, gentle, selfless – just like his mother. It’s only natural he would end up dedicating his life to the service of others.
“I think for me, my upbringing gave me a taste of the hard life. My passion has always been and will continue to be working with vulnerable children and people.”Daniel Kabugo, Uganda Country Director
Despite spending his formative years in the wilds of the Ugandan bush, Daniel learnt how to overcome adversity. Having little after the war, Daniel and his family had to work extraordinarily hard to ensure they got a quality education.
“At school we had nothing to use: no stationary, no books. We utilised what we could. We worked around the school instead of paying fees; gardening, making bricks, chopping firwood, even bringing teachers food and water so they would put us in their class.”
Daniel’s late father, Christopher, was a pastor. Daniel recalls Christopher doing his best to bring home seeds and coffee to support his children, while his mother and siblings also worked in agriculture. At 12 years old, Daniel was travelling over 50 kilometres a week on an old bicycle as a fish monger to afford to stay in school.
Through this persistence and dedication, Daniel worked his way to college, where he studied and worked in Motor Vehicle Technology. However, this was not work Daniel enjoyed.
When the opportunity arose to work as an X-ray technician at Kiwoko Hospital, Daniel jumped on the chance. He worked his way up to Laboratory Manager, and this was when he first came to know about Adara. At the time, we were in the early years of developing the Kiwoko neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
“I saw what Adara was doing with tiny babies in the NICU, and I knew I wanted to be doing this excellent work. We shared the same motivation, saving lives. I was inspired by Adara in many ways, and I thought, what can I contribute?”Daniel Kabugo, Uganda Country Director
While still working as Laboratory Manager, Daniel volunteered for Adara. During this time, he was connected with the Ebenezer Boys, a group of 27 boys we supported who had been found living on the streets and in desperate need of help. We provided care and educational support to rehabilitate the Ebenezer Boys, and directly managed their care and education.
“In 2008 I came to know a little bit about the Ebenezer Boys project, and I was asked to be a volunteer. I came to know the boys and support them. I nurtured and supported them as they grew up”, he says.
Daniel was a major part of this programme, supporting us to find the best possible education opportunities for these young men. While the Ebenezer boys have now graduated from our care, Daniel is still a mentor to many of them.
Daniel’s enormous commitment to this project, while only a volunteer for Adara, cemented his commitment to helping others. Just like his mother.
Daniel volunteered for Adara until 2014, when he was hired as Uganda Country Manager. This involved overseeing all our in-country work in Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. A few years later, he was promoted to our Uganda Country Director.
Since taking on this role, Dan has led a period of significant growth for Adara. When Dan first began, we had only 4 staff in our Uganda office and our work was primarily centred on our partnership with Kiwoko Hospital. Today, Adara’s Uganda office has 17 staff, and the work is scaling nationally. Dan and his team also work closely with other organisations, facilities and the government.
With 25 years’ experience working in partnership with Kiwoko Hospital to develop a Centre of Excellence, we are now scaling our programmes to accelerate change across Uganda through our AdaraNewborn model. AdaraNewborn is an ambitious programme to expand our high impact, evidence-based model of maternal and newborn care to 10 facilities in Uganda over the next decade. It aims to halve newborn deaths and stillbirths in these facilities.
Looking forward, Daniel is excited about this expansion of Adara’s work. He is pleased to see the work he started continue to grow.
“I see AdaraNewborn as a key opportunity of sharing our knowledge with the public. I’m motivated seeing more doors being opened in terms of Adara’s growth. There are many great things coming. We need to do what we can do in a single day and save one life at a time.”Daniel Kabugo, Uganda Country Director
Daniel’s journey to Adara’s Uganda Country Director is an extraordinary trajectory – miraculous and a testament to his passion and tenacity.
“There’s no one quite like Dan,” says Madeline Vaughan, Adara’s Chief Executive Officer. “The day he entered our world was a great day for Adara. We feel incredibly grateful to have someone like Dan – with his incredible skill, heart and courage – leading our work into the future.”