INSPIRATION: How South Sudanese-born Professional Ugandan Netball Player Mary Nuba Defied the Odds

Though challenges are meant to build and grow us, many times when we face trials we throw in the towel. We try something different or give up totally.

If you ever think of giving up, then Mary Cholhok Nuba’s story will certainly make you change your mind.

Mary, who lost her father at a young age, became a refugee and had a baby at a tender age, still managed to make a name for herself in the netball arena.

Mary was born in South Sudan 22 years ago and lost her father at the age of 5. Due to the conflict between the Sudanese government and the People’s Liberation Army the following year, Mary, her five siblings and her mother had to leave Sudan for Uganda with the help of her uncle. Her uncle, who had to play the role of father, made sure the gap was well-filled, Mary has said.

Many people view academics as their way out of poverty. This was the case with Mary who worked hard in school to please her uncle and always made sure she came out with flying colours.

Mary’s dream was to study at one of the best schools in Uganda, St Mary’s SS Kitende, but it wasn’t that easy; she needed a scholarship for that. 

A recommendation to the netball coach was like an answer to her prayers. Her accounts teacher spotted her talent when she was in Senior 2 (Grade 9); that was the beginning of a new life for Mary.

“It was an offer I could not refuse because I knew if I performed well, I would be given a bursary. It was not my choice to play netball but now I like the game,” she said in an interview with Daily Monitor Magazine.

Mary fell in love with the game, but life was not that easy for her as she had to put in at least two hours of training every evening in order to get a grasp of the game. There is also a lot of travelling involved and though there was a little bit of money, it was difficult for Mary to balance school and sport.

More hours in the field meant a drop in her grades academically and her uncle ended up asking her to quit netball in order to focus on her studies. Netball is not very popular in Uganda and it was a challenge to get her family to accept and understand that she could excel in the game.

When she thought her life was on track and she was getting ready to advance her studies, Mary became pregnant and had a choice: get into an early marriage or give birth as a single mother and face criticism by the community for becoming pregnant in high school. She chose the latter, though some of her relatives wanted her to get married.

“I was not casual in my attitude toward sex, nor was I educated, but when I met my then-boyfriend (whom she refuses to name), I fell madly in love. We were not promiscuous. We were in love. We were naïve. When my class joined A-Level (Grade 10), without me, friends called, but it hurt to hear what I was missing, I cannot imagine what life is like for girls who are forced into motherhood,” she said in the same interview.

In most African countries having a baby out of wedlock is an abomination and to hide from social critics, many parents force their daughters into unplanned marriages. Mary was lucky to have an uncle who respected her decisions. In 2017 she was blessed with a son whom she named Laat, Luganda for warrior strong.

After giving birth, Mary did not stop chasing her dream. She managed to get a place at Nkumba University and though it meant less time with her son, she had to pursue her dream and she has an even greater reason to live for.

“I know I have space to do whatever I want. I also have a reason to wake up and work hard because I have to take care of my child. I spend several weeks without seeing my son or even stepping at university, especially when we are training with the national team. But I always make it a point to catch up on what I have missed using my phone,” she said in an interview with the same publication in 2018.

Mary has raised the Ugandan flag high playing for the She Cranes national team at the Netball African Championships and 2019 Netball World Cup in England. She is now in England playing for Loughborough Lighting and this is just the beginning for her. One of her dreams is to provide inspiration through her story.

“I cannot figure out what I can do but I have to play netball, become someone and be able to help my people using my story. I do not care how or when,” she also said.

In an interview with NTV Uganda in 2018 she said:

“I’m just one individual but this brings a lot of support for the two countries, South Sudan and Uganda. It’ll bring support for sports for both countries.” 

Oprah Winfrey once said, “When you give up on life, never give up on yourself, because there is so much for you to keep on giving!” Keep on giving, keep on going!

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