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Retirement Reality: My experience as a physiotherapist

Brief about my self

I was born at 8.00am on Friday 18th December 1953 and my Grandfather named me Ssebbanja. At three and a half months on 27th March 1954, I was baptised in church, given the name Petero, by my father and mother, Kitonsa.  I completed secondary education at the end of 1973 at Namasagali college. In 1974 I joined the school of Physiotherapy at Mulago Hospital, qualified as a Physiotherapist in August 1977, started working at Mulago Hospital under public service. In 1984, I joined the Health Tutors college at Mulago and in 1987 I qualified as a Health Tutor and taught in the Mulago School of Physiotherapy till 1993.

My working career life

In 1987, I was one of the 16 volunteers who founded The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) which grew very fast because of the need and importance of the services it offered. I resigned from public service in 1992 to concentrate on the development of TASO to enable it to become a strong NGO. In TASO, I worked in various capacities at senior managerial level till the end of 2010. I visited many cities in many countries in the process of carrying out my duties. Due to travelling widely, I learned many things and got many friends all over the World.

One of my desires was to be an author. I wrote Annual reports for TASO. One of my great achievements, I wrote several books about the work of TASO. One book titled “UNITED AGAINST AIDS” was published in 2007; and is available on the internet. I was also involved in the production and editing of the documentary video “UNITED AGAINST AIDS, THE TASO STORY”

While at TASO we started a staff savings and credit scheme in 1993. Every month each member saved some money. We opened an account on which we deposited the savings and it accumulated. The members soon began to get soft loans from the scheme which helped many of us to acquire plots of land and build houses. I constructed a residential house in 1992. I also got a loan to buy another plot of land 3 acres for growing food. It helped me to sharply reduce the expenses on food.

In 1993 TASO started saving with NSSF for all its Staff. This was very much welcome by every staff considering that it would support us later in retirement.

In 2002, I went to London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of London, to study for Masters in Health promotion.

My Retirement Journey

While there, I started thinking and planning for retirement from my work at TASO. At that time, I was 50 years old. I decided to plan early before I hit the retirement age of 60. Definitely, I chose to resume private practice to my physiotherapy professional skills.

The aim was to establish a Centre that would provide this essential service to patients. I also wished the Centre to offer employment to some people; and to avail an opportunity to physiotherapy students and interns to practice and acquire skills.

While at the Masters course, I wrote a proposal on what I wished to do during retirement. By the time I returned home, I had written 35 pages. The proposal had the design of the Centre and its operations. I set a vision, mission, values and guiding principles for the Centre. I kept on revising and refining the proposal until l opened the Centre located at Kijabijo, 6.5 kms from Gayaza town along Gayaza- Kalagi road: to start rendering services.

As I shared my proposal with other people some of them thought the Centre was located in a far place which would be difficult to be accessed by patients seeking treatment. This did not change my thoughts, I continued as per my proposal. I had some fear of starting but I overcame it through self-determination.

I used the funds I borrowed from the staff welfare scheme to start construction of the building on 26th September 2006 on a plot of land which I had bought in the year 2000.  The building was completed by the end of 2010 using my NSSF funds which I had accessed. I purchased the Physiotherapy equipment using the funds I received as terminal benefits from TASO. I made sure I equipped the Centre well, with all the basic equipment needed to offer the most appropriate treatment. Some of the equipment was imported from India and Britain; the other was bought here, or made locally. After equipping the Centre, I felt ready to start on 9th May 2011. I had already put in my voluntary retirement notice, at the age of 58.

I must admit that as I was leaving TASO, I had some fears about my future: whether I would earn enough income to continue with comfortable life, as well as be able to pay school fees for my children. I thought I would face a difficult life for some time.  I did some preparations, though to minimise the possible huddles: we doubled our efforts on growing food.  I bought a small car which would be easy for me to maintain. My wife was working with an NGO.

When I started working at the Centre, May 2011 one of the challenges I faced was getting a Physiotherapist willing to work with me, given the little income I earned from the few patients I got initially.  Several of them worked for a short time and left. However, I was able to manage the work alone. The Centre was not yet widely known: I kept on informing my friends, colleagues and medical consultants about it. I distributed brochures containing information about it. The number of patients coming for my services grew gradually. In the first year I treated 42 patients, second year I treated 100. The number kept on increasing annually. In 2019, I treated 307.

The challenge I now face is to expand the Centre to be able to offer accommodation to some patients who find it difficult to commute. I have this as a second phase: to construct a building for accommodation.

The amount of money I have been earning at the Centre is below what I was earning while working at TASO. I thought I would find it very difficult to meet my basic needs and obligations. However, I have been able to adjust according to what I receive. I realised I was going on well with whatever I earned. I got used to the situation and I settled. To date I am quite happy with whatever I receive.

As I work, I feel the freedom to do as I wish; or plan. I have been coming up with my own initiatives of designing some of the equipment I need to offer effective treatment. The benefits I expect drive me to do my work, having no pressure of meeting set targets and delivering reports.

I feel happy that I have treated some of the Professors who taught me while in Mulago hospital. They put trust in my Centre to offer them the appropriate treatment they require. I have also offered treatment to some key dignitaries such as Bishops, priests, Nuns, Permanent Secretaries, Judges. This shows me that my services are appreciated by many; and therefore, I expect a bigger turn-up of patients in future. I have acquired experience in handling private patients; and in treating various conditions.

The Centre has been offering practical training to physiotherapy students and interns.

I still face the challenge of getting a Physiotherapist to work with me at the Centre: young people demand high pay, which I am unable to provide. I expect to overcome this challenge in future when our son who joined the Physiotherapy school completes the course.

My advice on retirement

I think one should start saving money as soon as one starts earning; and should start thinking about retirement at the age of 45. Saving money requires high commitment, determination, sacrifice and strictness. When you earn some money, at least save 10% part of it. It is possible that after for the remaining 90%, you can realise some balance, which you can still save.

It is appropriate to write the plan or proposal on what you wish to do during retirement; and it is fine to share it with some of your close friends or professionals for support or advice. Be careful, and avoid being derailed from your plan. Develop self-commitment to implement the plan. You have to overcome the fear of starting something; and be confident that your plan will succeed. You must be prepared to face challenges as they arise. Your motto should be “we learn by doing”.

Make sure you save some money while you are still earning.

Do not fear retirement: just plan well for it. Be certain about what you would like to do. Just do it.

Petero Kitonsa Ssebbanja


Real-life retirement case-stories and ideas

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