‘Strong, loving woman’ from Ottawa dies from injuries in Uganda
Justice Department adviser was with family on charity mission to her homeland
Ottawa public servant Agnes Zabali had returned to Uganda to mark the one year anniversary of her mother’s death.
But a tragic road accident took Zabali’s life before she could reach her mother’s village, Kamengo, southwest of Kampala. It means Zabali will likely be laid to rest beside her mother in the Kamengo cemetery.
“She was one of those strong, strong, loving women,” said her niece, Tina Hughes, of Ottawa. “She was always fit and active. She was someone who was always working, volunteering or cooking for other people.”
Zabali, 53, a compensation adviser with the federal justice department, died Thursday from the injuries she suffered in a roadside accident on Dec. 19.
She was hit by a garbage truck while standing near a police roadblock in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Her legs were crushed in the accident and later amputated in hospital. Zabali, who underwent a second surgery earlier this week, suffered blood pressure and kidney problems in hospital. The wounds in her legs also developed infections, which led to sepsis.
The local charity with which she volunteered, the Canada-Africa Community Health Care Alliance (CACHA), announced that she had died Thursday morning:
“It is with great sadness that I inform you all that Agnes passed away today. Our hearts are with her family to support them through this difficult time.”
In an interview, Dr. Don Kilby, the founder of CACHA, called Zabali “a strong and heroic woman.”
Zabali came to Canada as a refugee in 1985 during the Ugandan civil war. She earned a diploma in business information systems at Algonquin College, then worked at several jobs in order to save enough money to sponsor her sons, Jimmy, Caesar and Dove.
One of her sons, Jimmy Sebulime, 34, an Algonquin College graduate and CACHA employee, suffered serious head injuries in the same roadside accident in Uganda, but is now recovering in a Kampala hospital.
Zabali had been placed on life support for several days until Sebulime had time to be made aware of his mother’s dire circumstances.
Sebulime works as a finance officer for the aid organization and frequently travels to Uganda to help manage medical missions and development projects.
Zabali often accompanied her son on those aid missions. She also raised money for water and school projects in her former village.
“Those are the values she had,” said her brother, Richard Hughes. “Even being here in Canada, she never forgot her home, and the people there.”
Earlier this month, five family members had travelled from Ottawa to Uganda to attend a memorial service for Zabali’s mother, who died last year. Included in the group was Zabali; her sister, Christine; her son, Jimmy; her husband, Fred Katende; and their daughter, Aidah, 11, a student at Convent Glen Catholic School in Ottawa.
The accident happened less than two hours after they landed in the country.
The group was travelling from the airport toward Kamengo when they were stopped at a police roadblock. Everyone got out of their cars and stood at the side of the road.
“All of a sudden, this garbage truck came from nowhere, from nowhere, and hit us,” Fred Katende, a nurse practitioner at The Ottawa Hospital, said in an earlier interview.
Katende was standing next to the four people who were struck. A police officer and one of Katende’s Ugandan nephews were hit, but their injuries were not as serious as those suffered by Zabali and Sebulime. Sebulime suffered a skull fracture, a broken jaw and a broken arm, among other injuries. He’s expected to be released from hospital later this week.
CACHA has started a trust fund to defray the family’s health-care costs. They did not have travel insurance and will not benefit from a car insurance settlement.