We met on January 4 this year, the day I arrived in Kampala, full of excitement and trepidation to volunteer with Hospice Africa Uganda, a charity whose mission is to ensure dying and seriously ill people in Africa have a peaceful and pain-free end of life.
My plan was to stay in Uganda for four weeks. I didn't bargain on still being here four months later. And I certainly didn't bargain on Pearl, and the way she would look at you, and the fact she would steal my heart.
Pearl is almost three years old. She is a tiny imp, bright as a button, and full of personality, mischief and fun. Her mum, Lydia, is 24 and unmarried, typical of so many young women in Uganda. Lydia got pregnant by Pearl's dad a second time last year and gave birth to Liam at the end of January. Again, typical in Uganda, Pearl's father is not around to support them.
Until Liam's birth, Lydia worked in the home of the founder of Hospice Africa and Hospice Africa Uganda, Dr Anne Merriman. 2014 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr Anne, who is almost 81, is an inspirational woman. She introduced palliative care to Africa in 1993 and over the last 23 years her charity has ensured that 27,000 people have had a dignified end to their life.
Dr Anne's house is full of love and activity. There are 10 dogs, six cats, and lots of visitors passing through. But best of all there is Ryan, aged 6, Vicky, aged 3, and Pearl, children of the girls who work there.
I lived with Dr Anne for three months and it was joyful to come home from hospice in the evening - often stressed after a tough day on a home visit to a dying patient - to be met by three cheeky faces waiting to be entertained by "Jaja " Miriam. (Jaja means grandmother in Uganda. I now have them trained to call me "Aunt Miriam" instead)
As I settled into life here, I began to learn a lot about the country and the culture. I was shocked to realise that education was not free and I saw first-hand how parents struggled to pay school fees so they could give their children a decent chance in life.
For people in low-paid jobs, there are three priorities in life: to provide a roof over the family's head; to feed them; and to get the fees so the children can go to school. The children of the girls who work for Dr Anne are lucky because they have "sponsors" - through Dr Anne's network - who pay their school fees. The girls and their children are part of Dr Anne's extended 'family'. She loves and cherishes each one dearly and takes a huge interest in their welfare and education.
One of the issues I struggle with here is the fact that so many women are second-class citizens and they face huge challenges - discrimination, low social status, lack of money, and risk of HIV/AIDS infection.
Men expect their women to be docile and subservient. They generally make the decisions and are often proud and boast of the fact that they have cheated on their wives. I have heard how men are unwilling to use condoms and force themselves on their wives or girlfriends. Dreadful in a country where HIV/AIDS is still prevalent.
Sadly, many young girls sell sex for economic survival. It is common for girls to become sexually active at a much younger age than men, adding to the incidences of HIV/AIDS.
Teenage pregnancy is also high and poses a huge risk to the health of both the mother and the baby.
Pearl's mother is a bright, pretty, intelligent woman with a bubbly personality. Lydia has completed a catering course and at one stage worked in the kitchen of an international school.
Her mother died when she was very young and she was raised by her dad, a good man who did his best for his family.
Lydia has a dream, and that is to bring Pearl and Liam abroad to live. She feels she and her family will have more opportunities there.
I was honoured and chuffed to be asked by Lydia to be Pearl's godmother. She had both her children christened at St Denis's Shrine in Munyonyo on April 10 by a wonderful Polish Franciscan priest, Father Adam Mutebi.
I knew that, unlike in Ireland, where god-parents don't often play an active role in their god-children's upbringing, being Pearl's godmother meant responsibilities. There is an expectation that I will guide and mentor her, and assist in any way I can with her upbringing.
As part of this role, I have decided to pay for Pearl's education. She starts kindergarten in Savannah Nursery School in Makindye, Kampala, in June, when she turns three. I visited the school last week. It's a happy, cheerful place.
Financially, it is not going to be a huge drain. Her term fee will be around €120 and I will also pay for her school uniform and books. To put this in context, the most Lydia can expect to earn a month with her current skills is €70. There is no way she could pay for her children's education as well.
I will get Pearl's school reports every term and will closely follow her progress, even when I am back in Ireland. I am looking forward to seeing her blossom and do well.
I am doing this for several reasons. Not to show off or be praised or to be told I am great. First off, I love Pearl. Secondly, I am lucky that I am in the financial position to be able to pay for her school fees. Thirdly, I would hate to think that Pearl might end up in the situation that so many young women in Uganda fall into. I would love to help her so she gets a decent education and a good chance at life.
I am also helping Lydia with fees to do a night course in Tourism and Administration. I know that with the help and guidance, Lydia can make a real go of her life. She has the brains to do it.
Pearl is only one of thousands of children in Uganda who would flourish if they got the right start in life. I have already reared my own two children, now aged 26 and 24. They have been very lucky and blessed with their lives and they are very supportive of Pearl, their little "god-sister".
The last four months have been life-changing for me. My experience here has put lots of things into perspective. I am proud to be involved with a charity that is giving people the greatest gift of all - that of a peaceful end of life.
And I am proud to be taking a little bit of Uganda home in my heart. A little person called Pearl.
Hospice Africa Uganda has Give a Chance projects in the UK, Denmark and the USA which support young patients, and children of patients, in their education. It is planning to start Give a Chance in Ireland later this year. If you would like to help email email@example.com