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Dwelling Places; A Dawn of Hope for Uganda’s Street Kids

Kampala city has undergone significant physical development along with endless business opportunities and an increasing population over the years to make it Uganda’s biggest town.

However, capsule http://dcointl.com/wp-content/plugins/contact-form-7/modules/really-simple-captcha.php with this growth has also come an equal or even greater proportion of inequality in economic status of its dwellers.

This explains why while driving around the city, sale it is not difficult for one to cast sight on beggars and Innocent Street kids who depend on begging for a coin to get through the day.

There are very many of these street kids littered across Kampala but a big chunk is often camped in Wandegeya as well as the stretch from Kampala Road to Jinja Road. Dressed in tatters, looking filthy and a striking appearance of need, they call on and run after every passerby hoping to get lucky.

Amatun Racheal is in her Senior One at Upland High School but all hasn’t been glitters for her. In 2006 while she was in Primary Two, she fled her home and became a street kid in Kampala city. Her family had been living in destitution at the time, with no food at home and life wasn’t easy.

ChimpReports spoke with her as she reported for her third term at school in September this year. I found Amatun and her other friends at Dwelling Places in Mutundwe, a Kampala suburb preparing for school. Dwelling Places is a Christian not-for-profit organization that rescues, rehabilitates and resettles street kids.

“I used to go on the street to beg for money so I could provide for my jobless parents and 4 other siblings. I was seven by then. Life on the streets was terrible,” she tells me. Amatun, smartly dressed in her school uniform can now afford a smile. Tattered cloths and hungry days are a thing of the past.

Her tale is one that depicts the risky, difficult and dangerous world that the streets are.

“Sometimes you won’t get even a single coin the whole day yet you have to feed yourself and other siblings. The KCCA officials used to arrest us and take us to Kampiringisa where we mixed up with criminals and often got beaten up.”

While they both survive on the kindness of the fortunate, female street kids tend to be more vulnerable compared to their male counterparts. Naturally, boys come off as more resilient. However, for her this wasn’t the case.

“If you know your purpose of going to the street, you don’t get swayed off into reckless behavior. I personally was never raped but some girls were. When we fell sick we just slept and if we were lucky, some good Samaritans would take us for medical assistance.” Amatun added.

After eight years of braving the scorching sun and all other conditions begging for money and food, Dwelling Places had offered her solace. “Now, I can manage to get education, health care and all school requirements. I want to become a doctor when I finish school because there are so many street kids who need medical assistance.”

Children under the program receive their basic requirements as they report to school for a new term.

Children under the program receive their basic requirements as they report to school for a new term.

We spoke to Jenny Wamala who is the Public Relations Officer at Dwelling Places to understand the fate of these homeless children and how they (Dwelling Places) are helping decongest the streets of these kids. So far, a total of 1,244 children have passed through the program which advocates for every child to grow up in a home setting with a parent figure. The program has two homes; one in Mutundwe (for girls) and one in Buloba for the boys.

How do you rescue these children?

For a child to be recruited, they must be in the eligible age bracket; 14 for girls and 13 for boys. They need to be vulnerable. Some street kids are full time while others do it on a part time basis. In this case, priority is given to the one who is on street full time. We also prioritize the young ones and girls.

So, we have a rescue team with about 8 people which goes to the streets and identifies these kids, build a rappel with the kids. They then talk to the child about taking them in and if they accept, they are brought into the homes. For those children who are accompanied by adults, we seek permission from them.

In what state do you find these children?

Just last week, we rescued a bunch of 18 kids. At the moment when we bring them in, they are usually filthy dirty, infected with diseases and covered in wounds. Some come when they are drunk on opium and petrol. Majority of them say they sniff this petrol to feel the warmth in the midst of the cold night, hunger and sadness. It begins like that and eventually becomes an addiction.

Former street kids playing football at one of the Dwelling Places homes. Such activities help them bond and get a sense of belonging.

Former street kids playing football at one of the Dwelling Places homes. Such activities help them bond and get a sense of belonging.

Why do the kids flee their homes?

When you listen to them, it’s more of neglect on the part of the parent where the kids feel they haven’t been taken care of. In some other cases, it is orphan hood, child abuse and mistreatment from their parents them.

Karamoja and the child trafficking trade

In the case of the Karimajong children, the majority are trafficked by individuals who seek to earn from them begging on the streets. People gain a lot because they give them targets of say 20,000 per day or else they don’t get where to sleep at night or even eat. If you have watched closely, these companions are always monitoring them closely. For them, it’s a business. Imagine if somebody lined up 20 kids of less than 4 years to earn him 20,000 shs daily. That is good money.

What we have done is try to sensitize the parents and local leaders in Karimajong to not let their children be deceived by selfish opportunists into job opportunities in Kampala.

Some of the supported chidren share a meal

Some of the supported chidren share a meal

What’s life like in the homes?

On the first day, they go through a health assessment by nurses while also undertake the legal processes of getting care orders to allow us have them in the home. The kids are then given basic requirements and assigned a bed. We ensure that each one of them gets a doll. These dolls are meant to keep them company since they haven’t yet established a bond between them.

They will wake up in the morning, bathe, take breakfast and then go to school. At school, they attend a creative learning centre which helps us to gage which class is fit for them once they are resettled. Like any other school going children, they get occupied with activities like sports, speech days, do exams.

During weekends and after school they will come back home, do house chores, watch TV and go to church on Sunday. Spiritual orientation is very fundamental because this is what will inform the kind of choices they will make in future as well as their values. This home kind of feeling eases their transition back to society.

Counseling sessions are also a significant part of the rehabilitation process. Through this counselling, we establish their background information and what could have forced them to leave their homes for the street.

Children engage in classwork at the creative learning centre.

Children engage in classwork at the creative learning centre.

Resettlement

The social workers upon getting iformation on the home areas and relatives of the kids, they start to search for relatives. However, even when we have established their families, we don’t rush to release the children to them. We are keen on ensuring that the rehabilitation and counseling make an impact on the children.

How about those that don’t have parents?

Those whose parents we can’t trace, we place them under foster care. Another family accepts them in their homes and takes care of them. So, during school holidays they will be staying with these foster parents. However, we are always very careful with the families we give these children. For one to qualifyto foster a child, they must be a married couple and with no record of child abuse. There’s an amazing story of a very kind family which took in a child with sickle cell anemia. These are kids that often require a lot of time and care.

Reaction from the kids on reunion with family

Most times when I pay them (children) a visit, they will ask to know when they are going home. Much as we try to make them feel at home, they miss their families and for them it can never feel like home. Upon reaching their real homes, many of them break down in tears and apologize for fleeing. It is always an emotional story.

What challenges do you meet?

Our biggest challenge is the child traffickers in Karamoja who stop street kids from joining our program even when they (children) are willing. At some point, we have had to engage Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) to jump in and assist us. It is bad when you see the need but you can’t do anything about it.

The other problem is funding. We are a not for profit organization and looking after over 500 kids who need to be fed, given medical care and education requires a lot of money. We entirely depend on donations, grants and well-wishers who offer to sponsor the kids. Alternatively, we do raise funds through activities like ‘Pack a Bag’, a campaign where people give in scholastic materials, a Yard Sell where we sell already used items and an annual fundraising walk to Karamoja from Kampala.

Message to parents and government

Everyone who has a child under their care shouldn’t treat them as property but rather love them and give them the attention they require. Parents need to also understand children’s rights and how to protect them. If you really loved your child, you wouldn’t let them engage in street begging or child labor. The community needs to also be involved in looking out for children as it used to be the case in the past.

Local leadership should also weigh in and penalize those violating children’s rights. We’ve already seen government amend the Children’s Act as well as the ‘Sauti’, a toll free line for reporting issues of child abuse.

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