Saturday, June 22, 2013

Karamoja: Day Five

DAY 5:
"According to the observations made by the Sweet Sleep staff during the 4 days while working with the indigenous partner organization together with the Community Development Centre team, the problem of poor sleeping conditions indeed exists among the children in the various families and boarding schools within Karamoja region.

Karamoja is characterized by generally low rainfall distribution, reliability and soil fertility. The region has only one rainy season and experiences cyclical droughts and erratic rainfall which have affected crop production and pasture for livestock hence having a direct negative effect on the live hood of the population. The region suffers from high levels of illiteracy, poverty, poor infrastructure and there are reported cases of malaria among children due to a lot of mosquitoes that were observed during the nights.

Given the above factors, many homesteads lack the capacity to provide beds and beddings for their children as a result of low economic activities within the region coupled with strong cultural ties.
Most of the various communities that Sweet Sleep reached during day 5 and within the previous days, it was observed that the kind of  huts “Manyatas” that serve as houses for the Karamojong are indeed very small when compared to those huts built in other parts of the Northern region like Gulu and are widely sparsely populated. In these huts, many of the children were found to be sleeping on dried animal skins without blankets and treated mosquito nets to cover themselves.

On the side of the existing Boarding schools in the region, the sleeping conditions among the children is not any better as they are greatly populated with many children sharing beds with small mattresses on them while others are sleeping down on mats which are also shared.

Among the schools that Sweet Sleep was able to reach are Kangole Boys, Kangole girls and Kapwachi Primary School all located in Napak District and Moroto Municipal Council primary school in Moroto district. These are all Government schools whereby the kinds of children within these schools are orphaned, neglected/abandoned, returnees or vulnerable. The children are either being supported by individuals or different Organizations such as the indigenous partner organization that help them by paying their school fees and meeting part of their scholastic materials.

In addition to the above schools, Sweet Sleep staff was also able to reach to one of the only orphanage home within this region called “Charity Sister’s Mission Home for the Poor”. The is home under the Catholic Nuns who are taking care of the 38 total orphans with good sleeping conditions and only lacked mosquito nets at the moment.

With the problem of poor sleeping conditions being at the extreme in most of the schools within the Karamoja region, UNICEF tried to provide some bunker beds, mattresses, blankets and bed sheets to only those schools that are organized and with good permanent structures within the region.

In spite of the efforts made by UNICEF, the problem of poor sleeping conditions is still very prevalent especially among the children in the local communities and in schools. The problem is further widened and contributed by the existence of the following challenges within Karamoja region:
  •     Highest levels of poverty among the people within the region that forces the local people to sell off any kind of material support that may be provided.
  •     High levels of illiteracy among the population of Karamoja region
  •     The strong culture beliefs existing among some sectors of the population in Karamoja region
  •     Lack of proper infrastructures like roads linking to various communities
  •     Hostility of some sectors of the population within the region whereby some tribes tend to be aggressive especially when their expectations are not highly satisfied. In other words, the hostile sectors of the population may sometimes ask for a lot of support.
  •     The rainy season usually causes a lot of floods hence making many roads almost impassable. 
Therefore, to address the problem of poor sleeping conditions and to expand its work in this region, Sweet Sleep has to so much establish a strong networking mechanism with other key stakeholders dealing with children focused programmes within the Karamoja region.
Among the key organizations that are operating within the Karamoja region and were approached by the Sweet Sleep staff in the light of establishing a possible working relationship were:
  •      Community Development Centre
  •    the partner organization
  •       Save the Children
  •      UNICEF
  •       Moroto Probation Office

For all the above mentioned organizations, they are in position to deliver the Sweet Sleep items from one storage point in Karamoja to the distribution centres."

Friday, June 21, 2013

Karamoja: Day Four

DAY 4:
"Inspired to be cuddled by children, I woke up very early in the morning ready to move with the education group after spending the previous day with the resettlement group with which I shared some intensive emotional moments.
That morning I was able to have a soda with a Chapati for breakfast as the rest of the team also enjoyed their breakfast with some tea and bread which I bought for the team.
Having had breakfast, we started to prepare all the children whom we were going to place in schools. The children were provided with scholastic materials, blankets, shoes, panties and boxes or metallic suit cases that were provided by the Community Development Centre to mention a few among others.

Returnees being helped and prepared by the team members to go to school where they were placed.

It was an exciting moment for the children as they received their school items from the education group and I was very happy too because of Sweet Sleep being part of this exercise. With so many children to fit in the only car that we had, it took us a while to load everything but somehow we finally managed to load everything.
Shortly after loading everything, we set off our journey to Kapwachi Primary school which is one of the Government schools within the Karamoja region.

                             Returnees leaving the Community Development Centre for school.
Kapwachi Primary School is both a Day and Boarding school that serves like an orphanage home/school in nature but with all children paying some school fees. The indigenous partner organization is responsible for paying the school fees of all the returnees that were enrolled and placed in that school under the partner organization's care. By the time of placing all the children in that school, the partner organization had already paid the school fees for all the 12 returnees that were placed in that school.
On arrival at the school, the old pupils were very excited to receive new children within their school and immediately the team started distributing the scholastic materials and other school related resettlement items to the returnees who had already been enrolled in this very school to attain formal education.

The already enrolled Returnees receiving their resettlement school packages for term one.

On the side of the sleeping condition at this school, some children do have beds though squeezed while others are sleeping down. Most of the children at this are really vulnerable and when I interacted with some of those sleeping down, they expressed to me that they are indeed fade up of sleeping down because ever since their child hood, they have always kept on sleeping down on the floor. They said that it feels good and great whenever a child sleeps on a bed of his or her own and sure they emphasized how jealousy they felt seeing other children sleeping on beds while them are sleeping down.
Sleeping conditions at Kapwachi Primary School

Some of the beds in the dorms
Through a quick count, 124 girls at this school don’t have beds though they do have some mattresses, bed sheets and blankets in a fair state. On the side of mosquito nets, those that I managed to see had holes in them and many of the children lacked mosquito nets. Otherwise, there is need for Sweet Sleep items at this school."

Join us tomorrow for the final day of Josephine's Journal

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Karamoja: Day Three

DAY 3:
"We started the day with a late breakfast of black tea without any edibles which Tea I really failed to take in spite of trying my level best to do so. The water in this location is somehow contaminated with lot of minerals and not so fresh for drinking unless when may be treated first. The would be water bodies with perhaps fresh waters are very far and this region being a mountainous area, most of the water tastes salty with somehow a bad smell.  The prepared Tea still tasted salty even when sugar was added to it hence one easily failing to take it.

 With the same water, it was also observed that one needs to use a lot of soap in order to create enough foam for meaningful bathing and washing of clothes.

Having had this kind of experience with water in Karamoja, we made ourselves ready to go to the field so as to embark on the resettlement exercise which to me was yet another experience in my life. It was decided in a brief meeting that the resettlement group was to start the exercise by resettling the two children who were not returned to Karamoja along with their parents.

Michael and Agnes are the two children who were returned to Karamoja off the streets of Kampala without their parents. With the help of one vehicle a Land Cruiser by model provided by the Community Development Centre, we embarked on the journey to the field to trace Michael’s home first.
After a few minutes of the journey, I realized and learnt that in life we should always rejoice and thank God for the simple pleasures that God has always surrounded us with because God was opening my eyes to totally a new world. With what I saw, one doesn’t need to ask questions why Karamoja region is said to suffer with the highest poverty levels with 80% of its total population living below the poverty line.
Most of the areas that we passed through were dry with very poor infrastructure, poor soil fertility and with no signs of agricultural production at all.

Being a child, Michael could still afford a smile as we meandered though the rocky impassable roads in our efforts to trace his home but deep inside me, my heart was so much broken and sympathizing with Michael and kept wondering how he was to cope up with life in such a seemingly lifeless region. 


The journey to Michael’s home is depicted in the pictures above and along the way we got lost in addition to our car falling into a big ditch but we helped ourselves using big stones to get the car out of the ditch and proceeded with the mission of tracing Michael’s home.

After travelling for a very big distance, we reached a point where we had to walk on foot until we finally arrived at Michael’s home. Unfortunately, by the time we managed to trace and arrive at Michael’s home, his parents had already migrated to another unknown place but thanks to God that we were able to find his Aunt at the home who was staying with another sad looking child.
Team with Michael's Aunt on arrival

Sweet Sleep staff trying to squeeze herself to Michael's home

The sleeping conditions at Michael’s home was found worrying as there are no mattresses, blankets, bed sheets, mats and mosquito nets in the home. The only chance that Michael has to sleep on a mattress is when he is at school not when he is at home.

The sleeping condition inside Michael's home

Sweet Sleep staff giving Michael that last hug
While at Michael’s home, I came to learn that the type of small huts that people live in within the Karamoja region are called MANYATAS.  It was so sad and hard to say good bye to the ever smiling Michael after joining him with his Aunt not parents who was very happy to see him back home.

 However, as we prepared to leave Michael’s home, he broke into tears. We tried to comfort him that he was soon to be picked up by the Community Development Centre social workers and taken to school together with his relatives so that they may know which school he is to study from in order for them to always check on him and also to pick him when holidays commence.

With Michael’s parents missing, it was a hard moment for all of us as a team and we ended up deciding to travel back with Michael as the situation was warranting us to do so. Before our departure with Michael, we explained to his aunt that Michael was going to be placed in school the following day and hence encouraged her to always check on him or to pick him from school every end of term. The details of the school together with its location were made known to his aunt before we left and this seemed a big relief to his Aunt who was so much touched by Michael’s emotions like we were.

To Michael this was the best solution compared to being left with his aunt in such a situation. He later got to smile again though seemed to have missed meeting both of his parents and had a lot of questions if he would ever meet them again. He seemed to have a lot that he wanted to share with them to the extent that he let me know his personal secret that “he had managed to save some little money for his parents out of that he had collected while on the streets and badly wanted to give it to them”.

Michael further shared with me that he understood how life in the villages wasn’t the best for them and also wanted to see them smile as they received the package from the indigenous partner organization as their resettlement packages and to also share the great news about his getting to school.

Having succeeded in locating Michael’s home, the resettlement team then embarked on tracing for Agnes’s home as well. Unlike Michael and being 10 years, Agnes could somehow remember the route to the community where she used to stay before coming to the Kampala streets. Though she had ideas on the Geography to her home, it still took us a while tracing her home and the van also failed to reach her home the same way we did when tracing Michael’s home.  

After walking for some time together with Agnes, we met a woman who seemed to know Agnes and called her name. Agnes was so excited to hear someone calling her name and she shared with the woman that we were trying to find their house but she couldn’t remember where it is. The woman was so kind to us and volunteered to guide us to Agnes’s home. Having walked with her for a while, we came to a Manyata which the woman pointed to and said that it was Agnes’s home.

On our arrival at the Manyata, some people came out of it and when they saw Agnes, they all shouted, hugged her and warmly welcomed her back home including his grandfather whom we later learnt to be the local leader for that community. It was all great excitement all over in spite of the parents not being home as they had gone to a nearby village to look for something to eat.
Team trying to trace Agne's home

Welcome back home!

Going over resettlement package items
The sleeping condition at Agnes’s home doesn’t differ much from that we found at Michael’s home. In the home they can only afford some dried cow skins on which the children can sleep on and lack mattresses, blankets, mats, Bibles and above all don’t have mosquito nets to protect them from mosquito bites during the nights.

                              The beddings available for Agnes to sleep on while at home.
With both Michael and Agnes now resettled, we were now left with over 4 families to resettle and for these ones, it was very easy to resettle them because we had the parents of the children travelling who  fully knew their homes without any problems apart from being distant from each other. While resettling all the other families, there were many relatives and friends who warmly welcomed all the returnees. For all the returnees, we always left them being surrounded by their relatives and friends trying to share with them their experiences." 

Join us tomorrow for Day 4 of Josephine's Journey