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

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Karamoja: Day Two

DAY 2:
"After having a peaceful and a wonderful night, the children together with the team had the opportunity to have a morning bath and it was at 9:30am when both the children and the team were served with breakfast. In a bid to get acquainted with the work of the indigenous partner organization, we jointly held a brief meeting immediately after having breakfast through which each of us on the team was made to know how the work was to be accomplished during the week.

 In this meeting, Angela the Program coordinator and Janet the social worker all working for the Community Development Organization thanked us for having traveled with the children all the way to Karamoja.  After Janet talking to the meeting, we also briefed representatives from the Community Development Center that all the returnees had spent some good time of more than 6 months with the partner organization and assured them that the returnees had been well prepared to start school.

They further added that all the returnees had undergone medical examination and were found with no chronicle diseases and had already been fully de-wormed. However, it was also made clear to the Community Development representatives that among the returnees, there were some children who had been brought back to Karamoja alone after their parents refusing to be returned together with their children and hence those children returned without their parents were to stay with their grandparents on resettlement.

 With that said, each of us was assigned a different task to handle within the various locations where the team was to minister during the week. As one family, we were divided into the following main groups; the Resettlement Group, Education Group, Medical Care Group and the Income Generating Group.
With all that done, each group was as well assigned a different task to accomplish in the field during the week. The Resettlement group was to ensure that all the homes/families of the returnees had been properly traced. In addition to this, the resettlement group had to talk to the returnees very well how great it is for a child to be home, travel with the returnees to their homes and share the joy together as the returnees were welcomed and met their families again.

On the other side, the Education group was responsible for ensuring that all the returnees were properly enrolled, resettled in formal schools, provided with scholastic materials, beds and beddings especially for those placed in boarding schools while the Medicare group was to take care of the team’s health together with the children during the repatriation exercise. Thanks to this group that took great care of the children and my eyes when they were badly affected due to the harsh conditions there.

For purposes of sustainability and increased social protection among the families of the returnees, the Income Generating group was responsible for identifying, sensitizing and providing for the suitable Income Generating activity that can best benefit the families of the returnees after re-uniting the children with their families. According to the situation in Karamoja, there is overwhelming need to economically empower not only the families whose children are returned but to other families as well.

As someone from the Sweet Sleep Ministry, I was assigned to be part of both the resettlement groups and the education  since these interventions have a direct linkage with Sweet Sleep’s work of providing beds/beddings to both children in communities, homes and schools of the orphaned, abandoned or other vulnerable children.

After receiving our assignments, I was given an opportunity to share more with the team members about the work of the Sweet Sleep Ministry in Uganda and through the same communication, I shared with them the purpose of my traveling to Karamoja and hence emphasized that I needed their maximum support.
Having heard from Sweet Sleep, Angela the Programs coordinator from the Community Development Centre together with Diana the social worker from the partner organization thanked the Sweet Sleep Ministry for the good work that it is doing in Uganda. Pleased with the work of the Sweet Sleep Ministry, the team members from both the indigenous partner organization and the Community Development Centre pledged to provide Sweet Sleep with their maximum support and above all, the opportunity to interact with the returnees together with their family members as much as Sweet Sleep desired. With this good news to the Sweet Sleep Ministry, the meeting ended and each of us started to interact with the returnees and also to prepare them to get ready for joining their families and school once again. We helped the children organize all their belongings, sort and distribute their resettlement packages which we had traveled along with and these  included the following; exercise books, pens, pencils, blankets, mattresses, soap, pangas, hoes, beans, maize flour (posho), cups and saucepans to mention a few among others.

All the above mentioned resettlement packages were procured and provided to the returnees by the indigenous partner organization together with the Community Development Center.

                     Some of the resettlement packages that were provided to the returnees

 During the interaction with the children, I got the opportunity to hold brief interviews with some children to find out why they had left their homes and families to come to the streets of Kampala.


Sweet Sleep staff holding interviews with some of the children; Achiya Michael, Logiel Agnes  and Logeer Paul.

ACHIYA MICHAEL aged 9 years with both parents alive, left his village because they lacked enough food to feed on in his family and hence decided to board a bus with his mother to Kampala with hope for a better living.  However, on their arrival in Kampala, Michael together with his mother found life very hard as they had to spend hours on the streets begging for money or something to eat. On many occasions they found themselves being beaten by other bigger street children who had already got used to the street life.
According to Michael, he had no particular place to sleep in with his mother and the only option was to sleep in smelling places near dust bins on the streets of Kampala. On a sad note still, some of the money that Michael and his mother could afford to collect during the day through begging ended up being stolen by the big street boys.

With all this kind of misfortunes, Michael’s mother decided to go back home in Karamoja at Irriri village leaving her son behind on the streets of Kampala alone.

Today, Michael is very happy to be re-united back to his family in Irriri village after the indigenous partner organization found him living in Kisenyi area. Kisenyi area is a place on the outskirts of Kampala City which is a very dangerous area accommodating the most notorious street boys and girls here in Uganda. After identifying Michael from the Kisenyi area, they talked to him and he accepted to be taken away for rehabilitation and after to join him again with his family and start school in Karamoja.

With beaming joy, Michael could not afford missing to express how glad he was that he was yet to meet his mother once again and was excited with the fact that he was soon going to join school in Primary One (Grade One).    

LOGIEL AGNES aged 8 years old was the second to be interviewed and shared with the Sweet Sleep staff that it was her mother who boarded the bus with her and brought her on the streets of Kampala. Being the eldest child in her family, Agnes still wonders why her mother decided to bring and dump her on the streets of Kampala.  One day, Agnes just found herself alone in Kampala after her mother all of a sudden disappeared from her a few days after their arrival on the streets of Kampala. Agnes cried, got scared and became so nervous with no other person to talk to and the only option left for her was to look for friends among other street children who had already got used to street life in her efforts to look for survival.
Fortunately, after a while when loitering on the streets of Kampala, she was approached by some of the partner organization members of staff who shared with her and after convinced her that they were to help her trace her family back in Karamoja and that she was to be united with her family again.
Sagal Adele
At 31 years of age, SAGAL ADELE is a proud mother of 6 children; Joseph, Michael, Martin, Paul, Lucy and Maria who traveled with all her siblings all the way from Karamoja to the streets of Kampala. In the efforts of Adele trying to take care of her family, she managed to grow some food to help her feed the children but wound up futile due to a lot of dryness in Karamoja, she completely became hopeless.  With a lot of poverty and famine surrounding her family, Adele decided to move around asking her friends to borrow her some money so that she could raise transport fees to help her come to Kampala with hope of getting an economic activity through which she could earn a living and even pay back the debt that arose as a result of borrowing money for their transport to Kampala.

Unfortunately, though willing to work, Adele was not able to secure anything to do and she ended up resorting to begging in order to get some money to feed her children. According to Adele, life on the streets of Kampala became worse off as there are many horrible things that one goes through each day that come by. There is a lot of child abuse in that so many children take drugs and the big street boys do rape young girls while other street children are involved in robbery of mobile phones and money from people walking along the streets.

According to Adele, each morning was totally different and she could get sick not knowing where to begin from and how to end the day with all her 6 children on the streets of Kampala and at this point Adele broke into tears.  Sharing such heart breaking stories with the children together with their parents was a very hard moment and situation for me as a mother and I believe that you certainly agree with me.

Adele added that, much as she knew how hard it was to be on the streets but had nothing to do apart from sending each of her children to different locations along Kampala streets to beg for money. This money helped her to buy some food for her children and sometimes could even send some to her parents and other relatives way back at home to help them buy some food as well for they lack food in the villages and only have to buy food brought from other areas of Uganda.

With this walk of life, Adele one day somehow got connected to the indigenous partner organization through a good Samaritan that has supported her to go back to her home in Karamoja. She is indeed determined to settle back at her home and has hope in that she will be supported with some Income Generating Activities that will help her raise some income to continue feeding her children even when the partner organization has left.

 Adele is very excited with the programme of placing her children in Boarding schools by the partner organization where she believes that her children will be able to have daily meals with safe places to stay in addition to getting formal education. She however seemed worried of as to how she was to continue taking care of her children especially during holidays when all of them are back from school.

When Sweet Sleep inquired about the sleeping conditions of Adele’s family upon their return at home, Adele explained that her family will be sleeping on the dried skins of cows and was happy that she had managed to buy two bed sheets that were to serve as blankets. She added that it can be a big blessing for her family if one day they are able to get a mat and mosquito net as there are many mosquitoes in the area where they stay. Adele is a catholic and had a small Bible which she had managed to buy while still on the streets of Kampala. Sharing such heart breaking stories with the children and their parents was not easy for me as a mother and to date I just can’t imagine how these families are doing since we left Karamoja but I pray God blesses them as they once again stand on their own."

Please join us tomorrow for Day 3 of Josephine's Journal.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Karamoja: Day One

"It is upon this background that one of Sweet Sleep’s staff was prompted to make a visionary trip together with a team of 6 members from [the indigenous partner organization]. The team was to minister alongside with Sweet Sleep during what was referred to as the second phase of their repatriation exercise in Karamoja region.
 It was around 2:30am on the windy morning of 16th February 2013 when I set off on a Boda Boda in the company of my husband and headed to one of the bus terminals in Kampala in order to join the team together with the 21 children and 7 adults/guardians/parents who were to be returned back to their homes in Karamoja.   
Upon my arrival at the bus terminal, I found that the team had already arrived and was warmly welcomed by Diana Ssemyalo the head of Social work department at the partner organization. I was quickly introduced to the other members of staff, to the children and we immediately started loading all of our belongings on the only old bus that was yet to leave for Karamoja a few minutes later. Among the 21 children who were to be returned to Karamoja, 13 of them were in school going age while the rest were still too young for school.

Loading all belongings and getting ready for the journey while some children were already struggling with sleep immediately after boarding the bus.
Amidst a lot of excitement, I continued to work hand in hand with the team and to ensure that every belonging for us and the children was put on the bus. Among the items that we traveled with were mainly resettlement packages for the children which were provided by the partner organization and these included exercise books, food stuffs, hoes, pangas, cups, soap, plates and cooking oil just to mention a few among others.
After spending a while at the bus terminal putting everything together, more people kept on boarding the bus since we had used public transport until it was full to capacity. In a day, there is only one bus that travels to Karamoja and this explains why people are always over packed together with their belongings.
At this point, it required one to have a lot of patience and to completely understand what God has called him or her to do as children started crying because of different reasons. Some of them wanted something to eat or drink while others needed to go for short calls. A lot of care and love was required from each of us to be demonstrated to these children as mixed feelings could be easily read on the faces of both the children and their guardians.

Some of the caretakers of the children could be seen in deep thoughts while some children were happy to be on the bus and excited with the journey.
It was at around 4:30am that we embarked on this breathtaking journey to the land of Karamoja. Karamoja region is located in the North East of Uganda and is bordered by Kenya to the East and Sudan to the North with a population of about 1,017,400 according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics 2008 population programmes.
After traveling for a while, the children started singing songs and rhymes that they had learned at the indigenous partner organization during their rehabilitation process and to date I can still hear their lovely voices singing the song “LONDON’S BRIDGE IS BREAKING DOWN” especially as the bus approached and crossed the Owen Falls Dam Bridge at Jinja in the East of Uganda.
The singing proved that the children’s minds had been well prepared for this moment and some songs appealed to one’s emotions on how some people are neglecting to take care of their children and also urged parents to embrace love and forgiveness.  
At Jinja we had our first stop over in order to refill gas which was followed by another stopover in Iganga town where some children wanted to have some break amidst a lot of complaints coming from other people on the bus for they were so much being inconvenienced by the noise of the children. With nothing much to do for the children apart from proceeding with the journey, the bus arrived at Mbale where all the children got off to ease themselves. It was at Mbale that the bus had by mistake left some of the children together with some of us who had gone to help the children out. We had to chase the bus and thanks to the driver who eventually recognized that he had left some passengers behind and stopped.
As the clock ticked towards 10:50am, we reached Kumi district and we started serving some food stuffs to the children which included packed Chapatis since they had indeed travelled a very big distance without much to eat.  We continued with the journey and eventually passed a beautiful lake at around 11:56 am which I came to know as lake  Awoja and it is located in Weri village along Soroti road. By this time, most of the children were now asleep and those awake were looking with exhausted faces.


A clear view of lake Awoja in Weri village along Soroti road
On our arrival at Soroti, more trouble cropped up as more people were found waiting for this very bus to take them from Soroti “Bus park” to Karamoja. As the bus became more and more loaded, a lot of heat intensified in the bus because it was mid-day and very hot outside. The heat could not be bearable by the children and they started crying for water. With the help of the driver, we managed to squeeze ourselves out of the bus so as to get some drinking water for the children but the water could not do much as the children continued to sweat a lot and to feel thirstier. 


Struggling for fresh drinking water while to the right one of the children with sweat all over her face and body.  
Moving through Soroti was totally a different experience and at some point I believed that God had spent some time indirectly preparing me for this kind of experience and within me I prayed to God to provide us with all the strength and courage as we continued to pass through this strange land. With all this at the back of my mind, some children intensified crying while others started wetting their pants and the kind of odor within the over packed bus was indeed terrible.
As we moved further away from Soroti, I felt myself engulfed by a lot of sadness as the land we continued journeying through was so dry, flat and very sparsely populated when you compare it to that land elsewhere in the areas that I have ever been to. While moving through this land, one could easily observe that people were not having the best life at all for most of them had faces that portrayed sadness. The common languages that I had them speaking were Swahili and Nakaramojong.  At this point, I took the courage to ask one of the staff where we were and that is when I was made aware that we were already in Karamoja region and the bus was heading to its destination in Moroto town where the bus park was.

             Cattle trying to graze on the dry flat land                        

 Thinking about a better tomorrow
During our drive towards Moroto town, it is easy to observe that transport is a problem as people could be seen walking distances. There are no taxis in this region apart from lorries and some pickups that are always used to transport both people and animals especially cows. On the side of trading centres and markets, they are very distant from one another with very few commodities that can be used in daily life.

A pickup helping people with transport while on the right are some of the main trading Centres        
At around 5:55pm, the bus arrived at Moroto “Bus park” which was its destination but unfortunately we had no car to help transport us together with our belongings from there to the next destination where we were to be accommodated during the rest of our time in Karamoja. We had to wait until 8:40pm when all of a sudden some members of staff from the Community Development Centre organized and hired a fork lifter like truck that helped us to carry most of our belongings. Since the truck could not carry us together with our belongings, we had to walk with the children for about 30 minutes until we reached at the Community Development Centre where we were to be accommodated during our time in Karamoja.   The Community Development Centre is a community based organization that collaborates with the indigenous partner organization during the tracing of families for returnees and resettling them. There are dormitories built at the Community Centre that help with accommodating different teams of their partners that come to minister within Karamoja. The Centre has other various facilities like conference rooms and other recreation facilities that can be used by the children before uniting them with their facilities."
        Still waiting at the Bus Park for help.                      

 Walking with the children to our final destination

Please join us tomorrow for Day 2 of Josephine's Journal.