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“Aunty, you take me home” has been a common phrase from the children on the streets of Jinja this week, and the atmosphere is one of nervous tension. This is because, in a radio broadcast on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, the local authorities issued a warning to children on the streets to return home or face arrest. The probation officer, a respected influential figure in the local community, stated that children on the streets are “idle and disorderly” and will no longer be tolerated on the streets of Jinja.
Unfortunately, it is not new that children on the streets might be rounded up. Last week, the S.A.L.V.E drop-in centre welcomed 3 children out of prison. They attended the drop-in centre before they were arrested and S.A.L.V.E is happy that they are no longer imprisoned. The local media has been reporting stories of police round ups for years and describing these occurrences as attempts “to rid the town of criminals”. This reflects the attitudes of some of the local people who have told us that we should “gather up all the children from the streets and lock them in a pen”. One local newspaper summarised this view: “Society seems to see them as mere dirt, a societal menace!”. You can read the full article here.
The S.A.L.V.E Approach
However, S.A.L.V.E believes that a child on the streets is still just a child, who deserves our attention, support and love. S.A.L.V.E wants to give these children the opportunity to leave their difficult pasts behind them and move forward, towards a brighter future.
S.A.L.V.E thinks that it is important to address the causes not just the symptoms of children on the streets. This means looking deeper than just the conditions under which these children live and finding out what kind of family backgrounds they come from and therefore the factors that could have contributed to their situation.
Thus, S.A.L.V.E is working within the local community to try and change negative perceptions of children on the streets. Last week we even managed to get our recent drugs research reported in the national Ugandan press! This is positive as it is through information sharing and community sensitisation that organisations can work together to address the plight of children on the streets.
You can find out more about the S.A.L.V.E approach on our new and improved website here.
HIV has featured highly in the local and national news in Uganda this week. This comes as the Ministry of Health announced that the HIV infection rate in the country has risen to 6.7%. This equates to approximately 2.3 million people, a number that has risen by almost a million since 2005. You can read two of these articles here and here.
As it was so relevant this week, S.A.L.V.E took this opportunity to teach a very interesting lesson for the children at the Drop-in Centre, surrounding the causes and effects of HIV along with how to prevent it.
What is HIV?
HIV is a pandemic causing millions of people to fall ill- the majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa. HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus and it is different from most other viruses because it attacks the immune system that enables our bodies to fight infections. It is infectious and transmission mainly occurs via sex, untreated blood, from an HIV-positive mother to a child if treatment is not used, and through intravenous drug and needle sharing. HIV can lead to a condition called AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) which occurs when the virus has weakened the immune system to the point at which the body has difficulty fighting opportunistic infections it would usually be able to prevent.
According to studies, HIV is higher among women and the uneducated. Findings from the Ministry of Health this week stated that 7.7% of women and 5.6% of men are HIV positive, with higher prevalence rates in urban populations, such as Jinja. In fact, one of S.A.L.V.E’s community education projects in Kakira supports a number of women, through direct employment, who are HIV-positive.
What was also worrying is that comprehensive knowledge about prevention and transmission of HIV was very low at 34% for women and 41% for men. This means that messages about the disease either do not reach the people they need to or they are misinterpreted.
HIV Testing Event
An event this week in the Kamuli district, approximately 70Km from Jinja, tested 129 people for HIV. Of this number, we were happy to learn that only 3 people were positive! The event is a bi-annual occurrence and was hosted by Arise and Shine, which is a partner organisation of S.A.L.V.E, and TASO (The Aids Support Organisation). The ‘rapid test’ is quick, painless and unobtrusive: it consists of a pin prick on the finger followed by a dab of blood on paper and the results are ready within 30 minutes. Keeping in line with the view that education is one of the best forms of prevention, the event included a play that dramatized living with HIV and a series of speeches from people living with HIV.
HIV Drug Improves Anti-Malarial Drug Effectiveness?
Another study in Uganda, of which the findings were released this week, suggested that an antiretroviral drug commonly given to HIV-infected children in Sub-Saharan Africa improves the effectiveness of a key malaria drug. Over the course of the two-year trial, children who received a cocktail of drugs containing the antiretrovirals had a 41 per cent drop in malaria cases compared with children who did not. This is potentially groundbreaking news and could have positive implications for the future of malaria prevention and treatment, both in Uganda and worldwide.
Love it or hate it, there is no denying that football is a powerful game. It is recognized by many as speaking a universal language to players and spectators alike and is used as a tool to overcome boundaries and build bridges between individuals and communities. And aside from all of this it has an intrinsic value in that the children just love to play! With this in mind, this week in Uganda, S.A.L.V.E partnered with local organization CRO (Child Restoration Outreach), which also works with children on the street in Jinja, to organise a football match for the children from our Drop-in Centre. We are working closely with CRO to make this a weekly event.
It went fantastically! We had an immense turn out for our first game, with over 20 boys from the street voluntarily arriving at 8.30am sharp. That’s impressive for Uganda, where the norm is to be an hour or so late to any occasion. The atmosphere was one of excitement and pre-match banter on the walk to the pitch and in the run-up to kick off. The pitch is away from the public eye which meant that the children could relax and treat it as their own and it formed a neutral environment for the children to engage with one another and with staff.
The first goal was scored by yours truly, although the boys weren’t going to let me hold on to that victory for long! After a competitive match, the game finished at a satisfying 3:3… which means there is everything to play for next week!
After the match, the boys were involved in a short session about the risks of taking drugs, an issue which affects many children on the streets in Jinja. You can read more about this in our blog here.
Sport for Peace and Development
In fact, the use of sport for development is much bigger than just S.A.L.V.E International. It is increasingly being used on an international agenda for development purposes, for example it is used by some as a tool for working towards the Millenium Development Goals. Furthermore, it teaches players skills such as teamwork, cooperation, respect, and trust: all of which are necessary both within sport and within life.
A recent example of the use of sport for development is the African Cup of Nations which took place at the beginning of this year. The competition used its prestige and publicity to highlight the launch of the massive “CAN without AIDS” awareness-raising campaign: just before the kick-off of the first match, 400 young local footballers carried almost 50,000 red and white balloons onto the pitch and formed the red ribbon symbol for the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Initiatives inspired by the World Cup include an initiative called Football for Hope and the Street Child World Cup. Who knows, if we get training you may see us there soon!
In support of the Street Child World Cup, Kofi Annan (former UN Secretary General) said: “It is this passion for football that enables it to have a broader impact on the lives of millions around the world, particularly children”.
International Women’s Day
This week Amy and I were bemused to find out that we had an extra day off: to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). What was funnier, though, was that the Ugandan people we spoke to were equally as bemused that we did not honour the day sufficiently in the UK!
IWD has been observed since 1909 and is now an official public holiday in many countries such as Afghanistan, China, Cuba and Uganda. It is celebrated each year on 8th March and the tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends and friends with flowers and small gifts. Additionally, thousands of events are held worldwide to inspire women and to celebrate their achievements. However, I was certainly entertained to hear from one Ugandan man that I had it wrong and IWD is really a celebration of men and is pronounced “We-men’s Day”…. not convinced!
Women in Uganda
But what does it mean to be a woman in Uganda?
A woman born in Uganda today has a life expectancy of 57 years old, according to the World Health Organization.
About 6,000 women in Uganda die every year during childbirth, and a woman stands a one in thirteen chance of dying during her lifetime when giving birth.
According to the Uganda Women’s Network, at least 60 percent of women will experience domestic violence during their lifetime. This is one of the reasons that children run to the streets in Jinja and beyond.
However, other victories can definitely be claimed. In 2009 a bill launched by MP Chris Baryomunsi was passed banning female circumcision, a lethal rite of passage in rural communities in Uganda. Though we recognise that changing the law is often just the first step in the process to changing attitudes around the issue.
Additionally, at the 2010 graduation at Makerere University, 50.1 percent of graduates were women– far up from 25 percent in 1990.
S.A.L.V.E certainly believes that education of everyone, (and often particularly of girls), has the power to enable people to make choices to create better lives for themselves and to fight poverty and injustice.
Joining the celebrations
So, what better way to spend our public holiday than celebrating the day at the national IWD event in Kampala? There were lectures and debates on life as a Ugandan woman: past, present and future, as well as local artists, musicians, sporting stars and female-focussed NGOs.
One long matatu (minibus) ride sat next to a woman holding a chicken and one nerve-shattered Amy later and we were home and inspired to work with Ugandan boys, girls, men and women alike for a better and more equal future for all.
P.S. Although IWD has the equivalent status of Mother’s Day in Uganda, for those of you reading in the UK, Mother’s Day is this Sunday (18th March) so don’t forget to send your card and celebrate an incredible women in your life!
The new campaign and video from Invisible Children ‘Kony2012′ has suddenly gone viral and ended up everywhere in social media land.
Uganda is suddenly a country trending on twitter and getting a huge amount of interest – Will this have a positive impact for other organisations working out there like S.A.L.V.E.? Will it help to draw the attention of the world to East Africa and to recognise all the amazing initiatives being run out there by the local communities and for the local communities?
So what do you think about Kony 2012?
We love the fact it has gone so viral and that people are getting so passionate about wanting to do something to help to end an often forgotten about war. If it is used as a starting point to learn more about the Lords resistance army and other often forgotten wars and human rights atrocities to find your own way to show support then it can only get two thumbs up from us.
Remember that the Lords Resistance Army is made up of more than one man – it was actually started by a woman named Alice who was its leader before Joseph Kony and has a leadership structure in place, that means someone else could potentially take over if Kony was removed.
There are lots of interesting books about the Lords Resistance army that you can read to learn in more depth about what has been going on – for example why not try Aboke girls?
The Lords resistance army and the war is no longer in Uganda – the army has a tradition of moving around into other less stable countries in the area such as Sudan (before it became South Sudan), the Congo and the Central African republic. The army hasnt been in Uganda for years now and therefore perhaps more attention should be going on countries like the Congo and the Central African republic.
Why not take this time to learn more about the forgotten wars going on across Eastern and Central Africa? Where practices of rape to win warfare are common by most armed groups – but where local people are still working hard and campaigning against these completely unacceptable practices.
The horrendous use of child soldiers is not only restricted to the LRA – This book from Sierra Leone ‘A Long Way Gone: The True story of a child soldier‘ might help you learn more from the perspective of a child forced to become a soldier. The terrible practice of child sacrifice is also on the rise in Uganda again – learn more here.
Question the idea of using violence to end violence and if that ever truely works? Question the idea of Americans needing to come in to ‘save the day’?
But DO show your support to end injustice in some way.
Read a book, research other wars, find out other names beside Kony who need to be brought to the world stage for the crimes against humanity they are commiting.
Give your money, your passion, or your time to an organisation that you believe in that’s working in the area and help them to expand and continue their work.
Talk about there issues on and offline and build a global community who is finally ready to say – enough is enough – that no war can be forgotten.
Support a strong legally binding international Arms Trade Treaty that will mean that the sale of guns will finally get more regulations than bananas.
Please DON’T let the questions you have about the Kony2012 campaign stop you from taking positive action to help to end these horrific human rights violations. Use it as a stepping stone to find out more …
This week has been one of new beginnings for many of the S.A.L.V.E family. Whilst Amy and I have been (at times frantically) finding our feet after the departure of the last amazing UK intern, Ben, two of the new S.A.L.V.E children have started to go to school. Innocent, aged 11, and Bogere, aged 13, went for interviews at local primary school Holy Cross on Monday. They got accepted into Primary 2 and Primary 4 respectively and started studying on Tuesday which they are very pleased about.
Free Primary Education
This is a topic of contention in Uganda this week. Education Minister, Jessica Alupo, was quoted revealing that the government is considering scrapping universal or free primary education (FPE) in urban schools. As an organisation based in and around Uganda’s second largest town this potentially could have big implications for us.
FPE was introduced in Uganda in 1997 which led to a surge in enrolment, almost overnight. Arguments against scrapping the FPE policy suggest that the proposition is “unconstitutional” as it is against children’s rights and it promotes division between urban and rural communities. Arguments also suggest that the proposition will weaken Uganda’s democratic system as people voted for this policy in the first place. This comes at a time when Uganda is ranked at position 139 out of 170 countries (with 1 being a strong democracy), dropping 43 places on the index in 2011.
In true Ugandan fashion (Ugandan’s are big fans of proverbs), a journalist reporting on this matter wrote: “I wonder why one would kill a nightingale in its infancy instead of nurturing it to produce those sweet melodies!”
Not the whole picture
However, in reality there are still many costs associated with going to school. Even for pupils of FPE schools, costs for items such as lunch, books and uniforms hinder many children from going to school. Additionally the quality of education at FPE schools is often criticised. In fact, a survey that is being conducted by the Ministry of Education & Sports is revealing that, at the time of writing, 50.1% of 461 voters do not believe that FPE has been of help to them.
Regardless of the national state of affairs with the education system, both Innocent and Bogere are very happy to have the opportunity to return to school, and S.A.L.V.E is extremely proud of them. Whilst Innocent wants to study to become a pilot, Bogere enjoys maths and would like to become a bank manager! Watch this space… and the skies!
Remember we are always looking for sponsors who are keen to help to change a child’s life in this way.