Boscoe’s Village

Meet Boscoe. IMG_2965-EditHe should have a village named after him. He runs a children’s home, but he is the only director that we visited who acknowledged the problem of runaway youth in Jinja and beyond.

While Boscoe isn’t picky about the backgrounds of the kids he works with, his program seems to attract children from the Karamajong (Karimajong) tribe. The Karamajong are a nomadic people within Uganda and neighboring countries.

These children have been abused and run away from their families, longing for a better life. It isn’t easy for the Karamajong. They stand out from other kids and are often bullied. Boscoe has found that the best thing he can do is use the older children to mentor the younger ones with the hope that they will learn more about their culture than they might otherwise experience.

IMG_2966-EditBoscoe’s program provides shelter, food and an education for about 250 kids, mostly from the Karamajong tribe.  The children are scattered throughout the community in 11 different houses.

Facilities are very rudimentary. An outdoor cooking area at this one provides the meals. Nearby is a latrine. Boscoe showed us the facility and explained the leach field that helps to disburse the liquids from the solids. He explained how a truck can come in and clean out the solid materials. It kind of reminded me of growing up in a one-room country school with outhouses.

Boscoe took us to a second location. There was a park in the center of several houses. One of the houses belonged to his program. As we pulled up children of all ages came running up to greet us. Boscoe informed us that the kids wanted to do an impromptu dance for us. He said that we would have to travel several hundred kilometers to see a performance like this by the tribe represented in these youth.

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The first dance was a welcome dance, inviting us into their world. It was followed by several other dances including a wedding dance of sorts. Philip explained that the Karamajong perform this dance and during the dance the male forcefully takes his bride without her affirmation. He grabs her wrist and pulls her to his tent and has sex with her regardless of her wishes in order to claim her as his wife.

The teen girls performing this example of the dance would likely be married and with at least one child if they were in their traditional tribal setting. Boscoe has been working to educate the kids on the importance of heritage while acknowledging the rights of women.

After the dancing ended the kids gathered around for their photos. While this group of kids are among the lowest class of people in Uganda, those we encountered seemed to be among the most well-adjusted to their circumstances. They were utilizing the schools to better themselves, they were learning their culture, and they were taking steps to better their community. All of them presented themselves with a smile, greeting us, welcoming us into their courtyard and their lives.

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Resting

Philip decided we all needed a quiet day today. People are still not feeling well. Of course, Joshua and I didn’t really listen. We decided it was time to go explore. Caution took over to some extent and I left my camera behind as we got onto the boda-boda for a trip to the market for some coffee and to experience a bit more of Jinja. My first ride on a motorcycle since I was a kid and the first words out of the driver’s mouth were “you big.” Gee thanks. In spite of the fact that I was bigger than his bike, we made it safe and sound. It was a great time for the two of us to connect and share more of life.

Later in the day we took a boat ride to the Source of the River Nile. Lake Victoria is the second largest fresh water lake in the world, second only to Lake Superior. It is also the starting point for the Nile.

Hospitals, Schools, and More

Today has turned out different than it appeared on our agenda, but before we get there we added a new team member.IMG_2322

Joshua has known David and Mary Jo for a few years. He comes from the Seattle area and has helped the mission with some of their building projects. He came along in order to see what might be involved in building a new children’s home.

Meeting Joshua yesterday afternoon took me by surprise. He gave an American handshake. I realized during the introduction that greetings are much more significant outside of the U.S. Handshakes last forever in Africa, it’s kind of nice. Someone described that a handshake and greeting involve a blessing of the person you are connecting with.

I also have to say that just in the first few hours of meeting Joshua he is a pretty cool guy. This picture makes him look tough and intimidating, but he’s not. He has a big heart for mission work. He helped build a school in South Sudan a few years ago. He said he travels a lot. He will work for several months and then head off to some other part of the world.

Joshua, David, Mary Jo and I went to breakfast at the hotel. We were all going to visit a school this morning. After breakfast, David became dizzy. Philip came to pick us up and it took all of us to convince David he should probably go to the International Hospital in Jinja to be safe.

After dropping David off at the hospital, Joshua and I joined up with Lana and Lawrence at Naranbhai Primary School. IMG_2343-EditThe visit was arranged by Elizabeth, also known as Madam Beth to the students. She and I talked quite a bit about education in Uganda, trying to compare it to schools in the U.S.

I honestly still don’t understand how the grades operate, but what I do know is that the student to teacher ratio in Uganda is even more disturbing than back home. I told her that most schools try to have about 1 teacher for every 25 students. She said that the law states they have to have 1 teacher for every 45 students. She went on to tell me that they have a couple of teachers who are running about 1 to 65 and that there are some schools where it is even 1 teacher for ever 90 students. She walked Joshua and me around and showed us that they are building a “University” within their compound. IMG_2327-Edit

Lawrence and Lana held the kids’ attention quite well. Lawrence did a presentation on HIV and AIDS prevention. The rate of HIV and AIDS has been on the decline from the research I found before the trip. The research suggested that it is because of programs like this that are in the schools. Still it is a huge problem in the region and Philip has mentioned that we will see more of it in coming days.

Afterward, Joshua and I were invited up to introduce ourselves. Joshua has a way with the kids, you can tell where his heart is.

Madam Beth and Joshua then gave out sunglasses and Lana gave them candy. Of course all of these things are wrapped in plastic and, in case you haven’t noticed it, Uganda has a significant problem with pollution. There is little regard for the environment and with such a large population there is garbage everywhere. IMG_2333-EditThe first thing Joshua told them prior to handing out the gifts was that they could not just drop the wrappers on the ground, they had to find a trashcan and throw away the garbage. I don’t know if it was a lesson learned, but it is one that needs to be taught.

When Philip came to pick us up, David and Mary Jo were in the van with him. Prognosis was dehydration. Still the group decided not to go back out during the afternoon, giving everyone a chance to rest up a bit.

In spite of the health issues, today was a good day and ended well. Joshua and I had dinner together since David and Mary Jo weren’t feeling up to it. It really gave us a chance to connect and talk. Joshua is a great guy, with a big heart. He asks questions and prods you to think and at the end of the day I think he knows more about me than many people I’ve known for years.

 

Hope in Soweto

This afternoon we went to a small school in the Soweto of Jinja. This is one of the two largest slum regions of the city. Help Primary School was started by a man whose name I forget. The meaning of his name will stick forever.

The Traveler.IMG_2275-EditHe grew up on the streets of the Soweto. At some point in his childhood living on the streets he contracted cerebral malaria. He walks with a limp and a crutch. He persevered through struggles in a community that is known for disease and poverty to start Help Primary School in order to give the children of Masese an education and help them find hope for their future.IMG_2224-Edit

In order to get there, though, you have to travel through the slums. You wonder how people live in a place that resembles the destruction of a tornado. But they do. If they are lucky, they have some form of a store in the front of this building that also serves as their home. If they aren’t, there is no store and no home. Some live inIMG_2226-Edit buildings made from cargo containers, setting up shop to sell what they can.

Once you pass through the gates of Help Primary School you would wonder if you are in the same community. Yes, like the entire country of Uganda, HPS shows signs of a poor economy, but they also provide a place for the students that might in fact be a place of rest from the struggles of the outside world.

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As I took this picture of the school building it hit me. Everything in Uganda is the color of terracotta. The grounds were not overrun with grass and weeds like outside the walls of the compound. The kids laughed and some were kicking a flattened soccer ball around. IMG_2266-Edit

School, Help Primary School to be exact, turns out to be a place where an education, where time in school, may give a chance for someone who started out as a traveler to in fact leave the slum that has been their life with the help of Traveler.

Shalom Children’s Home

Meet Julie.IMG_2195 Julie and another woman started Shalom Children’s Home in Jinja about 10 years ago. This came about in part because of her own experiences living in “foster care” with family.

Julie is pretty incredible and she’s done a lot over the years to help children and their families. Unfortunately the program is struggling to make ends meet. In fact today is the first day of the new school term and they don’t have the funds to pay for some of the fees. It sounded like many of the staff go without pay a lot of the time to make ends meet.

Julie started with nothing but her heart for kids. She found someone to come alongside of her in this journey. They found land sitting on a hill overlooking the city and Lake Victoria, land beneath the king’s home. In time they built this home and program.

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Julie has an incredible heart and a bigger voice.  If I understood her correctly, she has recorded some music that she sells in order to help pay the bills.  IMG_2204-Edit

Today was the first day of school, so many of the kids were not around. Julie said that they provide help to around 65 kids right now. Their system is not completely unlike the child protective services system and foster care programs in the U.S. If a child is found in need they are removed from the home.  The initial removal seems to be about 6 months and can be extended to 18 months or 3 years if necessary.

While the children are in the home, the staff are working with the family to correct the problems. They provide training on finances and nutrition. They provide them with mosquito nets and other necessities.

The difference between the two systems is that the government does not seem to pay any of the costs. Where CPS in Nebraska can’t order aIMG_2218-Edit.jpg family to services without providing money for the costs, the system in Uganda provides that if you are a children’s home you provide the training and support necessary to reunite the family.  Family reunification is also the desired outcome. There is a recognition that the family and the village are a necessity to the child, so complete removal and adoption are not looked at favorably.

Julie and I talked the same language. Abuse, victimization, removal and reunification were just a few of the common discussion points. In fact, I had to ask about an acronym in their guides because it is one we use in our line of work. It was slightly different, but it was so similar that I had to laugh.

This program has a lot of needs ranging from basic financial assistance to things like a new website. Julie was able to tell us exactly what her annual budget was, though I honestly forgot. Given the work they are required to do I was actually surprised it was so low.