Meet Julie. 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.
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.
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 a 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.