Jennifer and Sophie embark on their second week working in Africa, supporting the Childs i Foundation. Their work takes them to Tororo where they visit CIF partners and families.
WEEK TWO -
This week Sophie and I travelled by mini bus to Tororo, which is a city four hours west of Kampala. Prior to our journey, Monday was spent at Child's I Foundation’s (CIF), team meeting. Lucy Buck, the CEO of the foundation provided an overview of the plans and direction of the charity for the year ahead. Lucy highlighted that it was the aspiration for CIF to focus on the orphanages who are willing to change and support them to de-institutionalise, returning children to their families, re-purposing the orphanages and seeking foster care and adoption alternatives. The vision is for CIF to move in to support the closure of the orphanage and then move out once the staff are able to sustain the changes and continue to support the children in their new communities.
The following day we set off from Kampala for the second week of our trip. Sophie and I arrived in Tororo on Tuesday evening after five hours in the car with George, our driver. Our first meal at the hotel was comical; Sophie ordered local fish from the Nile, which was greeted with great shock when a huge fish with wide eyes and hundreds of teeth was presented to her; not the fish and chips she had envisaged! The fish was delicious, and as it was so huge I got to eat some too!
Tororo has been a completely different experience to Kampala. It is a rural town, which, I’m told used to be thriving in the 1960’s. Currently the town is best known as the depo for which all of the aid from the UN is stored. The store in Tororo provides aid to the whole of Africa. Trucks upon trucks stood in never-ending lines by the side of the road and it brought home just how much aid comes via foreign countries. I wondered, how deeply western colonisation has impacted on this situation. Surrounding the town, the countryside is beautiful, banana trees, corn fields, sugar cane and lush green landscape stretches out in contrast to the red dusty earth. Out in the countryside there are many traditional African villages where the local people live together in houses made from mud and straw, it was in these villages where we were introduced to some of the families who have been reunited with their children through the work of CIF.
This part of our journey has been the greatest eye-opener so far in terms of realising the extent of the poverty here in Uganda. On our first day we were welcomed by Maria and Evelyn who have been working for CIF in Tororo for the last year. The project here is working with ‘Smile Africa’ an orphanage which is run through the church and managed by Pastor Ruth along with a team of nannies, nurses and support staff. The orphanage here is well established and currently holds a feeding program which provides four hundred children with meals every day. Smile Africa has a lovely playground and huge enclosed field with different buildings used as classrooms, offices, dormitories and kitchen. The charity was founded by Pastor Ruth following the death of a local child who had been eating out of rubbish bins and was poisoned. Since the death of this child, Pastor Ruth has sought to provide as much aid and support to the vulnerable children of her community as possible.
Our first day was spent meeting with the families who are now re-united with children who had been living in the orphanage. These children had been left at the orphanage for many different reasons, due to mental ill health of a parent, death of a parent, rejection or alcoholism. In these cases, the social work team worked to track down the families of the children and hold a ‘Family Group Conference’, whereby they would highlight the need to reunify the child and request a family member to come forward and support the child. These visits were so interesting, we met with one grandmother who had 32 grandchildren!! She was so calm and relaxed, surrounded by the 20 or so children she was taking care of who were not in school. She was charged with caring for them while their parents worked in the fields. All the families have been so friendly and welcoming of us and I have been deeply moved by the sense of community that is held in supporting one another.
Grandparents looking after the children and living side-by-side the wider family. It reminded me of how isolated many of our old people are in the UK and the frequent sense of disconnection we have to our grandparents. Here living out in the villages, surrounded by nature, there in a sense of harmony that is rarely found on UK soil. During these visits we have witnessed some of the great outcomes that CIF is achieving through their reunification programmes. One little girl now living with her grandmother, (who had not even realised she had a grandchild until she was contacted by CIF) was making good progress in reaching her developmental milestones in speech and mobility. The love between the pair was wonderful to see; the grandmother had provided the little girl with a safe and loving home, where she could belong and receive the care we would hope for all young children.
Yet, despite some of these happy outcomes, the levels of poverty the families were living in were stark.
Despite the staff at Smile Africa having a bore hole well and teaching the children to wash their clothes, the little ones are not really able to manage the task. Many of the children smell of urine and seem desperate for more attention/attachment. It was clear to us that the staff there were doing their best trying to care for them all, but with so many children outnumbering the staff it was a difficult task. Sophie and I made a plan to fundraise when we return and send a shipment of clothing parcels for the children, however, we were told by the staff that it’s difficult as if the children go home wearing new clothes they can become a target for stealing in the community. We were told of a shipment of baseball caps arriving for the children one Christmas which quickly resulted in the caps appearing for sale at a market stall in town a day later.
So, we are left wondering how best to help. Our following days in Tororo have been spent delivering training to the social work team here. We have delivered training on Participation and Supporting Adolescents into Independent Living. Both days have been lots of fun and we have really enjoyed working with the team here. The staff have been really friendly and supportive and given us a real insight into the enormity of the work here. Before we left we met with a group of local women who meet weekly at Smile Africa, to work on making crafts Their skills were incredible, making anything from baskets and mats to jewellery and clay pots. The group was being run by a woman who had been working to support the women of the community in teaching them skills in arts and craft and bringing them together. Their produce was then sold in a little gift shop they have on campus.
This weekend we travel back to Kampala. I will write again next week :)