Last month I had the privilege of visiting the Retrak projects in Uganda and Ethiopia. It was wonderful to see Retrak's work in action, and to meet the children in our program whose resilience and optimism were truly inspirational. On my visit to Uganda, I spent a day accompanying Retrak social workers as they resettled a boy with his family and I spent another day on follow-up visits to children living with foster families. Here's a story of one child who was able to resettle with his family with Retrak's help:
Mukisa is 15 years old and had been living on the streets for 3 years. He had decided to come to the street to look for money to support himself in school. Living between two parents who separated when Mukisa was only eight made it difficult for him to solve the problems that he faced as a child.
Back in the village, whenever he was sent back home for school fees, he would go to his dad and if he had no money, he would return to his mom. This made him miss a lot of school. “At the end of every academic term my grades would be very low and when I was asked by my teacher to re-do the class my mother said she would not pay for another year in the same class. I decided to quit school and began helping her sell alcohol; a business that she ran at home.” In addition to selling alcohol, Mukisa started working for people in the neighborhood which got him into trouble with his mother, thus forcing him to leave home. He began staying in the nearby trading center. There life was difficult for him since he had to fend for his own meals and shelter. Some days he was forced to work on people’s plantations who would assure him of something to eat like sugarcane and pineapples.
With his other friends, Mukisa decided to move to a new place which he thought had more opportunities. Although he and his friends had never been to Mbarara, which is almost 80km from his village, they had hope that they would survive wherever they went with their skill of befriending strangers. They were certain that it would open doors for them.
"While in Mbarara, I continued to befriend people whom I also helped out by collecting water which they would pay me for. Then I got an urge to proceed to Kampala; a place that I had heard people talk about a lot, both in my own village and Mbarara town. One day I got a job at the Bus Park and this gave me a chance to know the bus fare from Mbarara town to Kampala. The sum was quite big so I convinced a friend who gave me the money with hope that I would pay it back.
“Life got harder especially that very first evening I got to Kampala. I had nowhere to sleep; the city was very big and busy. There was a multitude of people and lots of vehicles with very tall buildings so I decided that I would stay around the Bus Park so I wouldn’t get lost. The following day I tried to move around and I met some children by a big water channel. I stood there and watched them while they chatted, I was afraid of them. One of them invited me to join their band of friends. I went without food the first two days after which I was taught by my new friends how to scavenge in order to get some money. After some time, I was employed by street vendors to help them sell, but sometimes the city council officials would shut us down, load the goods on their pick- up and take them to their safe houses since the business along the streets was illegal. As a result, I was harassed, not paid and called a thief by my bosses. It was very painful to go unpaid after working for a whole month because the commodities were taken by city council authority. One day, I told my friend that I was fed up of living on the street. Sleeping in the water channel (at the sides when the water level was low) duringthe day when we wanted to rest. Sometimes, big boys would steal and run into the channel to hide away from the police pursuing them and everyone in the channel would bearrested. A friend mentioned that he knew of a place but the decision to stay there would be up to me – the place was Retrak.
“I liked the place so much, though at first I thought that children who stayed there were not from the street because they looked smart. Retrak taught me good manners like working hard, managing my anger issues, how to make friends and how to play football. I no longer get red cards on the pitch as a result of rough play and fighting. Here at the halfway home, I have learned how to care for farm animals and crops; something that I hated so much back at home. Now I have been able to grow vegetables in my plot which Auntie in the cottage where I stay has helped me to sell. Since I earned some money from selling the vegetables, I am very eager to do the same thing when I go back home. I have developed an interest in farming and will carry on with it when I get back home. I was also short tempered. Because of this I got red cards on the playground during soccer games but now I have learned how tocontrol my anger and have more friends. While on the streets, I got addicted to drugs; but thanks to the Retrak workers who continuously encouraged me and helped me to overcome sniffing fuel, I have been able to resist the temptation. I love my garden at the Halfway Home and I wish I would go home with it. God bless Retrak and all the people who fund it to teach children like me good habits.”
Mukisa’s character and attitude have tremendously improved. The Residential Care Worker he was attached to at the halfway home is sure that he will be very helpful to his family when he goes back. Mukisa is now at home and his family were very excited to receive him. The social workers will follow him up soon to check how the child is settlingin.
Thank you for your continued support, which makes our work with children like Mukisa possible.
Mothers Day is just around the corner, and we can't think of a better way to honor the mother in your life than to give a gift in her name to help some of the thousands of children living on the streets of Uganda.
A gift to Retrak would help children like Paul, age 10, who was taken from his mother by his fater, whom Paul refers to as a "drunkard". Paul narrates, "My father used to lock me up in the house as he went to work every morning. In this he claimed that he was preventing me from walking away from home since I wasn't going to school."
But one day Paul's father left the house unlocked, and walk away he did, towards the capital city of Kampala, "I came alone all the way, very scared since it had already grown dark. I kept looking back but no one was coming after me. God helped me and I got to this small town, which was still busy. However, people started closing their stores to return home.... I became very worried and afraid when I realized there were no people moving in that town any more. I was scared and I kept asking myself, what if sorcerors got me here, wild animals or dogs attacked me because I was seeing them move around?"
Eventually two policemen found Paul and offered to help him by taking him to Retrak's Drop-In Center in Kampala. At Retrak, Paul says "I feel very safe here and okay now. I play with my friends, learn and also get food. I thank Retrak because they are going to take me to my uncle's place."
On March 7th, Paul was accompanied by Retrak social workers to his uncle's home, where he received a very warm welcome. His aunt praised Retrak for their "merciful heart", adding that nobody else would have done such an act of mercy.
Paul's life was transformed with the help of Retrak, and we couldn't do our work without the generous support of our donors. Thank you for your help in returning Paul to a loving family. Won't you consider making another donation in honor of Mothers Day? To donate, please click on this link:
Retrak are delighted to have reached a huge milestone for our organisation. We have returned over 1000 children back to safe and loving families and away from street life! We couldn't have done this wihtout your support - Thank You!
If you want to help us return our next 1000 children home then please keep supporting our work. Don't forget March 14th - Match Funding Day!! Starting at 12:00 am EDT on March 14th, GlobalGiving will be matching all donations made through www.globalgiving.org up to $1,000 per donor at 30%. We have $50,000 available in matching funds. Matching will last until funds run out or until 11:59 pm EDT.
In Uganda on the 31st January 2012, Bwazi became the 1000th child that Retrak helped to return to his family home. But like every street child, his journey to this point was not an easy one.
Bwazi used to get teased a lot at home; the other children in his village picked on him and always tried to get him into trouble. Bwazi admits that he wasn’t always an angel, and one time he stole some money from his father who he didn’t get on with and who didn’t really care for him.
One day it all got too much and Bwazi took a neighbour’s bicycle and left. He was 13. He eventually found himself in Kampala a long way from home. There he met some boys who lived in the streets. They advised him to sell the bicycle for scrap in the local market so that they could all enjoy a good meal together. After that, the boys hung out on the streets. Every day became a struggle for survival, begging for food and searching for shelter. He had become another forgotten street child.
That is until one of the children, who had met Retrak’s street outreach workers, suggested that they go along to Retrak’s drop-in centre.
At the drop-in centre Bwazi found a listening ear. The Retrak staff had time to listen to his story and help him work through his past experiences. Bwazi was sure he didn’t want to stay on the streets, but he also didn’t think he could go home to his father. Through several counseling sessions, as well as through his catch-up education, sports and life-skills classes, Bwazi gained the confidence to visit his family again.
In December 2011 Bwazi, accompanied by Retrak’s social workers, went to visit his home. Everyone was amazed to see him. There were floods of tears. They met with his uncles and aunts to start with and, with support from Retrak’s staff, Bwazi was able to explain what had happened and to seek forgiveness for the bicycle that he stole. The Retrak social workers were able to assess the family situation and to discuss the way forward, including the possibility of Bwazi returning to live with his uncle since he was still not happy to return to his father.
After a further period of support and preparation Bwazi was accompanied back to his family home and placed in the care of his uncle and aunt. Bwazi will be one of approximately 200 children who Retrak will follow-up with during 2012 to ensure they have settled and are able to continue without support.
Thank you so much for supporting Retrak and helping us reach this huge milestone. We couldn't have done it without you!
The Retrak Team
We are delighted to tell you that over the past 12 months Retrak and have reached out to over 40 girls living on the streets of Mbale in Eastern Uganda and offered them health care, education and counselling at the drop-in centre. Staff then supported these girls in skills training, such as tailoring as shown in the photo, as a step towards earning a living and contributing towards family income.Thanks to your amazing and generous support 30 girls have gained the care and protection of a family and no longer need to worry about their safety and health on the streets. Retrak are passionate about working with street children and believe that by working together with other organisations and community groups that we can help far more children than we could alone. One of Retrak’s partners in Uganda is Child Restoration Outreach. The organisation‘s goal is to contribute towards the prevention, rehabilitation, education and resettlement of street children and empowerment of their families in order for them to become productive and self reliant. Thanks to the money that you donate Retrak and CRO are now working in partnership to resettle street girls with their families. Without your support we wouldn’t be able to offer these girls an alternative to life on the streets.
Thank you for helping these girls realise their potential and discover their worth. We couldn't do it without you!
The Retrak Team X
We are now counting down the days, opening the last few doors on our Advent Calendars and buying last minute presents before Christmas. Christmas is the season of good will, please take a few moments to slow down and read Andrew’s story about being on the streets and how thanks to your support he is with a safe and loving family this Christmas.
Please consider giving a Tribute Card to someone you love. The money from this gift will allow Retrak to help more children like Andrew. Go to ‘Gift’ here - http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/support-street-children-in-africa/ ...
It was December and Andrew was just 12 years old. He set off from his rural home for Kampala, Uganda’s capital. He didn’t know anyone in the city, but, since his family wasn’t able to keep him in school, he was determined to find someone to help him continue his education.
Like many children who end up on streets, Andrew’s vulnerability stems from poverty and family breakdown. In Uganda more than half of all children are considered to be vulnerable and over 60% do not live with their biological parents. In Andrews’s case it was his father’s drinking and the subsequent beatings that drove his family apart.
Retrak's staff regularly visit the streets and slum areas where many street children hang out in Kampala. It’s on the streets of Kampala that the Retrak staff met Andrew last Christmas. He had been on the streets for almost a year and found street life to be hard and unforgiving; he wasn't able to earn much money and feared for his safety at night. Andrew went with the Retrak staff to the drop in centre where he was able to find a safe space to sleep, get washed, relax and receive a good meal. After a few weeks Andrew joined Retrak’s halfway home, designed to give children the security and care needed to overcome their past experiences and move forward. This was just what Andrew needed. He struggled with anger towards his father. He often retreated into himself and found it hard to accept the love and support on offer. Through a lot of patient counselling, encouragement in class and participation in fun activities, Andrew slowly learnt to forgive his father and to even wonder how he could help his father overcome his addiction.
Retrak accompanied Andrew on a visit to his family. Sadly the situation had not changed and with his family still dispersed there was no home that he could return to. As Retrak supports the goal of the Uganda government and of keeping children in families, the next step was to identify a foster family for Andrew. Although foster care for street children is still rare in Uganda, Retrak’s experience meant that a suitable family was identified and trained. After a few more weeks Andrew was ready to move in with his foster family. They made him feel very welcome and his new brothers were excited to have him as part of the family. With ongoing support and guidance from Retrak, Andrew’s foster family has given him the care and sense of belonging which has allowed him to go from strength to strength.
Thanks to your support Andrew is safe with a loving family this Christmas.
We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy new year.
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US Country Director