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.
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US Country Director