Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda

by Retrak
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Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Rebuilding the lives of street children in Uganda
Becky being reunited with her family
Becky being reunited with her family

Retrak continues to offer vital support to children who are living on the street in Kampala. On the street children face significant dangers such as exploitation and abuse. The COVID-19 pandemic continued to impact our work at the beginning of 2022 with outbreaks across all four lighthouses. In January this had some impact on the number of children we were able to reintegrate (21) and only seven new children were served in our Lighthouse. However, by February the situation had improved, and we were able to support 60 new children and reintegrate 25 into family based care. This means that from November 2021 to February 2022 we have been able to welcome 249 new intakes into our lighthouses.

To address some of the negative impacts of COVID-19, our community work with Self Help Groups has been able to engage an organisation that supported child mothers who are unable to return to formal education post-Covid through community based skills training. So far, 10 girls in their community have been enrolled. Such initiatives are a fantastic way to provide stability and support to young mothers so that they can give their children the best chance.

The story below shows how we have been able to reintegrate families, after so many years of separation, and how much this means to them:

14-year-old girl reunited with family after 12 years

Thanks to Retrak, Becky* is now happily living with her aunt and cousins, who had been looking for Becky since her mother died when she was just two.

Becky told us: “I am so grateful for what Retrak has done for me while staying at the Lighthouse. I want to work so hard in school, succeed and make them proud. I will forever be grateful for the love and care they have given me.”

After Becky’s mother died, her aunt and cousins on her mother’s side searched for Becky, but with no contact details for her father, they lost hope. Meanwhile, Becky’s alcoholic father allegedly sexually abused his daughter.

Eventually the father was arrested, and Becky was taken in by a children’s home, where she lived for around ten years. When Covid-19 hit Uganda, most of the children were returned to their biological families. The police brought Becky to one of Retrak's Lighthouses.

Becky showed signs of depression when she first arrived. Our team introduced her to cognitive behavioural therapy, as well as group counselling. Gradually, Becky began to recover, and rediscover her confidence.

Over the next two months, Becky enjoyed a host of different activities at the Lighthouse, including lessons, sports, crafts, and life skills sessions. She began to think further about her future after participating in business skills training.

Meanwhile, our team searched for Becky’s family, through their local network. They discovered that Becky’s aunt had always wanted Becky to live with her. We were then able to reunite a delighted Becky with her aunt, and her cousins.

Becky’s aunt said: ‘‘Thank you very much for taking care of Becky, I thought that I would never see her again.”

Becky is now at school, and dreams of becoming a doctor. We continue to support her, to ensure she settles well in her new family, and are also supporting with school fees

*Name has been changed to protect survivor’s identity

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Retrak continues to offer vital support to children who are living on the street in Kampala. On the street children face significant dangers such as exploitation and abuse which has unfortunately been exacerbated by the COVID -19 pandemic. Retrak provides aftercare support through our lighthouses which offers medical, psychological and pastoral care as well as education and vocational training opportunities to help children rebuild their lives. When children are safely able to be reintegrated with their families we carry out follow up care and interventions with caregivers to help them care for and protect their children. 

Since the pandemic we have faced challenges to our outreach, aftercare and reintegration work, however, these challenges have been well managed and our services have largely been able to continue. By August 2021, the strict lockdown in Uganda had loosened and we were able to support more children through reintegration which allowed us to take in more children into our lighthouses than we had been previously able to. Between July to October 2021 we had 99 new intakes into our lighthouses.

One significant development in this period has been the introduction of prevention work in the Kawempe area, a Kampala slum community that is a hot spot for commercial sexual exploitation of young girls. Working with the Probation Officer and community social workers, 18 girls were identified, trained in life skills and are now ready for enrolment in apprenticeship training.

The story below shows how we have been able to continue to support vulnerable children during the second COVID-19 lockdown.

 

Protecting vulnerable children during Uganda’s latest lockdown, and beyond

Hope for Justice in Uganda is playing a vital role in a joint effort to care for vulnerable children during the country’s second COVID-19 lockdown.

Our team is working with the city authority and other non-profits to provide emergency shelter and care to more than 150 children who were living on the streets of the capital, Kampala.

The children were rescued and are now staying in one of the city’s schools. A Hope for Justice nurse and social worker are part of the on-site team, providing vital medical care and support. Our team also provided medical supplies, and blankets for the children.

Some of the children have been trafficked, and abandoned by their captors after the new lockdown restrictions came into place. The children were under the threat of violence from security personnel who are enforcing the lockdown, in an effort to clear them from the streets.

Florence Soyekwo, Uganda Country Director at Hope for Justice, said: “We are so pleased to report that the children are now safe, and well cared for. They have been tested for COVID-19 and are being quarantined as necessary. When the lockdown restrictions are lifted, we will take in some of the children at our Lighthouses, while some will be cared for by other NGOs. The children will then begin their journeys to more permanent family-based care. We are so glad to be playing our part in this vital work to ensure the safety of these vulnerable children during the national lockdown, and beyond. I would like to thank my wonderful team for going the extra mile during these unprecedented times.”

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In Uganda, Retrak supports highly vulnerable young people who have been exploited and abused. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened poverty and exacerbated exploitation here and our teams are working hard to provide aftercare facilities as well as supporting outreach operations for children of this exploitation.  

Retrak has continued to support children through our four lighthouses based in Kampala. In the first 5 months of 2021 we have had 140 new intakes into the lighthouses which are providing aftercare, counseling and employment or education support so that these young people can reintegrate into society and reclaim their lives.  

Alongside this we are working together with authorities to reach out to young people in siutations of forced begging and commercial sex exploitation. In March we supported the rescue of 50 girls and young women and the arrest of 11 perpetrators who were apprehended and taken to court. By better enabling the prosecution of these crimes, Retrak ensures trafficking and exploitation are crimes with consequences for perpetrators.  

An example of our innovative work to help vulnerable children and prevent child trafficking and street exploitation in Uganda is shown in the below story:

Helping girls go to school during their periods  

A group of 30 young people in Uganda have learned to make reusable sanitary towels to enable girls to continue attending school during their periods, and reduce their risk of becoming street connected or trafficked (as girls who drop out of school are more at-risk of being trafficked). 

The children are not only running their own social enterprise which is already benefiting girls and young women in the slum area of Kampala, but they are now set to learn tailoring as a group. They have also already learnt many skills to empower themselves and reduce their own risk of exploitation in the future. 

The local Retrak team were first introduced to the group of girls and boys through our network of local contacts. None of the children were at school, and some were trapped in sexual exploitation, street begging and forced labor. 

We began supporting the group by providing life skills training, covering areas such as decision making, communication, growing up and achieving goals, to empower them to take back control, plan and enjoy their lives. 

Retrak then worked with the young people to create the social enterprise, which targets girls’ absenteeism from school as one of the root causes of child exploitation. Many families in the area cannot afford sanitary towels, and so girls use rags or toilet paper instead, which often leads to their clothes becoming stained. This, together with the stigma associated with periods and a lack of health information and education means that often girls don't go to school for about a week each month during their period. This can lead to them dropping out of school altogether, placing them at higher risk of sexual exploitation, domestic servitude or street vending. 

We provided training and materials including a sewing machine, cotton and other essentials, as well as hygiene information to the group, so they can reduce stigma and spread the word about personal hygiene in their community. The group then began making and distributing the sanitary towels to girls who cannot afford them, ensuring they are able to continue going to school which we know acts as a strong preventative tool for exploitation.   

Your continued support for Retrak allows us to facilitate community-led projects that empower young people to make a difference, ultimately helping girls stay in education and away from living on the streets.      

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Rachel's reintegration
Rachel's reintegration

In Uganda, there are thousands of vulnerable children encountering violence, exploitation and abuse on a daily basis – on the streets, in situations of trafficking or forced labor. Retrak’s program aims to provide a safe space for children to overcome their trauma and, if possible, reintegrate them back into a safe family environment.

In 2020, Covid-19 challenged everyone on a global scale. The impact of the pandemic has been significant on the children we work with, and their families. Despite the many challenges we have faced due to Covid-19 restrictions, Retrak reached 313 children in our Lighthouses (short-term residential centers) providing them with safe shelter and protection. 240 children were placed back with their families.

At Retrak’s Lighthouses, children are supported to overcome trauma by accessing catch-up education (taught in line with the national curriculum), trauma-informed care and medical care, which they urgently need. We use a child-rights approach, meaning that together with them, plans are made for their next steps. Retrak social workers contact each child’s family to assess whether it is safe and appropriate for children to go home. When this is impossible, Retrak ensures that alternative family-based care arrangements – such as foster care or supported independent living – are made.

Below is a story of Rachel*, who is back with her family thanks to your support.

Girl, 14, reintegrated after being rescued from sexual exploitation

A young girl has been reunited with her family following interventions from one of Retrak’s community-based programs.

The team, based on the outskirts of Uganda’s capital Kampala, identified that a 14-year-old girl, Rachel*, was trapped in an abusive, exploitative relationship under the guise of marriage to a 17-year-old boy.

Rachel had run away from home – to escape an abusive and alcoholic relative – seeking security and an improved way of life on the streets of Kampala.

But she was lured into sexual exploitation and forced labor at a bar, servicing customers for the profit of the bar owner in exchange for food and shelter. Three of her peers were rescued earlier this year but fearing arrest, Rachel ran back to the streets.

One of Retrak’s staff members said: “When the lockdown restrictions were brought in due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Rachel was left stranded. It became a huge struggle for her to survive on the streets. As a survival mechanism, she began living with a 17-year-old boy in the name of marriage, who could provide her with shelter and food. But in reality, she was abused and sexually exploited.”

The Parish Kagugube Child Community Protection Committee (CCPC) identified the abused child and worked with Retrak’s Family Strengthening Officer to help Rachel make an informed decision.

She chose to separate from the boy and sought refuge with a friend, during which time she received support from Prevention Community Officers, CCPC members, police and local community leaders in the form of counselling, food, tracing her family and preparation for reunification with her family. She has also been supported to stop using drugs which she had been given during her time in exploitation as a coping mechanism.

Following support from the police and local authorities to trace the family, the prevention team worked with the reunification team at Retrak’s Tigers’ Lighthouse to arrange a pre-visit and eventually reunite her with her grandmother.

Retrak’s Family Strengthening Officer, said: “The sight of Rachel hugging her grandmother gave me goose bumps. This immense love and family attachment had been destroyed by parental negligence but has now been rebuilt through Retrak’s community-based responses by simply linking formal and informal processes.”

Rachel is now under the follow-up care of staff at Mary Lighthouse, who will provide continued psychosocial support and family support.

Another staff member said: “When Rachel began the process of rehabilitation, she was lonely and sad. She had lost hope that her family would receive her. At reunification, Rachel was a happier girl, determined to become a better person. She longed to see her family and could not hide her excitement on seeing her grandmother after almost one year apart.”

*Name changed to protect identity

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"I was received with open arms"
"I was received with open arms"

Protecting the children in Retrak’s care and the staff who work with them remains one of the charity’s top priorities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The teams at our Lighthouses are maintaining rigorous, long-term health and safety procedures to keep staff and children as safe as possible, with Retrak following the guidelines set out by the World Health Organization, including hand-washing and avoiding touching the face, nose or mouth. Nurses are stationed at each Lighthouse to provide medical care and check-ups. The children’s and staff’s temperatures are taken on a daily basis in addition to other health checks to identify any COVID-19 symptoms. Our Lighthouses are also disinfected and cleaned several times each day.

In Uganda there are thousands of vulnerable children* encountering hunger, poverty, violence and abuse on a daily basis. Retrak’s principal aim is to reintegrate these children back into a safe family environment. In the three months April to June 2020, Retrak reached 270 children through outreach or referral, numbers which are less than the same time last year due to restrictions in place because of COVID-19. Nevertheless, we were able to provide safe shelter and protection to 114 children in the Retrak Lighthouses  (our short-term transitional centres) and served 1041 children through the sessions in our clinics; 50 children successfully completed our reintegration process and were reunited with their families or placed in alternative, family-based care.

At Retrak’s Lighthouses, children are supported to overcome trauma by accessing catch-up education (taught in line with the national curriculum), psychosocial counselling and the medical care they so urgently need. We use a child-rights approach to work with the children, meaning that together with them, plans are made for their next steps. Retrak social workers contact each child’s family to assess whether it is safe and appropriate for children to go home. In cases where this is impossible, Retrak ensures that alternative family-based care arrangements – such as foster care or supported independent living – are made.

Below is the story of Anna** who is back with her family thanks to the support of donors like you.

 

A young Ugandan woman has been given hope for the future at Retrak’s Mary Lighthouse

‘I was received with open arms’ - Anna, 17, rescued from trafficking

Anna was one of ten girls belonging to the Karamojong ethnic group from Karamoja in north-eastern Uganda who were trafficked to Kenya for the purposes of forced labour and sexual exploitation, and rescued in Nairobi by police earlier this year. 

Anna*, the oldest of seven siblings, grew up in a very poor, unstable family. Her elderly father was unable to work and the family survived on government aid, supplemented with the little money her mother made from selling charcoal. 

But this was not enough to fund Anna’s education, and when a friend convinced her to leave home with the promise of finding a well-paid job in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, Anna became a victim of ‘peer trafficking’.She and nine other girls were targeted by an organised criminal group and soon found they were victims of cross-border trafficking. Thankfully, they were rescued by Kenyan and Ugandan law enforcement. Some of the perpetrators were arrested and the investigation is continuing. 

Anna and the other girls were referred to Mary Lighthouse, Retrak’s aftercare facility for children who have been exploited or who are vulnerable to exploitation. A team member told us: “When Anna arrived here she was very unsettled. She’d lived through such awful circumstances – she couldn’t sleep on a bed because she was so used to sleeping on the floor – and really struggled to find hope. But over the weeks we have seen her make huge improvements.

At the Retrak Lighthouse, Anna is learning English to supplement her two native languages, Ngakaramojong and Kiswahili. She has developed basic literacy skills, and learned life skills, housekeeping, personal hygiene and cooking – she can now cook pancakes, samosas and meat pies. 

Retrak is also committed to supporting vocational training for the young people it serves, to make sure they never again become vulnerable to traffickers. Anna has taken part enthusiastically in extra-curricular lessons that the Lighthouse offers: “She’s passionate about catering and hairdressing, and has already learned the basic skills. The positive interventions that Anna has experienced from Retrak since her rescue will give her a fresh start in life and equip her to become a self-employed business owner. This young woman’s future is bright!” 

Anna said: “I’m so thankful to Retrak for the care they’ve given me. They received me with open arms and showered me with love. And I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved.

“The practical skills I’ve learned have greatly shifted my thinking – I used to think the only way I could survive was as a nanny or by doing domestic work, but now I believe that with a little financial support I can start up my own business and earn money. 

“I won’t be a victim of human trafficking again. Thank you, Retrak!” 

 

*Retrak’s focus is on children under 18 who spend the majority of their time living or working on the streets

**Name and image changed to preserve anonymity 

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Retrak

Location: Cheadle - United Kingdom
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @retrak_charity?lang=en
Project Leader:
Priyanka Zacharias
Cheadle Hulme, United Kingdom
$81,185 raised of $100,000 goal
 
529 donations
$18,815 to go
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