In Uganda there are thousands of vulnerable, street-connected children* encountering hunger, poverty, violence and abuse on a daily basis. Retrak’s principal aim is to reintegrate these children into a safe family environment.
In December 2019-January 2020, Retrak reached 460 children through outreach or referral; 46 were reintegrated with their families or placed in alternative, family-based care. We provided safe shelter and protection to 362 children in the Retrak Lighthouses (short-term transitional centres).
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 working with children, meaning that together with them, plans are made for their next steps. All families are assessed to see 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 Anita** who is receiving the support she needs to reintegrate back into life in her community, thanks to the support of donors like you.
A 10-year-old girl has been rescued from an horrendous cycle of sexual abuse after her neighbours were trained to spot the signs of slavery.
The schoolgirl had been enslaved by a relative who exploited her vulnerabilities on a regular basis. She was in pain as a result of her abuse and became increasingly withdrawn.
Her plight was uncovered by neighbours in the community where she lives – a village in rural Uganda – after they received training from Retrak on how to recognise the indicators of exploitation. As a result, and in response to their concerns, police carried out a raid on the family home.
Officers referred Anita to one of the Retrak Lighthouses – a safe haven for children who have been abused and exploited, or who have been vulnerable to exploitation.
A police chief at the Ugandan Children and Family Protection Unit said: “We don’t have the facilities to shelter these vulnerable children – Retrak is the organisation we depend on for their care and protection. We’re incredibly thankful for everything they’re doing.”
Anita has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression as a result of the sexual exploitation she experienced. Retrak’s team of trained professionals is providing trauma-informed care and psychotherapy sessions to support her through the recovery process.
A member of the Retrak team in Uganda said: “Anita is finally in a safe space where she’s receiving care and support – she’s safeguarded and beginning the journey to recovery: her life is being restored. She no longer isolates herself from others – she’s actively participating in various activities at our Lighthouse. She’s living the childhood that had been taken away from her.” Recreational activities (see photo) are an important part of restoring self-esteem and building the confidence of children who have been exploited, rejected and abused.
Anita has received medical care for the physical injuries that she sustained during the abuse, and at the same time is attending counselling sessions. She has also been attending lessons at Retrak’s Shine School, an education and career centre for children and young people who have been exploited. She is also accessing the Lighthouse life skills sessions – covering topics such as personal hygiene and health – as well as attending classes alongside her peers.
Anita says: “I hope to become a doctor when I am older.”
In Uganda, there are thousands of children living and working on the street. Retrak conducted an enumeration study in 2017 of children across four locations (Kampala, Iganga, Jinja and Mbale) in Uganda (report forthcoming). The research study estimated that there were 15,500 children living and working on the street across these four locations. Retrak’s work directly addresses this issue and we are working to ensure that vulnerable children are no longer forced to enter exploitation, and are placed in safe family-based or alternative care.
In 2019 to date in Uganda, Retrak has reached 1,613 children through outreach or referral. We supported 395 children in our Lighthouses, and 244 children were reintegrated with their families or in alternative family-based care.
In the last month, we reached 154 children in outreach and provided safe shelter and protection to 112 children in the Lighthouses (short-term transitional centres); 37 of these were girls who were in exploitation and domestic servitude. Children are supported to overcome trauma by accessing catch-up education (taught in line with the national curriculum), psychosocial counseling and medical care. We use a child-rights approach to work with children, and together with them, plans are made for their next steps which range from family reintegration to supported independent living for some young people. In the last month, we have supported 27 children to reintegrate into safe family-based care. All families are assessed to see whether it is safe and appropriate for children to go home. For those who cannot go back to their families, alternative care arrangements such as foster care or supported independent living are provided.
Below is a story of Mugisa who is back with his family, thanks to the support of donors like you.
A boy has been reunited with his family and supported into work after fending for himself on the streets and being exploited at the hands of employers.
The Ugandan teenager had to leave school aged 13 because his grandmother, his sole carer, was unable to afford the required uniform and equipment.
Mugisa* sought out work near his home in the Kabale district, west Uganda, to help feed his family of nine, including his sister and six cousins. They were just about managing to provide two meals each day.
Mugisa’s mother, his only surviving parent, had remarried and moved to the capital, Kampala, and did not keep in regular contact.
Aged just 15, Mugisa left home after a friend convinced him they would find employment in Hoima, a district more than 260 miles away.
The boys found casual work on a farm but after three weeks they had not received any money apart from small helpings of food and a room they shared with other manual workers.
Mugisa fled 120 miles to the town of Luweero, where he found work on another farm clearing bush. But being given nothing in return, he escaped, travelling 37 miles on foot until he reached Kampala.
He was fortunate to find a part-time job potting flowers, which paid enough to buy food but no more.
It was during one of these shifts that Mugisa heard his native language being spoken by a man selling sugarcane. The vendor heard the boy’s story and directed him to a Lighthouse run by Retrak.
“I had never met such caring people,” Mugisa said.
A project worker said: “He was given a good meal, a comfortable bed and an environment which made him feel like the child he was.”
Mugisa stayed at the Lighthouse center for more than four months, during which time he received food, shelter, clothing, psychological support, life skills, employment skills and more.
The Retrak team was able to reunite Mugisa with his family. His grandmother, who was in her late 70s, had feared him dead.
“I am very happy he is home,” she said, “and I appreciate Retrak for the support they have given him. I am very optimistic that he is going to be very successful in life.”
With support from Retrak, Mugisa was enrolled onto a motor mechanics course, where he trained for one year. He successfully graduated earlier this year but has been kept on at the mechanics.
His trainer said: “He is very dedicated to his work and loves it so much, which is the reason I found it an easy decision to keep him on.”
Retrak gave Mugisa a toolkit and some money which he used to purchase tools and a goat.
“I have the best toolbox at the garage”, Mugisa said.
Mugisa’s dream is to start his own garage in Kabale town, where he hopes to attract more clients.
*Name changed to protect identity
Rita* is a 14-year old girl and was referred to Retrak’s Bulamu Lighthouse by the Ugandan police’s Child and Family Protection Unit (CFPU) in November 2016.
Rita had suffered gross physical and emotional abuse at the hands of a maternal friend (a drug-dependent bar tender) whom the child's mother had entrusted with Rita’s care before leaving town. However, when the mother was unable to continue sending financial assistance for the child, the bartender hit back and ordered the child to sleep in the bar. Soon the patrons of the bar came to know about this, and one of them broke in to sexually abuse her. When she came to us at the Retrak Lighthouse, Rita was initially withdrawn and uninterested in participating in any of the centre’s activities, including eating. She would frequently be found weeping and went into a deep depression.
However, with support from the Lighthouse staff, Rita gradually opened up and began to participate in activities. She demonstrated a keen interest in catch-up lessons and group counselling. During one-to-one counselling, she shared her painful past, asking, “Will I ever see my mother again?"
The CFPU referred Rita to Retrak, later linking our social workers to the Immigration Office at the Uganda-Sudan border. Police on both sides helped trace Rita’s mother in South Sudan, and a month later, she visited the Lighthouse. Social workers engaged her to understand why she had handed over Rita to the care of her friend rather than relatives; we were also interested in finding out the whereabouts of Rita’s father. Rita’s mother revealed that he had abandoned his family when they both tested HIV positive and has never been seen again.
After thorough family assessments, Rita was reunified with her mother. It took a case conference for Rita, her mother and her foster carer be reconciled, and for Rita to overcome her sense of extreme bitterness towards them both – but now, Rita lives with her mother and is a happy and enthusiastic school student.
Retrak supported Rita’s mother to place Rita back in school and provided follow-up support, including information about counselling, one month’s school fees, and identifying a teacher to provide her with mentorship support. Through intense follow-up visits from Retrak, and support from her mother and a school mentor, Rita has challenged all the social limitations facing her and is committed to completing her studies. She intends to become a midwife. Her mother is earning enough income to provide their basic needs by trading in used clothes, and as part of Retrak’s follow-up work we are looking into ways to support her to boost her business. This is all part of Retrak’s strategy to support the children rescued from the street, to ensure greater stability for the whole family and create a secure, loving and happy environment in which Rita can thrive.
*(not her real name)
Justine* grew up in a poor rural village in Uganda. Desperate to support the family, her mother put her on a bus to the capital, Kampala, where she had arranged a job for Justine as a babysitter with a family who used to live in the same village.
But the family treated Justine atrociously: they abused her and gave her almost nothing to eat. She ran away, but not knowing how to get back home, ended up lost on the streets. Thanks to an intervention from a concerned adult and a police officer, Justine was brought to one of Retrak’s Lighthouses for care and protection.
As the Lighthouse staff looked after Justine they also worked to trace her mother, and then visited the village to teach her mother about the dangers of child trafficking and the importance of education.
When staff were sure it was safe for Justine to return home, we reintegrated her with her family and enrolled her in school. At a recent follow-up visit, Justine was still happily in school, attending regularly and with a great performance, especially in science. We’re so pleased to hear how well Justine is now, and what fantastic progress she’s made.
*name changed to protect child’s identity
My name is Salima and I have two children. When Retrak came into our community, they showed us how best to interact with our children, and how to nurture them into being responsible people.
I used to be very bitter and couldn’t listen to my children – I wanted the best for them, but I didn’t know the right way to guide them. Retrak showed us how to handle our children – I’ve learned how to draw them closer to me and talk. Retrak also held some sessions just for children. One of my children used to go out collecting scrap and wouldn’t listen when I tried to guide him. It was so worrying seeing him loitering around – but through Retrak’s life skills lessons, he’s a changed person. He listens to me, and tells me where he’s going. And now he’s stopped looking for scrap and is focusing on his studies.
Good parenting skills make such a difference to people’s lives. Thank you for your ongoing support. We are grateful for your continued donation to our project.
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