The importance of our sponsorship programme for the children themselves, for the consolidation of the schools at Bulumbu and Bubebbere and for the wider communities in those villages, not to mention the progress being made by Les Amis d’Ouganda, should be crystal clear to everybody who has followed what we are doing.
This project has served as a beacon to attract more supporters and is a constant source of pleasure for those of us doing the work both in Europe and in Uganda.
For the positives. We currently have 94 youngsters being supported and we thank most sincerely each and every sponsor. The breakdown is as follows:
- Primary school children sponsored = 76
- Secondary school students supported = 15
- Vocational training on an early childhood course = 2 young women
- Vocational hairdressing course = 1 young woman
It is a great pleasure to report that two other sponsored young women have graduated from their training in early childhood education and have returned to the villages with added experience and enthusiasm to work with the little ones in the nursery classes. Just a few years ago, we could never have dreamed of such a development.
The lives of these children and young people have all been influenced for the better. The schools are now firmly established and are becoming more and more viable in the long term. The local communities are being rejuvenated as villages where it is worthwhile living; the mass exodus into town has been halted and even reversed.
These positives though cannot and must not mask the negatives; the problems, the sadness and the personal tragedies which remain. The AIDS epidemic which ravaged the country resulted in a missing generation; there are so many children who have to live with grandparents. The problem is accentuated when the family members of the senior generation die, often leaving the children with nobody to care for them. Some can be taken in locally by friends or other relatives; others are moved around to different regions where the extended family can perform the role of stand-in parents; sadly, for others, even that option does not exist.
Since our Dream Scheme friends inaugurated the orphanage at Bubebbere (where many of our sponsored children live), there has at least been another possibility. It can only take 34 children however and that does no more than scratch at the surface. Each year sponsored youngsters are lost to the school, to education and to our project for this reason.
Of course there are many children who are themselves HIV positive through mother to child transmission. Although anti-retroviral drugs are available, there are additional problems in remote villages such as Bubebbere and Bulumbu where there is no medical oversight whatsoever. We have pointed out on numerous occasions that government health facilities can only be found many, many miles away. Even there, the quality of care is often far from the best.
HIV is only one element in the overall health problem. Malaria is an even greater killer. Infantile diarrhoea is another source of childhood death and this is not helped by the lack of clean water facilities, and can lead to intestinal worms. If we add to these, problems caused by malnutrition and respiratory diseases, it is clear that childhood in rural Uganda is not a smooth-running stream. It constantly amazes me that the children are so positive and cheerful when they greet us.
All of these issues affect our children in a variety of ways. They can be absent from school through illness, or through having to care for sick parents, grandparents or siblings. Often from a young age, they have to contribute to keeping the family alive. Even when they get to school, study can be a secondary concern if they are suffering from debilitating anaemia or malnutrition.
There are unfortunately many occasions when the problems become overwhelming. Children drop out of school for a whole range of reasons. They may be left as orphans and moved elsewhere to be cared for. Parents are hospitalised and a boy may have to take on work as a labourer or by fishing on Lake Victoria. A girl, even at a young age, may have to take responsibility for family care, or to seek employment as a maid for example.
I always find it difficult when I have to tell a sponsor that their little boy or girl has dropped out of the scheme and to ask him or her to take on another child; especially when it may happen more than once. But what does my small problem matter? Next to the lives of these youngsters, our problems are no more than a drop in the ocean.
So ….. I am sure that on the next occasion that I have to ask you to take on a different child, you will understand. At the very worst, you have already given your Ugandan “son” or “daughter” a few more years of childhood that she or he may not otherwise have enjoyed. At best, you will be providing a real future for a young person who otherwise might have had nothing.
We try to give hope to these children and can only say thank you for giving support to that hope.
To those of you just learning about our work, ask as many questions as you like. I am always there to answer them. If you like what we have to say, please come on board, and help us to enable our Ugandan friends and colleagues to help themselves.