Displaced by Kony – who cares?

Putting aside the issues raised by Kony2012 on cross-border civil action, which I applaud, I am beginning to wonder, whether people are more concerned about the content of “the video”, than the “people” that it portrays and a good example of this is happening right now in Kampala.

The Acholi Quarter slum is a place where 10-15 years ago people were moved for their safety during the Northern Uganda war.  If it weren’t for the war, the slum would not exist and would likely still be rolling hills to the North East of Kampala.  Today it is a haven for child sacrifice, witchcraft and trafficking, frequent murders and muggings and abject poverty.  Schools in the area are forced to charge as little as $25/term school fees and even this amount proves too much for many families.

Businesses barely function, as there are too few customers and prices are cut to the minimum, yet 20-30,000 people manage to survive on the equivalent of $1.25 a day, the benchmark for extreme poverty.  Nowadays there are some communal toilets, which people can pay for, but at the beginning, there was nothing for the dignity of people forced into this place by war.  Water is poor quality and often carries cholera and children are dying even now of diseases such as malaria, even in this urban setting, where hospitals and drugs are easily available.

Many children survive on just one meal a day and it is not unknown that even this meal can be missed due to lack of money for food.  Some are forced to send their very capable children home to learn in a village school, because they cannot feed the child in Kampala.  Sometimes whole families can relocate back to their village homesteads, but in the scramble for lands post war, other families no longer have their ancestral lands and are forced to stay here in these slums.

So, who cares?  Meeting Point International have been a very significant charity in the support of these local people.  Project Have Hope have also been providing income generating activities for local people.  Other charities have helped with mosquito nets, or school fees sponsorship and other areas.  Kids Inspiring Kids run a regular Saturday Morning Activity for local children which is very popular.  And there’s us, the Chrysalis Centre for Children’s Empowerment, a unique place, where children can come, which is an oasis from their daily troubles, where they can come with friends, watch films, do art, read books, learn how to use the computer, do sports and other fun activities every day after school and at weekends and school holidays.  We believe that if these children are cared for, then the Acholi Quarter can transform into a better safer place to live, where people have a realistic hope of changing their lives for the better.

Soon, though, we will have to make the decision as to the future of our Centre, as our costs mount for our work with these children, over 200, at the last count.  You can see photos of 150 at this link.

So, what do we do at the Chrysalis Centre?

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Project Circulate is a regular club for local children who love to run.  In the holidays they run every day and at weekends they have been running at the Mandela National Stadium with Uganda Athletics.  The runners have won medals at the ISU International Fun Run, where they swept the board in the 5km race, four winning money which paid for their school fees for the next term.  66 children have participated, 30 or more on a regular basis.

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Imagine us Here was an art project we did for the Bayimba Arts Festival in Kampala, where children were taught how to paint and portray the environments they lived in and themselves.  We have noticed that some children, who had not realised their artistic ability have grown in confidence and even started to perform better at school, as a result of realising their talent.  67 children have participated and 15 have had their work exhibited at the National Cultural Centre.

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The board games collection we have at the centre is unique in Uganda.  They have been chosen to stimulate intellectually, but also to support personal development skills like planning ahead, social skills, such as teamwork, maths development, problem-solving and strategic thinking.  64 children have taken part in board games and 15-20 of these on a regular basis at the Centre.

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The activities we did with clay and masks were undertaken by Famous Friendz in May 2011.  The activity took place over several days, involving almost 40 children in the whole process, from design on paper, to using the masks in a theatrical performance.  Some of the children started to use clay as a medium for sculpture and some were clearly talented in this area.  The whole activity cost us less than £10 to put into practice, so we would like to do this on an ongoing basis.

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The Taekwondo club we started, by working with a professional Taekwondo coach, who trains children at the international schools.  He has volunteered his time and even raised money for food and clothing for the children in the club and in December 2011, he took the members to the National Taekwondo championships, where they won a number of medals, even one gold medal.  The club currently has around 20 members, though 30-40 children, both boys and girls, have tried the activity.

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Living accommodation – at the Chrysalis Centre, we provide comfortable living accommodation for sponsored children from the remote rural areas of Northern Uganda and have also run residencies for children from all over Uganda. We have housed children too, who had run away or had been thrown out of home onto the streets. Many children have also been given first aid for injuries and infection prevented.

Special events

In Uganda, there are many public holidays, but for most slum children this just means they have nothing to do, as they are off school. We were determined to celebrate all of these days with some special activities. On International Women’s Day, for instance, we brought all of the boys together to cook (some for the first time ever) chicken for some of the local more mature women in the local Acholi Quarter. On Heroes Day, in April 2011, we wanted them to feel like heroes for a day, to give them some hope for a better future. The kids were able to feel special and the events were all handled by our young social entrepreneur group. That day we had over one hundred children visit the Centre.

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Youth Conferences – in 2010 and 2011, the Butterfly Project ran conferences to understand what the real issues were for children growing up in the Acholi Quarter and how they compared with children in other parts of Kampala. The fear of trafficking and death was much greater and also issues like witchcraft were much more prevalent in their minds. School fees, their health and the local traffic (which has claimed many of their lives as they cross a busy road to collect water) were other issues they mentioned. In 2011, we became the representative for HIV/AIDS issues amongst youth for Eastern Kampala.

In Africa, the voice of young people strives to be heard and this blog is trying to bring issues raised directly from children.  Often they are not vocalised or are stifled by those who say “children know nothing”.  My experience is that many endure much more suffering than adults.  They eat worse and less, they are beaten, neglected and ignored far more than adults.  Schools exploit them for money and beat them when their parents fail to provide it or when their marks might affect a school’s reputation.  They are forced into thievery through starvation and then beaten for stealing.  If they complain about their circumstances, they are beaten again or expelled from schools.  They are taught to eat anything they are given, even when parents are eating well frequently.  Some are sold to pay for parent’s debts.  Some are sacrificed to pay for even bigger debts or for some miracle magic spell, which might “bring wealth”.

By no means every child is suffering in Kampala and I am not suggesting this, but many are, through ignorance of children’s rights, by parents, teachers and politicians fearful of change. We need to care about what is happening to children impacted by the war in Northern Uganda right both in Kampala slums and rural areas and take direct action.  Why buy a Kony2012 key fob, when you can change a life directly, with the same amount of money?

If you want to help children displaced by Kony, then why not support the organisations I list above, or, if you like what we are doing at the Chrysalis Centre, we are desperate to continue and build on our work and you can help pay our bills by clicking on the link below.  We will use your support right now, to carry out support for some of the most disadvantaged children on the planet.     Money donated does not pay for big USA salaries, it will support Ugandan volunteers, as they travel to and from the Chrysalis Centre, it will pay for our rent ($1,200), activities that are undertaken and schooling and food for the Northern Ugandan children that are housed at the Chrysalis Centre.  We’ve raised $10,000 so far this year and we need only another $5,000 to meet our target for 2012.  Do you care?__________________________________________________________________________

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