The innocent hugs and smiles that I was used too 17 years ago are finally here again, though they bring lots of tears.
Growing up as an orphan from 10 years of age didn’t bite a lot until I started losing many of my village-mates I shared the same fate with. I remember we used to hug and smile a lot whenever life would be hard on us back in my village. However, I was fortunate to be taken to school by my uncle, giving me a “comfortable” local life. Looking back, I think that this robbed me of my most precious childhood memories because I was removed from my genuine friends with whom I shared the same suffering; a day-to-day routine that had become normal to us. Most of them did not make it in life because of hunger or sexual harassment which led to HIV, and others became mentally ill due to early child labor.
Those awful childhood experiences and the loss of my close friends inspired a vision: I wished to one day save those who might not have someone to rescue them like I had. This gave birth to the Elohim Child Development Association with three branches; that is child, youth and family departments. Right now, we are concentrating on the children.
At the age of 23 in my second year at the university as I went back to my village I realized over 97% of my childhood friends had died. I took it upon myself to research the age at which they died and found out that most of them died before their 16th birthday. I visited their resting places and prayed for them. My promise to my creator up to now is to die trying to share hugs and smiles with the children that are hopeless in any way that I can.
I was joined by two ladies who shared my vision: Aunt Hope and Aunt Joan. This came as a relief because at least I had mothers on my team for the new hug and smile mates we were to get later. At first we rescued three children off the streets of Kampala. Unfortunately, because of their background and limited knowledge and capacity, they ran away and went back to the streets. I felt I had let down my promise to God.
We decided to go back to the rural areas since I had grown up in a rural area where there was no electricity, proper road network, or reasonable care for the vulnerable people in society. After carrying out some research, I came across a small town called Bombo, 30 km north of Kampala. In Bombo is Uganda’s largest military barracks, which makes the cost of living for the people of Bombo very high because of the presence of the military personnel competing for the small resources available. Additionally, there are many other negative social impacts well known in over populated areas, mass unemployment being principle amongst these.
I immediately rented out a small piece of land with the help of Aunt Joan who had better knowledge of the place and set up a music training shed. Joan is a professional trainer in cultural music, dance and drama. On our first evening as we toured around the town streets, we found, to our shock, many children sleeping under shop entrances in town at night. As we had our supper in the local hotel, we were served by two very young girls as two boys behind were chopping fire wood late into the night. The following afternoon we noticed how many children were not in school but were doing petty jobs for measly pay, much of which they would spend on sniffing fuel, cigarettes or marijuana. We were overwhelmed by the amount of child suffering and homelessness in the area.
Joan, Hope and I were able to set up a structure and establish a lodge for many kids and youth to stay in at night. As we got to know them better, we found out that they were orphans or members of dysfunctional families in the village. As time went on, we encouraged a few to join our music group, and to our pride over 8 wished to join after only one week in operation. After two weeks we had over 30 children! The reasons behind this were that they could eat something from our center, were not harassed and enjoyed the music. Ahhh! I felt my dream was getting somewhere, and I still feel so inspired, fulfilled and determined.
Since then, Elohim has really matured as an organization. I have been blessed by the love and support of friends, family, and volunteers. I see so much potential for our little project with a big dream. My vision, which started with more failures than successes, has grown up and begun to cause significant changes in the lives of marginalized children and youth. I will die if that is what is needed to make sure an African child keeps smiling.
Director/Founder, Elohim Child Development Association