If you have been following our work in Uganda you will know that we have currently been focusing on expanding our Child Protection Team model into three new slum areas surrounding Jinja.
We piloted the use of a Community Child Protection Team (CPT) in Masese II slum (Soweto). When we first began working here, children were extremely vulnerable to neglect, abuse and even child sacrifice. Through building relationships with, and training volunteers in the community, piece by piece we were able to support them in the creation of a protective environment for their children.
Setting up the new teams
Motivated by the success of this pilot, we have expanded the work into three new slums surrounding Jinja - Loco, Masese I and Masese III. Our Children on the Edge Africa team have built relationships in each location and in partnership with the community have identified problem areas.
Babra is a social worker for COTE Africa, she describes how “ Our projects are completely owned by the community. They participate from the start. They identify the problems, they identify the solutions. They are a voice for the voiceless and a link between the community and the institutions that can help”.
To begin to address the issues identified in each area, the team facilitated a series of child protection workshops. After four months of workshops, each community elected a team of ten trusted volunteers to act as the eyes and ears of the children. They have begun training, been provided with simple resources and are already beginning to see transformation in the communities they serve.
First steps towards change
Last month our Communications Officer; Esther Smitheram, visited the newly formed teams to learn about the challenges they are facing and how they are finding solutions in many difficult situations where children are at risk.
In Masese I the team are beginning to put their training into practice. They have been encouraging children to attend school instead of loitering, advising a grandmother headed household on caring for an HIV positive child and supporting a bereaved father in caring for his children.
Sissy, the youngest member of CPT here, has already begun to make a difference. She tells how “There is a mother in the area who sells as a job, she leaves early and comes back late. She leaves her 2 year old in the care of an older sibling, but they just leave the small child on its own all day. Each day at dark the little one starts crying. I waited outside her home for the mother to return. I talked with her kindly about the importance of keeping the little one safe, now she makes sure he is never left alone”.
The Masese III CPT are faced with the challenge of sensitising a community with different cultural values. The largest tribe in this area is the Karamojong, a nomadic people group from northern Uganda. Their culture have a ‘hands off’ approach to childcare, and as soon as a child can walk they are left all day while the mothers work.
Godfrey Rucho is the chairperson of the CPT here, he says “They think nothing of this, as this is how they were treated when they were children, they have not gone to school, they don’t value education. Some parents don’t mind where their children spend the night, the children sleep outside, they don’t care if they are safe or not”.
Consequently the area has very high number of street children. The CPT has begun to work alongside these children and their parents. They have built relationships with key people in the tribe, one of whom has become a member of the CPT. They have already been successful in supporting many children to be reunited with their parents and return home.
Godfrey describes how “It used to be if you tried to talk to a parent they said ‘If you’re so concerned then take them’, but we are hoping that with the help of the Karomojong chairperson and a team member who is Karomojong, we can start to talk to more parents about taking care of the children.”
Loco community is one of the poorest areas around Jinja. The new team here talk about many organisations coming in and promising them the world, only to leave a year later with conditions returning to what they were. Edwin Wannabe, Programmes Director at COTE Africa says “We make it very clear from the start that it is the community themselves that can make a change. We promise very little, our role is to serve them. We then explain that we are just an organisation and they know the community more than we do.”
It is this ownership that creates sustainability. In Loco it took time for the community to believe things could be different, but as they identified their own issues and were resourced and trained to deal with them they begin to see things change.
Talking to the CPT in Loco, Esther describes how “Already each team member is full of stories about how they have used their training to intervene in situations of of child neglect, abuse, domestic violence and crime. They are beginning to form an effective link between the community and the police force, protecting vulnerable people from corruption and ensuring cases are dealt with quickly. Loco is already a safer place for children”.
Chizito, the chairperson of the CPT in Loco says 'The people see workshops, they see a team that deals with their problems, they see a drop in domestic violence and crime, they see their children on a playscheme and a new Early Childhood Development Centre being built, and it gives them hope. These things have never happened in Loco. Hope is knowing things can change’.
Watch this space for regular updates about the new teams and their work. As a result of the success of our pilot and the effectiveness of the current work, we will be writing up the Child Protection Teams as a model. The aim is to roll out this work across some of the most vulnerable communities throughout Uganda, especially those with higher reported levels of child sacrifice.