Children from the slums of Soweto, a community of displaced people on the outskirts of Jinja, Uganda now have their own safe place to go to, somewhere they can play, learn and eat.
This is no small thing in a community where abuse is rife, brewing alcohol is the main industry and where child sacrifice is prevalent.
Due to AIDS claiming their parents many children live in cramped households cared for by elderly grandparents or older siblings.
139 children attend pre-school at the centre. These children are from the most vulnerable households in the community. Malnutrition is a serious problem and many children are lucky if they get a meal a day. Young children are often fed the dregs of the alcohol brewing. As part of the early childhood development programme these children now receive morning porridge and for lunch posho (maize stodge) and beans or greens.The staff cook this in a small wooden hut with two pots over open fires.
Education and play sessions run throughout the day with a creative pre-school programme in the morning and afternoon sessions of play and education for the older children.
The community are taking ownership in the planning of the children’s activities, coming up with creative ideas of working within a limited budget. They are sourcing materials locally such as building blocks from local wood, beans for counting lessons, coconut fibre balls and percussive shakers from plastic bottles filled with millet. For the outside they will be building a sandpit from tyres and filling it with sand from the River Nile.
The project’s Child Protection Committee formed from within the local community has already prevented repeat cases of abuse through effective intervention. This committee is running awareness sessions on different topics for the adults of the community ranging from child development and child protection to domestic violence and alcohol awareness.
An important component of the programme is a livelihood scheme to provide alternatives to brewing alcohol enabling carers to earn income to feed their children and send them to school. One of these alternatives is developing kitchen gardens which has been made possible by a generous donation of land to the project from the local diocese. This land will also be used to grow food for the pre-school programme.
James aged 5 is one of the lucky children who attends the Centre. He is being looked after by his aunty as his mother died of AIDS. His aunty distills alcohol to earn a living and finds it very difficult to put food on the table every day. She is HIV+. James has not been tested but 2 of his siblings died with signs of AIDS. As part of the projects health screening programme James will soon be tested and will receive any necessary medical support. His aunt says he loves attending the centre and comes home every day singing songs.
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