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Being HIV Positive, Diagnosed with Cancer & Tuberculosis Has not stopped this Superwoman From Looking After 140 Kids in Slums

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Stella Airoldi first met Susan laker in 2009 when she first came to Uganda while doing research about post war victims and witnesses.

“I visited her house, where she was living with her 3 teenage kids. Back then I was 24 years old and Susan 26 years, so just two years older than me.  But her kids were already 9,10,13 years old.” Stella says.

Because Susan got pregnant for the first time when she was only 13, her kids didn’t go to school and neither did she. She got pregnant from a soldier while living in a military barracks which by then, was the only safe place for her to go to escape the LRA in Northern Uganda.

“Getting pregnant when I was 13 years old was so traumatising. I lost my childhood life. I wasn’t able to go to school which made me lost my hope for living a good future. I hated my parents for forcing me in to early marriage, my growth was totally destroyed and I segregated myself from people because I felt inferior.”- Susan notes.

When Susan was 15 years old, she conceived again but got a miscarriage when she received a message notifying her that two uncles, 3 nieces, a brother and sister had been killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels.

Suzan with some of the children being looked after by 22Stars

“I was shocked and lost the pregnancy. After a few months, I conceived again and gave birth to a second child at the age of 16 and when the baby was 6 months, the father died and since I had nowhere to get financial help from, I was forced to  remarry another soldier from the barracks to get protection and when I was 19 I gave birth to the third child.” Susan says

In 2007, her husband was deployed to Somalia on a peacekeeping and never returned, a thing that left Susan very frustrated. It was shortly after that, that she found out that she was HIV positive, had cancer and Tuberculosis (TB). It was not until an organization called Reach Out Mbuya came to her rescue that she was able to start cancer chemotherapy and TB drugs for six months and now am on ARVs treatment for life.

She then fled with all her children to Kampala which were (and still remain) her main reason and motivation to keep going in life. Her kids were tested negative and she wanted them to go to school. She started making jewellery, which initially her kids would sell in the streets.

“It was then my pastor introduced me to Stella. I was making paper beads jewellery and Stella decided to buy me jewellery on a yearly basis. At the end of 2012 when she came back to Uganda to see how I was doing, she was surprised to learn that I was going back to school by myself and I had improved.” Susan notes.

Suzan & Stella during the painting of the 22Stars office

Susan has been able to buy land and built a bigger house for her family. She completed high school and did a couple of short courses to improve her skills and knowledge for example a  certificate in Clearing, Forwarding and Shipping management, Certificate in Electronics, Certificate in Counseling People Living with HIV/AIDS.

“At first, all my friends and family thought I was completely crazy starting with women who cannot read and write and I cannot even communicate with. So true, things didn’t go that smooth the first 2 years. So end of 2014 I came back to Kampala and since 2015 I am here myself 2 to 3 times a year and things improved a lot.”- Stella says.

Susan is now managing the whole team of the 22STARS jewellery that comprises of over 20 women and supporting 150 children in slums. Thanks to recurring monthly donations, she (Susan) has been cooking in Acholi Quarter every Sunday since October 2016 ( so more than 14 months!) with the help of other 22STARS group members. The group started back then to cook for 50 kids and that is now 150. They get a hot meal with either fish or meat.

Suzan and Stella posing at the newly repainted 22Stars office

22STARS is a team of artisans made up by strong women living in the slums of Kampala and Jinja in Uganda making jewellery for a living. The platform is giving women in slum areas like Susan to sell their jewellery on the international market and earn a living, and in addition war running small social programs on the ground.

“Our choice for environmentally friendly products is a very conscious one. By using 100% recycled paper, the jewellery you wear does not only look good, but it also feels good. Our beads are hand made from paper and varnished with natural products.  This makes each peace uniquely different, lightweight and waterproof.” Stella says.

22STARS also uses education and entrepreneurship to empower children and their families to rise above poverty by creating long-term sponsorships for children in Uganda, and also run several community development initiatives including a nutrition program, basic needs program, small business training and micro loans program and our holistic educational program with extra-curricular activities.

“Without the help of Susan this all would not have been possible. As she knows how it feels like to sit in the stone quarry with your kids, crashing stones all day, not being able to send them to school, she is pushing very hard to help all the families over there to send their kids to school. She is so amazing how she is managing everything. Susan is a true superstar and really the strongest woman I ever met.” Stella concludes.

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Unsung Heroes

How Not For Sale Uganda is Fighting the Scourge of Human Trafficking

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Human trafficking is a problem that has been drawing the attention of media worldwide since the end of Cold War Era. It is a criminal activity that is often described as modern day slavery.

According to the Uganda 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report presented by the US Department of State, Uganda is a source, transit, and destination country for women, children and men subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically conditions of forced labor, child labor and sexual exploitation.

On record, there are about 837 reported cases of human trafficking according to the National Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Office under the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Raymond Kagumire and his team is trying to fight this status quo through Not For Sale, an organization that has set out to build a strong network of advocates to fight against modern day slavery.

Raymond (left) with his team during one of their awareness outreaches in slums

“My story begins when we were having dinner about 4 years ago at home and mentioned to my sister that one day I  would love to market a beer. She later introduced me to a Swedish technology executive, Ulf Stenerhag who had a desire to expand his beer brand “Not For Sale Ale” that donates 100% of the profit to Not For Sale organization to fight human trafficking.” Raymond states.

In July 2014, the team kicked off after the Founders David and Mark in San Francisco chose the name “Not for Sale” to start fighting modern day slavery most notably, Ugandans being trafficked to the Middle East.

“At Not For Sale, we understand that root causes of human trafficking or commonly termed as human trafficking is poverty and we build scalable, design driven social business solutions that can help us to inoculate communities susceptible to human trafficking as well human trafficking survivors.” Raymond says.

Not for Sale combines the best elements of social programming and business in its proven, 3-step process. The first step is social intervention where it partners with local experts, community leaders, and business people to understand the root causes of slavery in the region.

Not for Sale is dedicated to creating awareness for most vulnerable people in communities.

The group then provides food, shelter, education, and healthcare to people affected by modern slavery. This supports it when it goes to research and development to investigate the local economy asking key questions like, “why are people here susceptible to slavery? What could we do to create economy for them?”

“Our  third step is to partner with entrepreneurs who have a vision to build an economic engine for the project. These businesses feed revenue back into the project, so that we can give them jobs, stable income, and fund more social intervention.” He explains.

Todate, Not for Sale has built a team of dedicated ambassadors/volunteers working to eradicate school going children/students and communities. Given varying objectives and differing understandings of how to conduct more effective outreach, the group targets different populations in its anti-trafficking efforts.

“We have also been able to provide informative community based lessons about the crime of human trafficking and the advice available to the survivors of the crime and remain focused to task various organizations to fight this crime. It is not simply about finding and advising the survivors, it is about creating a self sustaining economy and a society which is more alert to the crime.” Raymond states.

Building a dedicated team of ambassadors committed to do good in their respective communities remains remarkable to Raymond, something he prides in.

Currently, Not for Sale conducts a school/community out reach program “The Not For Sale Campaign” to raise awareness against human trafficking in schools and communities.

“In January 2018, together with our mother organization, Not For Sale in partnership with Coburwas International Youth Organization to Transform Africa (CIYOTA) will launch a million dollar project to help refugee children to access quality education and amplify their entrepreneurial skills through seed funding opportunities for innovative solutions in Kyangwali refugee settlement on Uganda/Congo border.” Raymond says.

Seven (7) years from now, Raymond and his team wants to be able to answer the question; “What are the reasons that contribute to people being trafficked and communities being at risk of human trafficking in our country?”

“That’s the question that fuels the vision of Not For Sale Uganda and is the key factor in our next 7 years because while we provide answers, we understand that the lifestyle of the people in the 21st century is ever on a change and new methods will be designed by the traffickers.” Raymond explains.

It’s in this essence that to achieve their vision, Not For Sale has a dynamic road map and will remain committed grow self sustaining social projects with purpose-driven business to end exploitation and forced labor.

“I would say, synergizing would even makes stronger and find innovative solutions in our anti-trafficking efforts.” Raymond concludes.

We all agree that modern day slavery is on the rise and all efforts can’t keep but Not For Sale understands and has proven scalable, innovative business concepts and desire to do good to change the world and we can inspire others to create a world where no one is for sale.

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Food, Education, Clothes & Shelter: Ddiba’s Way of Rehabilitating Street Children

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Joseph Ddiba 28, is the Founder and Team Leader at Ba Nga Afayo (Act like you care) Initiative Uganda, a youth-led charity organization providing critical assistance to former street children, orphans and families struggling in terrible poverty in Uganda.

Ba Nga Afayo literally means “Act like you Care”. Which means that if it is too much to ask that someone becomes part of solving a problem, can they at least act like they care. This itself would require action.

“It is all about restoring lives and equipping less fortunate children with the knowledge and skillsets necessary to discover and live out their true vocations, thereby creating the opportunity for them to lead successful and fulfilling lives.” Ddiba says.

Over the past three years, the initiative has been providing shelter and basic care to homeless children and orphans as well as providing children from surrounding community with free care, counseling, school supplies and education scholarships. Many of these Children come from broken or poverty stricken families and the center is a haven for them, whenever they need it.

Joseph with some of the children in Banga Afaayo program

And it started with one story. “It all began with just one abandoned child. She was dumped and left to starve to death by her unknown parents. My mum being a nurse, she brought the little malnourished kid home, I believe the kid had like a week to live. So about two years later when I was out of University, this little kid had completely recovered and my mum said there were many cases where this one came from.” Ddiba remembers.

Her recovery inspired Ddiba to go save more himself. “ I remember I was hoping to help one or two children but unfortunately the number of cases was overwhelming and the root cause was poverty” Says Ddiba.

And that’s how he started a movement among his friends and family to “Act like they care” and donate something to help these children survive.

For the last two years, the initiative has been able to place 45 children into school who would otherwise be without a family or education. “I have not only witnessed the lives of children being transformed through sponsorship, but have furthermore become convinced that Uganda can be restored through education of these less fortunate children.” Ddiba says.

One of touching stories out of the initiative is a story of a beneficiary called Ezesa (in English Esther). Eseza was born out of incest, a relationship between a niece and her uncle. In their tribe she was an abomination. She was thrown away at birth and no one wanted to be near her.

“We met this girl when she was three years, never been breast fed, never been loved and always fed on left overs. She slept in the bush and she was hairy.” Ddiba says.

Eseza is now 6 years and she is going through recovery. “seeing her run around playing with other children makes me wonder where she would be if she was never found.” He says.

“Her story really touched me. I no longer have any choice but to acknowledge the heavy reality of it all: These children don’t just need our help–their very lives depend on it. It is mostly her story that keeps me going every time I think of giving up. I believe God brought her into our lives for a reason.” Ddiba says,

This however does not come off easily. His biggest challenge is that there is a lot of need and yet very limited resources. One incident he cites is a story of “Sula” one of the beneficiaries who got a sponsor and after just a few months, lost touch with his sponsor. “That right there is my worst moment. Until now, we have never told this child the bad news we don’t want to see that glow fade away.” Ddiba says.

One way how he is however fighting these challenges, is through partnerships. The initiative is currently working with Individuals, private companies, and churches in Canada, USA, UK, Romania and Argentina even though he is still working on creating a few local partnerships.

Some of the volunteers at work during one of the Back To School Charity drive.

He also does not do this alone. He commends his team for being part of his journey. “Maria our manager, Sylvia our manager for child sponsorship, Deborah our community coordinator, Hope our manager for child relations and all house mothers who act as mother figures to the homeless children.” He lists them.

Six years from now, Ddiba sees BaNgaAfayo growing as one of the major players eradicating Poverty in Uganda with more branches all over the country bringing real and lasting change to families and children living in poverty.

Ddiba wants to be remembered as someone who set an example and left a footprint in humanity. He hopes that the work he does at BaNgaAfayo Initiative will live past him and continue to touch a life here, a life there.

“Keep this verse in mind, Hebrews 10:24. And let us consider how we may spur one another on in love and good deeds.” He concludes.

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How Kakooza is changing perceptions about mental health in Uganda

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Liz Kakooza has struggled with depression herself.  She has had it ever since she was a child. She never knew depression was a very big issue until 2015 when she was diagnosed and had to through therapy.

However when she recovered, she realized that there were no organizations doing work to address the mental health issue in Uganda at a time when many cases of depression were on the rise.

“I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and having experienced stigma first hand and the lack of access to health care in Uganda, I made it my life’s purpose to raise awareness around mental health which in turn will address the issue of stigma.” Liz notes.

The mental health situation in Uganda

In 2006, The Principal Medical Officer in charge of Mental Health at the Health Ministry, Dr. Sheila Ndyanabangi, had predicted that there was going to be a significant increase in mental health illnesses over the next years. In 2016, The IOGT International reported that there had been 500% increase in mental disorders in Uganda.

Globally according to the World Health Organization, One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

Stigma associated with mental illness also is a significant barrier to care. People with mental health problems are amongst the least likely of any group with a long-term health condition or disability to find work, be in a steady, long-term relationship, live in decent housing and be socially included in mainstream society.

Kakooza is saving many people by encouraging them to open up on mental health

Founding Tumaini Foundation

“I started the Tumaini Foundation after identifying a need in the Mental Health space in Uganda and the continent as a whole.” Says Liz Kakooza, the Founder and Executive Director of Tumaini Foundation.

Tumaini Foundation’s approach is threefold aimed at raising awareness and address the stigma around mental health, improve access to health care for people living with mental health issues and influence and implement policy and legislation around mental health.

“In my journey of recovery, I have learnt that true recovery comes from helping others going through the same challenges which is why I started Tumaini Foundation.” Liz states as she recalls her story.

Tumaini Foundation’s focus is also on addressing stigma. Liz through her foundation believes that stigma comes from a place of ignorance and by educating people about mental health, we are able to address the stigma around mental health which will have a ripple effect and open doors for our initiatives.

The journey to launching the foundation and starting her work has also not been easy. Liz has not yet been able to identify many stakeholders in the mental health space in Uganda as the topic remains not talked about

Uganda on the other hand, has only one psychiatric hospital to handle all mental cases from across the country which becomes a very big challenge for individuals like Liz.

As Daily Monitor reported, Butabika National Referral Mental Hospital (commonly known as Butabika hospital or Butabika) is Uganda’s second largest hospital and the centre for mental health treatment and education in the country. The hospital may house anywhere from 700 to 800 patients at any one time, although it was built for a capacity of 550 patients.

“I have used crowd funding techniques and have engaged partners in my networks to get the ball rolling to change the conversation around mental health in Uganda. The message has spread further than anticipated to even different parts of the continent.”- Liz notes.

Currently, the foundation has a number of projects it intends to roll-out in its long-term plan. Recently, the foundation was able to start work on its first treatment center Africa Retreat Center (ARC). ARC is an intensive out-patient facility and rehab center. It offers different treatment and rehabilitation programs for people living with mental health disorders and addiction issues.

Other programs by the foundation include; Tumaini Combat which aims to work with the army, Tumaini Woman which aims to address mental health issues prevalent among women, Tumaini Ingane which will address the onset of mental health challenges among children and Tumaini Lifeline; Which is a suicide & crisis counseling hot-line. With this we will also launch an app to enable peer-to-peer support.

“We plan to roll-out an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) where we will work with employers (corporations & private businesses) to address mental health challenges in the workplace and to develop mental health policies.

At The Tumaini Foundation, Liz believes that it is through sharing of personal stories that the foundation will be able to change the conversation around mental health. In this spirit, the foundation is slowly rolling out several communications initiatives e.g. a blog that will be live soon to share stories about mental health that are within the African context.

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