A travelling vacation volunteer has recently returned from an eye-opening trip to Uganda with a heartfelt plea to her fellow Ponoka residents.
Dawn Hallworth left on a volunteer trip to Sanyu Baby’s Home, an orphanage in Kampala, the nation’s capital, June 3 and returned June 26.
Hallworth has volunteered in many different orphanages before, in Paraguay, Ethiopia, Nepal and Calcutta. It was in 2008 that Hallworth took her first volunteer vacation with Habitat for Humanity after a co-worker got her excited about the trip.
Her next trip is in November, 2012 to El Salvador, where she will co-lead for the first time with the co-worker, Ray Vanderkooi.
However, out of all the orphanages and builds Hallworth has been on, it was in Kampala that she found the best and worst situations she’s ever seen.
“The orphanage was pretty much an amazing experience.”
The orphanage had 53 children up to age four. Two of those children continue to run on little feet through Hallworth’s mind even after her return to Ponoka.
Titus was a boy around two or three years of age. “He had me wrapped around his finger,” Hallworth said.
According to Hallworth, Titus is a little boy with a big attitude. He’s headstrong and even though he’s just learning to walk, would plow his way around the orphanage. Titus would grunt and scream if he wanted something, but he never cried.
Another favorite of Hallworth’s is Martin. “He showed up one night when we were there,” Hallworth said. “He was completely . . . his eyes were dead and he wasn’t responding at all.”
Even when volunteers like Hallworth held him, Marin was limp and wouldn’t make eye contact. It took about a week for Martin’s personality to come out. When it did, Hallworth branded him cute and sweet but a little terror.
With a laugh, Hallworth said she was always attracted to the bratty ones.
Before Hallworth left the orphanage Martin’s father showed up after seeing his son’s picture in the newspaper and she was able to witness the bittersweet reunion between the boy and his father.
Another child, nine months old, was brought in and was smaller than a newborn. According to Hallworth he weighed less than five lbs. “When he took off his clothes to change him the skin was just hanging off him. You could see every tiny little bone in his little body,” said Hallworth. “At nine months old he was starving. I honestly don’t even know how he survived.”
Hallworth found it difficult to leave the children because it’s hard to know what will happen to them.
There’s a policy in Uganda; even though many children are up for adoption some of them aren’t adoptable.
Hallworth remembers a case where a girl in her mid-teens was raped and after she gave birth to the child, who’s now at Sanyu, she died. The policy states that as long as there’s a living relative a child cannot be adopted without written consent.
The rapist is legal father of the child. No one knows where he is. Until he’s found, admits he raped the girl, claims the child, and gives adoption consent the child can never be adopted.
“You see all these kids and you see that they’re never going to get out of there,” Hallworth said.
However, not every girl dies and not every child is abandoned. On the last day of her trip Hallworth was given a tour of the slums by three of the four founding members of AFFCAD; Action for Fundamental Change and Development.
Hallworth saw girls as young as 14 and 15, with children, were prostituting themselves to make money. She was told the mothers would take the men to bed.
“And these kids, like, this is their bed too, this is their home. They’re kicked out of their bed in the middle of the night all the time. They never get to sleep. They have to leave when she has a customer,” Hallworth said. “Sometimes they have to watch it, they have to hear it,” Hallworth said, tears in her eyes.
The four founding members of AFFCAD, Kisirisa Muhammed, Kufuma Richard, Nyombi Jaffar and Muggaga Brian Baya, also grew up in the slums of Kampala.
In Kampala and the Bwaise slums people have to pay for clean water. Those who live in the slums have no clean water or sanitary living conditions.
“It’s really cool to see, when you grow up with nothing to want to give something back. I thought that was amazing,” Hallworth said, referring to the four men in their early 20s who have been friends since childhood.
The four men, especially Richard as he went to university, had a chance to leave and better their lives. But their families live in the slums, including Jaffar’s, who was more than 30 siblings and his father, who has more than seven wives.
Walking through the slums, Hallworth said everyone seemed to respect them but they joked around with people. Hallworth was impressed that despite what they’d accomplished they had no superior attitude.
It was in 2009 the four men started AFFCAD. Their first project was a Christmas party they held for the children of the slums, complete with a Santa and gifts.
Next they worked with a health clinic to talk about the spread of HIV and teach condom use to sex trade workers.
In 2011 they created their Excel Education Centre. It consists of three rooms, 20 ft. by 20 ft. and each room holds more than 50 kids. Teachers are unpaid volunteers, so their attendance is sporadic.
The walls are rotting and the roof is full of holes. When it rains the building floods and on warm days there are so many bodies per room it’s suffocating.
“These children are so excited to have the opportunity to learn. There are no complaints from them at all. However I believe they deserve more,” Hallworth said.
AFFCAD had planned to raise $1,000 by June 5 to help with the reconstruction of the school. But they had only raised $195 last time Hallworth checked. “I think everybody in this town has the ability to give even $10, which is a huge deal to them,” Hallworth said.
Hallworth wrote a letter to the citizens of Ponoka. She wanted it to be published in Ponoka News. A portion of that letter said: “I had the humbling opportunity to visit the poorest area in Kampala, the Bwaise slums. This area is a death trap for many children, with unsanitary water, rampant disease and HIV, lack of food and commercial sex trade of children as young as 12, there is little hope for a better future.”
Another portion read, “I have had the privilege of being born in a developed country. I did nothing to deserve this life, just as the children of Bwaise did nothing to deserve the life they were born into.”
Current projects of AFFCAD include: the ASK Project, the Emebet Education Project (EEP), the Revolving Fund Project (RFP), the Right to Justice and Equality Project, and the Work Camp 2012.
ASK Project is Answers, Solutions and Knowledge relating to HIV/AIDS issues. International student volunteers come to Uganda to conduct face-to-face training workshops with Kampala high school students about HIV/AIDS and reproductive health.
The Emebet Education Project provides free education scholarships to 20 orphaned, neglected or vulnerable children living with or affected by HIV/AIDS between the ages of three and 14. The project also provides caretakers with scholastic materials.
The Revolving Fund Project works to empower women and families with entrepreneurial skills. Priority is given to caretakers for children and families affected by HIV/AIDS. A $50 loan is given to develop a small scale business.
The Right to Justice and Equality Project is working to build a health education campaign for sex workers. The project aims to “increase self-esteem, worth and involvement, to seek and maintain a standardized quality of life in context of the declaration of human rights,” says the AFFCAD website.
AFFCAD also runs a pen pal project. Some of the kids are able to write to school classes overseas.
“The kids really seemed to love this and where able to name their pan pals and where they lived. Hallworth said. “I was wanting to see if there was any class or teacher that may be interested in taking this up in the new school year, preferably grade 4 or 5.”
For more information about AFFCAD and their projects visit www.affcad.org