Dreaming that I am walking through Kampala with my friends from home. Excited to show them around my neighbourhood. Then, bodies, dead bodies, everywhere. Hanging in the trees, in the ditches, on the streets. Is this what living here and thinking and reading about civil wars and genocide has done to my unconscious? When I opened my eyes, I smiled to myself. Another beautiful day, waking up to the sun shining and feeling my body intact. Grateful for another day of comfort and relaxation.
I decided to take this week off to explore other projects that I have wanted to get involved with. My first idea was to conduct a yoga workshop for Sarah, my co-worker and friend, in the hopes that she would continue teaching MEMPROW staff and young women after I leave. She came, we talked, I explained more about yoga philosophy and history, and we practiced yoga and meditated. I offered her to start teaching me, but she was not as interested. Instead, we decided to have fun together by making rolex (chapatti with egg), drinking tea, and walking the dogs. Learning to manage my expectations because I had too high of expectations for myself and her. I am not a yoga teacher trainer so I hope that in the future she has the opportunity to access a proper yoga-training program.
My second idea with another friend was to begin a girl’s empowerment project in the slum where her mother stays. We had a productive meeting with the Chairperson, Women’s Affairs Officer, and community leader of the zone to discuss the challenges faced by young women. The same story: unemployment, pregnancies at 15 or 16, sex work and dancing in strip clubs for money, and lack of school fees. The main thing they wanted to see in the community was an economic empowerment programme for the young girls so they don’t have to sell their bodies for food. Long story short, my friend and I have decided to begin a project called Girl-Up Initiative. She will start leading trainings there in February for 80 girls on sex and relationships, gender roles and patriarchy, communication skills, and human rights. From there we will create an economic empowerment programme. If you are interested in reading more, please let me know because I have already put together a project plan, which I can send you!
Another day, I went with my friend Darby to the slum in Kisenyi where she has been working with an outreach centre for street children called Peace for Children Africa (PCA). She always told me stories about the boys she works with so I knew I wanted to meet them and see their living conditions. As we started walking through the narrow paths I could see children lying on the streets. One boy looked at me with bloodshot eyes, clearly on some sort of drug and looking so lifeless. Other boys started touching us and wanting money. We talked to a girl there who had broken her leg and was sitting by a fence eating her fries and asking us for water. Surrounding us were huge piles of trash with some children foraging through it in hopes of finding some scrap metal. The water running through was clearly polluted, yet people were cleaning and drinking from it. There were women washing and cooking as if everything was normal. And I just imagined what it must be like at night for these women, with these drunk and drugged men and nowhere to go. Sex work is rampant because there are very few business opportunities.
I started talking with one of the boys who came with us on the walk. He moved into the orphanage run by PCA just a couple months ago. As we walked through he would point out the different places he used to sleep: on that roof, on that street, in that hallowed building. He started to tell me about his life on the streets. “I was bad. I used to do drugs and not care about anyone.” He was 7 years old when he came to Kampala from the north. His stepmother constantly physically and emotionally abused him so he moved in with his grandmother who then passed away. He then travelled to Kampala and became one of the many street children. Yet, there is no comfort or stability on the streets.
The police often come by and pick up the boys and take them to jail, which is exactly what happened to Kize. He told me that because they never go to court, they are in there for life. Tons of street children living in crowded conditions. Barely getting enough food to survive. Each day they have to go to the forest to collect firewood. This was his chance to escape. As they lined up, he sprinted. The fastest he had ever moved before. Because they came running after him, and even the other prisoners because they would get a bag of sugar if they found him, he ran up a tree and stayed there for a day. At night, he ran to the street and jumped on the back of a truck to come back to Kampala. But, that wasn’t the end of his locked up life. Just a few months later, the police took him to another prison, one even worse than the first. He got one meal a day that was what he called “chicken feed” and was expected to dig a hole all day to clear the land for a big plant to be built. If he ever stopped, he was whipped and beaten. Luckily, he was only there for a few months because he actually had a court date.
From then on, he dreamed of a different future. When he met Paul, the founder of PCA, he knew that there was an alternate available. Kize is one of the sweetest 15 year-olds that I know, yet one that has lived through unimaginable horrors. He wants to play professional football (our soccer) and go back to school. He also told me that he hadn’t talked to his mother who had moved to Kenya, for over four years. He just got her number from an uncle. When I asked if he wanted to call her, he instantly said yes! I gave him my phone and as soon as he heard her voice he had the biggest smile. She wanted to talk to me. I could hear her excitement and she continued to praise and thank me. It was a beautiful and humbling moment.
As we bring in the New Year, let us not forget to be grateful for everyone and everything we have in our lives! Let us not get caught in the yearning for more and more, and instead rest in peaceful appreciation for the beauty of our lives.