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Uganda. To Give Dignity

Hundreds children are begging in the streets of Kampala City. A Comboni missionary, Father John Bosco Mubangizi has launched a project "Karamoja Streets Kids". Respect, protection and future for these children. He explains us the initiative.

For decades, the Karamoja region in the north-eastern of the country has been characterised by violent conflicts, high levels of poverty, semi-arid conditions and food insecurity. An estimated 82 per cent of the population live in extreme poverty. As a result, the area has been dependent on food aid and donor assistance for decades, with numerous emergency aid programs.
To survive, many families in Karamoja have decided to send their children into urban centres hoping to get better opportunities. But in the end many of them end up begging in the streets. Most of those begging on the street in Kampala city are Karimojong children and youth.
Not everyone welcomes these street kids from Karamoja. They compete with and face resistance from the older street children and are subjected to caning, or their money is taken away from them. During the rainy season the leaking temporary structures in Katwe and Kisenyi, suburbs of Kampala, where they live are too crowded and they are supposed to contribute some money for this 'accommodation' despite the poor hygiene. They suffer all kind of diseases and no proper medical attention is offered to them. They are prone to accidents from the street since their main location is at traffic junctions where cars stop and where they can beg. They are often victims of motorcycle "hit and run" accidents and sometimes sustain fractures from these accidents without medical care. The worst happens when children simply disappear from the streets and are never seen again maybe because of the practice of child sacrifice witch doctors. Sadly, these children are used as sex slaves, defiled and/ or forced into prostitution. Many are impregnated, infected with HIV/Aids and other STI's; because of this; there is a tremendous number of single mothers, aged 12-23 years old on the streets. Some child mothers can be seen on streets breast-feeding fellow children or carrying them on their backs.
I went to visit them.

I met the Karimojong street children in Kampala in 2015, when I was still Parish Priest of Matany in Karamoja. One day on reaching Kampala Road in Kampala city near Diamond Trust Bank, about 50 Karimojong children surrounded me chanting my name in Karimojong "Pader Bosco, Pader. Bosco….." …meaning Father John Bosco. At the beginning, I was surprised, but quickly I interacted with them; one thing I realised was that about 80% of these children were from the Matany area. Most of them were from Lokopo Chapel, one of the churches in the parish. They were my parishioners.

The following day I came back to the same place and asked them to take me to their places of residence and we followed Entebbe Road until we reach Kisenyi-Katwe slum. This is one of the worst slums in Kampala which is a haven for all sorts of vices ranging from smoking tobacco to drug addiction to all sorts of strong drugs. It is a common practice to see children picking food from dustbins, sniffing aviation fuel and smoking marijuana. Prostitution is rampant, theft, murder, alcoholism and general lawlessness is the order of the day in Kisenyi slum. Whether you are a child or an adult, life is the same. Children live an adult life but I think they are traumatised by it. At the end it is the innocent Karimojong children who are new to town life that suffer most of all. They are suffering the complete denial of their natural entitlements as human beings. At a deeper level of interaction, I found out that some children often go a whole day without any solid food. At night they sleep in groups and in turns in small shanty rooms made of wattle and mud to maximise time and space. The first group sleep for 6 hours and then give way to others who sleep for the rest of the night. Over 30 children occupy a room just eight feet by nine. When it rains, they cover themselves with sheets of polythene and stand for the whole night.
These are so-called Out of School children and so are illiterate. They have only one meal a day and sometimes nothing at all. They have no access to any health services. As a result, illnesses go untreated and some die. Most diseases they suffer from are preventable. For these children, using a toilet is a luxury because the use of a toilet costs an average of 200-300 shillings in the slum. The life of these children is without dignity and their rights as children are denied them. They are extremely vulnerable and are greatly abused physically, psychologically and sexually. They are victims of commercial sex exploitation and there are no system in place for their protection. Not content with denying these innocent children basic care, education, food, health services and psycho social support, the adults behave towards them like predators. A close examination of the bodies of some children reveals large scars. Seeing these children abandoned, with only the help of God to rely on, made me wonder if we appreciate the value of the gift of life - our own and that of the extremely marginalises children on the streets of Kampala.
We must do something to help
In 2017, I was transferred to the Comboni Missionaries community in Kampala and this gave me an opportunity and, at the same time, a challenge to start from scratch for the wellbeing of the Karimojong children in Kisenyi and Katwe.
One year earlier, during the Golden Jubilee celebrations of Matany Catholic Parish, in Karamoja, Mons Michael Blume the then Nuncio to Uganda said during his homily " Matany Parish has celebrated its Golden Jubilee with many pastoral achievements what remains as the Parish Pastoral challenge are the Matany Children on the streets of Kampala looking for sweets that are never there....." This statement entered deep into my heart and soul and the voice I felt within me told me I had to do something for these children but I didn't know, what…"
Finally, Bishop Damiano Guzzetti of Moroto Diocese discussed the question of the Karimojong children with the Archbishop of Kampala Cyprian Lwanga. They decided to start a pastoral initiative to help the children under Nsambya Parish.
Knowing the Karimojong language has helped me a lot. Children feel at easy when they can talk and understand what somebody what to say. For a year now, I have been going every Sunday to the slum in Katwe and celebrate mass for the Karimojong community. On average 200-400 Karimojong attend mass every Sunday. They have elected a temporary structure made of eucalyptus and polythene sheets where we celebrate mass.
From the same structure we have started literacy and feeding programmes to provide education opportunities and food for the hungry children. So far two adults have been selected: one to prepare food and porridge for these children and another one to give literacy classes for the Out of School Children. When children fall sick the leaders inform me and we provides medicine or the child is taken to a health facility.
Before considering a more sustainable, relevant and effective intervention, I have decided to see first to the immediate needs of the children - a matter not simply of human rights but of survival.

Brazil. Horizons of hope

A place where children find understanding and dignity. Comboni Missionary Father Padre Saverio Paolillo explains.

In the Marcos Moura quarter, in the outskirts of Santa Rita, a town in the state of Paraíba in north-east Brazil, an initiative called Project Legal is in action. A group of men and women take in children and maladjusted adolescents. It is not a work of social benefits but a workshop for new experiences inspired by the values of the Gospel whose only aim is to help the boys and girls to live in freedom and take charge of their lives.
The project started only four years ago but the results are surprising. At present, as many as 189 children and adolescents are involved in its activities. Together with their men and women teachers and in close collaboration with their families, they are following a different path to that imposed by the leaders of organised crime who control this territory abandoned by the state.

With Project Legal, they have found new and transforming energy. From being people asking for help, they are now learning to look after themselves; from being compelled to seeing only their own defects, they have discovered their qualities and potential; from always begging, they are beginning to share their own precious riches. Now loved gratuitously, fiercely protected, with their needs being considered, respected in their differences and recognised as people with inalienable rights, they are taking their first steps towards the full exercise of their citizenship. The environment is fairly quiet. Fights have been reduced through 'restorative circles' and non-violent conflict resolution mediation. Even domestic violence is less frequent.
Throughout the year, apart from receiving good, healthy food, the children and adolescents may also attend after-school lessons in Portuguese and mathematics provided by excellent teachers. "Now I feel more ready to speak in public and I am able to express my ideas clearly", said Sandro, one of the boys in the project, during a discussion on their activities. Larissa agrees. Despite being only fifteen, she has an important role in the small Christian community, helping to animate the celebration of the Word of God: "I am no longer afraid to make mistakes. I read correctly and understand what I read". By means of plays, music, painting, hip hop, sport and the workshop for the production of objects made from recyclable material, the boys and girls have put their creativity to work, producing some really beautiful pieces.
From the purely economic point of view, all these activities may seem useless but money is not everything: we also need beauty and, above all, ethics. Man does not live on bread alone but also on beauty, solidarity, tenderness, consideration for all and respectful integration with others and with nature.
In this frenetic world dominated by the anxiety to win at all costs, taking time out to contemplate beauty, to be enchanted by its appearance and to cultivate it, has extraordinary curative powers: it heals the eyes contaminated by the obsession to see only what is bad in us and around us and invites us to discover and cultivate interior beauty. Eyes exercised by beauty perceive horizons of hope: 'Beauty is the great need of humankind; it is the root from which the trunk of our peace springs and the fruits of our hope, (Benedict XVI).
Thanks to a group of friends, we have been able to enlarge our structures and purchase a minibus which we use for outings so as to know and understand better the natural beauty and cultural riches of the region. "I had never before seen the sea and I just gazed at it with my mouth open. Just think - Rikelmy, an eleven year-old boy tells us - I live just a few kilometres from this immense swimming pool. My parents never took me. I never knew my region was so beautiful".Through a project organised by the government of the state of Paraíba, an orchestra was formed. Both children and adolescents are frequenting violin, cello, guitar, flute and percussion classes. In recent months, Orchestra Legal has played several times at the main theatre of João Pessoa, the capital of Paraíba. Families went to the theatre for the first time.In a quarter where it was easy to meet adolescents and young people with a pistol in their hands, one is now just as likely to meet boys and girls carrying musical instruments.
Where once the terrible sound of death-dealing gunfire was heard, now there is the sound of music, bringing harmony, joy and life. "Thank you for disarming our children - a mother says - and for filling their hands with pens, books, footballs, musical instruments, tools, toys and much more. I feared losing them. Now I see that at present we have more life and not just survival and I am already beginning to think that these children have a good future ahead of them!".

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