Tag Archives: children

Keeping a Language

A language is a pillar of a nation’s culture. It can provide a link back through history and a view of the future. Protecting a language from dying off like so many others is not a natural act. People need to make a conscious effort to teach their children the language, normally though the schools. No where is this shown better than in Armenia. Throughout elementary school students are taught to respect and love the Armenian language. A pair of poems they learn are translated below.


Keep it
[Armenian language] high and pure as the sacred snow of Ararat is,

Keep it close to your heart as you remember your grandfathers’ memories…

Even if it happens so that you forget your mother,

You should never forget your mother language

 

Our caravan would have lost his way, we would have been lost, if we did not have our language to light for us in the night ways. Thus, let us glorify and burnish as a sword, so that the Armenian language, always bright, could tinkle under the sun

 

Never too Cool for School

A young man about seventeen or eighteen years old related his life story at an NGO collaboration meeting. At points it’s sad, and at others it shows how quality programming can truly help a young person’s life.

Our young person was born in a small village but his family moved to Kampala. There he stayed until he was five and his father sent the boy and mother back to the village while he stayed in Kampala to work. He stayed with his uncle while his father sent money although never visited. His mother became a housekeeper for a local church which provided them a house to live. In a nation where parent’s often do not take their children seriously enough, our boy’s father was able to send enough money back home to allow him to finish primary school, but not attend secondary because of the price increases between the levels.

Since he was unable to go to school and too young for a job, he started to come to the street with other boys his age. It was hard for him to get access to food or clothing and his parents were unable to help much. His father was laid off from his job and spent more time looking for piecemeal work than actually working and his mother was supporting his younger sister. So he stayed on the street for a few months until another street youth invited him to visit CRO where they can are provided some food and places for washing themselves and their clothes. He spent nine months in the program, coming every day and helping with the chores during the day, and returning to the street at night. One day the CRO headmistress offered the boy a place at the small halfway house they run. He spent three months there then headed home to see his mom and sister.

Due to his good behavior and responsible nature, CRO offered to pay his school fees and he was able to start secondary school. Another organization, Uganda Children Center offered to also help with the fees. Things were going well for two terms. He was in a boarding school. He had a place to stay, was fed regularly, and was doing well in his studies. And then his mother fell sick.

He was forced to leave school to take care of his mother. Eventually she ended up in a hospital for a week but unfortunately passed away. The church found a new housekeeper which forced the boy and his sister out into the streets. Him and his sister went back to the NGO that was taking care of him, but due to the finicky nature of NGO funding, his spot was given another youth and he had no relatives to help him, so he went back to CRO.

He was able to convince CRO to take his sister into an orphanage in a nearby village instead of himself and find funds for her schooling instead of his. This happened approximately six months go. He still goes to CRO every day because he likes the people and the program, and just recently CRO was able to find a sponsor in America to send him back to secondary school. This sponsor also wants to help him go through vocational school. Our boy wants to be a caterer, cooking and serving food at all sorts of fancy parties and get togethers. In a nation with a hundred thousand college graduates trying to fill ten thousand spots a year, learning a trade often has a more immediate payoff. And with a younger sister to care for, an immediate payoff is what he needs.

The Biz

While talking to a couple of Ugandan police officers the topic of forced prostitution came up. They were happy to explain some of the finer details of the sex trade and the problems that they have to combat it.

What normally happens is that a couple of girls, normally late teens, early twenties who are already established in the business will identify a young girl in one of the villages. They look for girls with bad home lives and doing poorly in school. Girls like Jennifer. They promise the girls that they have jobs for them in hotels and restaurants where they can make their own money and be independent. If the younger girls accept the offer, they are taken to the islands on Lake Victoria. To the older girls’ credit, the new young girls do get jobs as housekeepers and cooks. But only by day. By night they’re forced into prostitution. One of the small blessings according to the police is that the percentage of clients who are foreign tourists is microscopic. Or maybe that’s not a blessing, but in the rare case they’re able to make an arrest, the police find it easier to prosecute locals compared to foreigners.

After about a month of service, the girls are normally cast out. This is one of the most difficult issues to handle. The vast majority of the girls are ashamed of what they did and afraid to go home. And since these girls come from poor homes and have little schooling, they normally have few options available to them.  How should they be resettled?  If they’re sent straight back to their village there’s a small chance they may be cast out.  But if they are not put someone with a proper support network what’s to stop them from falling into the same trap?  It is not an easy situation.

The Ugandan police force is often maligned. They can be corrupt, inefficient, and overly violent handling suspects. But in this case, with the ones working on an open sex trafficking case, they are committed to doing what they can to fight this business. Maybe it’s because it’s a small outpost and they don’t get big cases like this often. Maybe it’s because it’s a small outpost in a small village and they are proud and feel responsible for the safety of their friends and neighbors. Or maybe it’s because they truly believe that underage prostitution is a serious issue in Uganda. Whatever the reason is, they’re doing their all on this particular case. Unfortunately a refrain you’ll hear from any police office here is ‘There is simply a lack of resources.’ It’s of course possible that they’ll tell the mzungu (foreigner) this because they want a pay off, but in a case as complex as this one there’s a good chance they’re telling the truth. Boat fuel to get to the islands where some girls are thought to be held is not free. A couple of bills can make witnesses less reluctant to talk. And the sad truth is that these trafficking gangs will bribe cops to leave them alone. And some cops will take bribes to leave the trafficking gangs along. But luckily for Uganda there are still plenty of officers out there who are not in this for the money. A good cop is something to be grateful for and respected, so if you’re in Uganda don’t assume all of the police are crooks. The bad ones get the press, the good ones just do their jobs.

The Kindness of Strangers

It often seems like the world is a cold and heartless place. Unfortunately this can be true in far too many cases. Occasionally you’ll come across a story that proves there are still good people left if you just search hard enough.

The story starts with a young girl growing up in an orphanage. Her parents were both deceased and it was her and her little sister. Our girl grew up and went to school and did well enough to get into university. The orphanage paid for her school fees, but not for university. She worked as a waitress to pay for her schooling, but eventually got tired of having money to go for a term then not, then go again. So she dropped out to focus on work full time.

During this time, she grew up a bit more and is now in her early twenties. She’s been working at the same restaurant for half a decade and is being paid decent enough money to send her littler sister to university. Her little sister is on track to graduate within two years. If the story ended her it would be good enough, but it doesn’t.

One day after work she was on a boda (motorcycle taxis in Uganda) when it wrecked and she was sent to the hospital. Not having enough money for the hospital bills, an older friend of hers loaned her enough to cover the bills. This friend was a single father, the mother of his child unfortunately passed away during child birth. He had a son of seven years old, a real bright kid.

Months after our girl gets out of the hospital, her friend is arrested by the police. It turns out he didn’t actually have the money to loan her, he was involved in a shady deal or two to raise the funds for her medical bills. He refused to tell her because he wanted her to focus on getting better and back to work. In prison the worst happened. He was beaten to death by a gang over some small slight, leaving his son an orphan.

Not willing to let this man’s son become another forgotten youth, our girl took him into her life eight months ago. The man allowed her to receive the treatment she needed, in effect saving her life so she had to return the favor somehow. Spending months with a lawyer and filling out forms and stacks of paperwork, she finally officially adopted the son. She knows she can’t truly repay the man for the sacrifice he made for her, but she’s doing what she can.

Now she lives in a small rented room, her and the boy. She works close to ten hours a day, scrimping and saving her coins. She supports herself, the boy, and her sister at university. While other girls (for she is still only a young girl) her age are out buying nice clothes and make up to go out partying, she is managing the balancing act of being a young mother and all the learning that implies, being one of the most important fixtures at the restaurant she works at, keeping a tolerable social life, and planning for her future. Belonging to a local church full of ex-pat NGO and missionary workers has helped her immensely since they will often take the boy on trips she can’t afford or for weekends to give her time to act her age with her friends. It’s both sad and inspiring what she puts herself through without any personal gain or recognition.