Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Day 2 - Heartbreak & Lessons Learned

First thing this morning Leckie and I met with Doctor James Ssekinawa , director of CALM Africa.

We talked for about his desire to recruit a 12 month teaching volunteer. I went into work mode and took a brief on the role from him. I will draft it when I return to England, post it online and have initial calls with any interested candidates. The role of the teacher would be to gradually introduce western ideas such as reading for pleasure.

I then asked about the vocational skills taught. They're going okay with construction education but have ceased cooking class (which with the girls only!!!) due to lack of funding. They have 2 computers in the school that they don't use for training as they have no money for repairs if the kids break them. James mentioned that 4 years ago someone had promised them 40 computers, but had never come good with the promise. Leckie's company send all their old computers to Computer Aid, who distribute them in developing countries. Leckie will see if he can connect CALM and Computer Aid.

Finally we discussed the boarding conditions Jolly Mercy. The dorms are not all finished with some of the children sleeping on the floor and without shutters on the windows. James feels this is a major priority for CALM right now.

After speaking with James we went to check on some projects in the Katanga slum. The Katanga slums are a sprawling mess of shanty shacks right in the middle of Kampala, housing 60,000 people surrounded by affluence. There are running sewerage streams, dirty water poverty and a lack of safety.

The charity CALM support here is called Hope For Life and we visited 2 of their learning centres in the area. When I say learning centre I mean small rooms that house about 20 of the most vulnerable children in the area. CALM are not able to give much but do what they can. Hope For Life I cannot afford to feed the children but do give them some bread tea. Some of the children will be able to go on to Jolly Mercy if they gain sponsorship.

We were shown also the site where they are building temporary classrooms to expand. Streams of filthy water ran across the tiny piece of land. They will not be able to do anything about that, but will build up a little to redirect the water. It is such an unsanitary environment but they are so happy to have this land.

Some things that happened as we walked around Katanga:
* Lots of skin touching by very small children who mobbed us from time to time
* Someone shouted at me "Sister Obama"
* Walked over many precarious home made bridges terrified of a repeat of last year's fall
* Some men tries to engage us in some gambling game involves a piece of string on the ground
* I learned that 1 of the girls from Jolly Mercy was from the slums had been working as a prostitute hereat 16 years old

After Katanga we were going to see Musa. Though Ali had warned me he was not well I was so excited to see him and see what improvements he had made. When we arrived at the slum Musa lives in we were directed to him. As we stood waiting, a man came and peeled back a blanket on the ground to reveal Musa. My heart instantly sank and I felt a mix of anger, despair and hopelessness.

We took Musa to the rehabilitation centre that had been caring for him and were referred to the hospital. I refused to pay for a private hospital (more on that later) and so we went to Mulago public hospital. We left Must with his mother and brother and some cash to pay for bed sheets - you have to pay for your own if you are admitted.

So why was this boy who was making such a good recovery so ill? The biggest reason is the apathy of his mother. When I was last here I made a donation for some treatment for Musa, which included education for his mother on how to care for him post rehabilitation. However, instead of attending, she sent someone else. This meant that the information was not passed on properly. So, while Musa had made many advancements, as he didn't receive ongoing care he made a full relapse.

At the Katalemwa rehabilitation centre, the nurse confirmed that while Aisha had been telling CALM she was taking him for check ups this had not happened at all. He would have run out of medication by now too. This is now being treated as neglect by CALM who will keep a close eye on the situation. Israel was very stern with Musa's mother but she just didn't seem too care, looking defiantly away and not in the least bit sorry for what she had done to her own son.

I am no it feeling great this evening writing this. I suspect I will be asked to support another round of therapy and I will have to say no. If his mother is unwilling to carry on giving care at home there is absolutely no point in sending him for another month at the centre. It's the hardest decision I've ever had to make and it's so unfair that Musa has to suffer because the one person in the world that should love him unconditionally has failed him so badly.

Tomorrow we will see what has happened in Mulago and take it from there.

Sitting and reflecting I really don't know what to make of it all. One thing is very clear though, money alone cannot solve the problems of Uganda and charity (in the true sense of the word) does not work. Musa's mother now has her own business and is able to support him but has chosen not to. The real question is why.

Children's rights - or lack thereof - are a huge problem in Uganda. Particularly where the child is disabled they are seen as a burden and embarrassment to the family. Musa was born with epilepsy. He was undiagnosed and then untreated, leading to cerebral palsy. His father abandoned him and his mother refused him the medical attention he needed believing he caught this 'disease' from the hospital and not wanting to return there. When someone gave assistance he gained the ability to move, eat and have some independence. Only to have it taken away again so quickly.

I imagine what his life would have been like had he been born in Australia or England. His epilepsy would have been diagnosed, treated and he would have lived a relatively normal life.

It was very encouraging to see Israel deal with his mother so robustly but there is so much work to do across Uganda to change the attitudes that allowed this to happen.

I'm conscious I have talked a lot about this and some of you will be quite upset, so to finish on a lighter note, here are some things that happened today that didn't break my heart:
* Leckie introducing the Jolly Mercy kids to his iPhone. Their favour it things were the front cam and Scribblenauts
* A taxi with "petience" written on it
* A Uganda newspaper with headings such as "Drunkos hit by lightening after abusing God's songs" and "City babe unleashes soupy butt."

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