February 28, 2016
KAMPALA, UGANDA— In a community hall in Kisenyi, an area in this capital city, a teacher instructs a group of children in a math lesson.
Some are attentive and giggle when one fails an equation. A few sleep deeply. Some hold small bottles of gasoline, which they sniff to get high, like prized possessions. The smell of gasoline fills the hall.
“Working with these children can be a challenge. But thinking of the boys who have come from here and are now excelling in formal schools pushes me to do more,” says Richard Kafeero, the founder of Give Children a Better Life Uganda.
Today, the turnout is good, he says. There are 42 children in the class. Kafeero gathers the children in the hall every Tuesday and Sunday for lessons. Some children are as old as 18, others as young as 4, and they all learn primary school basics together in one classroom.
For the children who are most willing to learn, Kafeero’s organization can facilitate formal education. But money is tight and space is limited. For the majority of the children, the lessons at the community hall are the most education they’ll receive in their childhoods.
Poverty, conflict and the HIV pandemic have pushed thousands of children into the streets of Kampala and other cities in Uganda. The children lack most basic needs, including education. Some are placed in government rehabilitation centers, but learning rarely takes place there. Kafeero offers informal classes to such children to improve their literacy.
There are about 10,000 children living on the streets in Uganda, according to UNICEF. Often, they spend their days doing odd jobs, including washing cars or carrying luggage in exchange for food or money. Just 4 percent of Kampala’s of them have access to education, a study conducted by the African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect reveals.
Patricia Lindrio, GPJ Uganda
Police often round up the children and take them to Kampiringisa National Rehabilitation Centre, a detention facility for child offenders, according to Human Rights Watch. The facility doesn’t provide education, according to a study conducted by Justice Studio, a research organization specializing in child protection, juvenile justice, prisons and detention.
The area where Kafeero works is home to more than 300 children, says Salongo Ismarl Milli, the local council vice chairman. Some were born in the streets, he says, and others migrated from rural areas.
“When I was growing up, street children were not as many as they are now,” says Kafeero, who was raised here. “We receive new children here almost weekly.”
Kafeero works with 65 children, only 12 of whom attend formal school. The rest have their classes at the Kisenyi community hall.
Kafeero, 26, knows what it’s like to consider education a luxury. He says he dropped out of high school because he didn’t have the money for school fees. His job search was fruitless, so he did volunteer work in the community.
“I looked around my community and saw the need for education opportunities for street children,” he says.
Before he even started his organization, he helped one boy, Kevin Senyonjo, whom he met on the streets of Kisenyi. Kafeero took Kevin to his own home and enrolled him in school. Watching Kevin grow and excel in school motivated him to take in more children, he says.
Patricia Lindrio, GPJ Uganda
He then approached the local council government and asked for permission to use the social hall for classes, he says.
Later, with donated money, Kafeero rented a house in a district near Kampala, where he grows sweet potatoes, maize, beans and bananas to provide food for the children. He also keeps a cow and four pigs.
Some children say they love the community hall classes, even though their dream is to attend a formal school.
“I have learned how to write my name,” says Sunday Kawesa, 13, demonstrating on his hand how he writes it. “I can read and write, and I do math and science. But I would like to go back to formal school and become teacher.”
Sunday, a Tanzanian, says he dropped out of school because he couldn’t afford the fees. The family had moved to Uganda with the hope of finding a better life, but soon after his parents separated.
Jude Kisa, another student at Kafeero’s class, says he enjoys studying English, math and religion at the community hall. He would like to return to formal school, but he doesn’t want to go back home, he says. He dropped out of school after his father’s death.
“My mother got a new man, and then I was mistreated and sometimes not allowed to go home. They both drank too much. So I decided to join my friends in the streets,” says Jude, 14.
Children at the home say Kafeero has given them hope for a better life.
“I am in senior two now, I love school and football as well. Uncle Richard saved my life,” Kevin, 15, says.
Kafeero says he has seen change among the children since he started the classes. Most of the children have learned how to read and write, he says. They are also less violent.
“Education is transformative,” he says. “The way the boys in the home talk about their future goals of becoming doctors and teachers shows they have changed a lot. But there is need for much more work.”
Kafeero says he dreams of setting up a home for the children near Kisenyi where they can have a hot bath, a meal and go to formal schools.
Patricia Lindrio, GPJ, translated some interviews from Luganda.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to comply with the Global Press Style Guide.