Day 2 in Uganda with #ConnectingHRAfrica.
Where do I start?
I woke this morning to the most glorious sunrise. A new day, warmth and a sense of hope was upon us. Hope that today, our first withe the whole team, would see our skills, personalities and hearts enable us to contribute to the very fabulous work that Retrak do.
We walked the 30 minutes from our accommodation to a boys centre. This centre supports and encourages boys, between the ages of 7 and 17, to be children again. Retrak offer education, playtime, routine, kindness and a friendly ear.
I was struck by how deep the staff feel for the children. They have families and lives of their own but they give up so much of themselves to ensure that no child is forced to live on the street. This is hard. Incredibly hard. Today was a public holiday yet the staff at the centre where Retrak, AKA “Tigers” locally, was born, all came in to spend time with us, to help us understand and, also, to learn themselves.
We were greeted by singing, dancing and music. We all joined in, attempting traditional African dance as best we could. My, it was hot. The sun was beating down in the yard, yet every single child, along with us, was having a damn good go. There were smiles, laughter, the kids were teaching us the moves. What a welcome!
Then to some serious stuff. Elvis briefed us on the slum walk that we were about to begin. Take everything off, he recommended. Valuables, plastic charity wristbands, mosquito repellent bands, sunglasses, earrings, the lot. Leave it at the centre. The reason behind this was simple; we were going to be under armed guard walking through the slums and gold, silver and even plastic is simply seen as cash. It all has a retail value.
We began our walk. Ugandan people are so friendly; they all say hello. We were taught how to say “hello” and “how are you” as we made our way towards the slums whilst also sharing out thoughts with one another. We saw young girls sweeping up corn and grain from left over deliveries, in the hope of selling it at market. These girls could not have been more than 8 or 9 years old. We halted at the entrance to he slum, where the police joined us with their automatic rifles. Did I feel any safer? I’m not so sure. We chatted and they were approachable so that gave me confidence about what we were about to experience.
The the old bus station, we rounded the corner and were greeted by a large group of male adults. They were clearly unhappy. They were aggressive, confrontational and, totally understandably, didn’t want us lot in their space. Thankfully, Elvis from Retrak has been working in this slum for many years and manage to diffuse the situation with his knowledge, skill and social intelligence.
There were children sleeping in a penned area, in the open air. The night before, there were 150 sleeping here. It’s the safest place they have.
A little further along, we met so many people from this community. What started out as children coming to talk with us, many fascinated by my tattoo, which resulted in an educational conversation with them pointing at my arm and them eventually saying “leaves”, “flowers”, “water”, “house”, “bridge”, “tree”, “bird”. This happened for about an hour. I was blown away that my body art could translate into teaching children.
So many of the children were high. They sniff aviation fuel to get through. That said, the level of affection and genuine interest in us took me aback. We would be walking and children would come up and hold my hand “Hello Auntie, what is your name?” It is so difficult to hold their hand, continue our walk, knowing that I would have to break away just in case their became too attached and, therefore, upset when we left.
We saw children asleep under trailers, asleep on a patch of grass; wherever they could get some rest, they did. The night times are so incredibly dangerous for these children which means they have to sleep, during the day, when they can.
We saw a goat being slaughtered.
We saw very young girls dressed in such a way that it was evident how they tried to survive.
It was heartbreaking.
It was also very clear to see the relationship Elvis and the Retrak team had with this community. There is trust. A knowing that there is somewhere to go, someone to speak to, someone who cares.
We walked back to the centre with 80 children. 80 children who had chosen a different path. Wanted a hot meal, a shower, a game of football and, maybe, someone to help them. They certainly got that.
Lunch was being prepared when we arrived back so we spent some time painting with some of the older boys and their teacher. The boys were served their lunch first and both the boys that have been at the centre for a little while plus the boys who joined us today all queued, waited patiently and ate together harmoniously. One young boy, perhaps 7 or 8, sat next to me, paused for a second, then he looked up, pushed his plate towards me and said “here, you have some”. That was me gone. I had prepared myself, somewhat, for today based on the feedback from the rest of the group about the day previous. I had built a wall of safety, a tad ice-queenish, if you will. It didn’t last. This little boy melted my heart. For someone of his age, in his situation, to be so considerate and offer me his food, perhaps his first hot meal for some time, showed me that all of the outreach work and preparation Retrak do, is totally invaluable.
We ate lunch together and the boys tidied up. There may have been a little banter. One of the boys “may” have thrown another’s boot on top of the water barrel 10 feet up in the air.
The afternoon was split into two groups; one half of us led a session with Retrak staff on personal effectiveness and the other half played basketball and football with the boys.My shoes came off and I ran around like they did. I may have fallen and cut my finger on grass that felt like glass. My feet may have been the colour of me after last week’s Wolf Run but I got involved and we, as team Connecting HR Africa, made a difference.
It was emotional to witness the change.
In the morning, some of these boys were so high when they came back with us, they weren’t themselves. 3 had to be taken to hospital.
By the afternoon, after they had a sleep, a hot meal and a drink , along with interaction, if they wanted it, we played games, chatted and laughed. They were children again. This is why we are supporting Retrak, so no child is forced to live on the streets.
Please, support us if you can. Click here to donate to our team.
P.S – Photo’s will follow when the wifi is stronger.