Challenges for Our Bududa Children
Report from Kenya #392 – June 17, 2016
African Great Lakes Initiative of Friends Peace Teams
By Sheila Havard, International Coordinator, Children of Bududa
Kuloba Ivan is a student at Bududa Vocational Academy.
Note: Hubert Hirwa, the program coordinator for the Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities Program in Rwanda will be in the New York City/New Jersey area from August 12 to 19. He will be available for presentations on AGLI’s work in Rwanda. If interested please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. He will be attending the wedding of Theoneste Bizimana and Laurie Ann Woodill on August 20 at Medford (NJ) Friends Meeting. Congratulations to Theo and Laurie.
Introduction: One of the AGLI sponsored programs is the Children in Bududa. There are around 150 orphan and destitute children who are assisted by the program. Rather than develop an orphanage which takes the children away from their families and the surrounding communities. Bududa is on the Ugandan side of Mt. Elgon and while a very fertile, well-watered place, it has steep hills, soil erosion and landslides, and is over-populated. When children lose their parents or they are too poor to adequately support them, it is difficult for the child to grow up normally. This report shows the difficulties and successes some of these children have. To read more about the programs in Bududa, see their latest newsletter at bududadotorg.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/2016-june-newsletter.pdf
Returning to Bududa after an absence of many months is always a joyous occasion for the regular volunteers. Much is familiar: the dust or the mud, depending on the season, the guesthouse with its fabulous view of the surrounding mountains, and the welcoming hug of Justine, our House Director.
But there are always surprises in store, good ones and bad ones. A sullen teenager in the program has metamorphosed into a charming young man. See the photo above of Kuloba Ivan, the proud recipient of a new blanket. Ivan is now studying at the Bududa Vocational Academy. Undaunted by the fact that he did not yet have the mandatory pair of shoes, he attended school on the first day wearing a borrowed pair! On the other hand, to our consternation, we find that a pitifully sad looking youngster has been evicted from a temporary home and is being housed by yet another reluctant caregiver.
This article will give some idea of the multitude of problems over which Bududa staff and Western volunteers scratch their heads. One frequent issue is the unstable home life of many of our orphans and needy children. In addition, home visits sometimes reveal not just abject poverty but also abusive parents. Furthermore, in an area of tiny smallholdings, on which peasants scratch out a meagre living, land is a vital commodity and the frequent land disputes complicate matters. In all such seemingly intractable issues, the Western volunteers would be completely at sea for an answer were it not for the insightful advice of our Bududa staff, especially Social Worker, Nanzala Martha, and Program Director, Namyeka Grace, who make sense of the cultural context for us.
Some concrete examples illustrate these dilemmas: John was a young primary school student when I first got to know him over 10 years ago. His mother was mentally deficient and his father drank. Luckily, he obtained caring sponsors. For the first time somebody paid attention to him. He was even fitted out with a brand-new outfit. The Children of Bududa program followed up on him over the years and he has now graduated from the program.
Being shunted around from household to household is unfortunately the common lot of many of our orphans and needy children. Such was the fate of Wilson. At the beginning of this year, he was living with an 82-year-old granny on the hillside, who can hardly walk. She felt overwhelmed by the responsibility and did not have enough food for both of them. The sponsor was appealed to and was kind-hearted enough to provide the funds for Wilson to attend boarding school. We have managed to send a number of our children to boarding schools. These schools vary enormously in academic quality and fees charged, but all provide the students with supervision and a regular schedule, as well as a Spartan lifestyle – cornmeal porridge three times a day and three-tiered bunks are the norm. A boarding school provides a better learning environment than a small crowded home, where students contend with the distractions of other siblings and assigned chores and have only a smoky paraffin “candle” by way of light.
Of course we ensure that we investigate the wishes of the potential boarding student before making a decision. That too can be difficult as local kids have been brought up to be obedient and submissive. It is hard for an adult in a position of authority to draw them out. What real feelings are hidden behind the downcast eyes and few mumbled words? Although sometimes a little gentle persuasion is in order, boarding school is often an option that is eagerly accepted by our children; for one thing it is a means of escaping from the drudgery of household and farm chores.
Kimono Harriet (see photo) was lucky enough to go to boarding school. With the help of the program she has pulled herself up by her boot strings and started a small business selling baskets. It is always rewarding to see such initiative.
If the home situation is untenable, it is sometimes possible to find an alternative caregiver. This provides the child with a more settled home environment, but sometimes creates new problems. Careful monitoring by program staff is essential to ensure that the new and the existing children in the family are treated equally. On occasion the new caregiver will complain that the allowance paid to board and feed the foster child is insufficient. There has even been a case of abuse in a foster home and the young girl in question was removed from this unsatisfactory accommodation and placed in a boarding school. According to the latest news, she is doing well there.
Isaac has the benefit of a stable home environment. His problems reside elsewhere. When I first got to know this cheerful youngster, he was living entirely alone in a tumbledown hut to which he had no legal title. In fact his brothers also had a claim to the house and “wrangles” took place between them and Isaac. Western well-wishers pooled funds to build him a brand-new home. Isaac is now a proud home owner, who keeps his dwelling tidy and has even decorated it with CD tapes dangling from the ceiling. However, his neighbors encroach on the tiny parcel of land on which he tries to grow crops to support himself. The program has brought in the local authorities to mediate but there are still disputes. To ensure that he gets enough to eat, the program regularly provides him with cornmeal and sometimes beans.
Isaac would like to pass his Primary 7 examinations and graduate from elementary school, and Bududa Learning Centre’s Assistant Director Kimberly Beebe is spending many an evening on the guesthouse terrace tutoring him in the subjects he needs to master. His disadvantaged background has hitherto held him back at school, but he is nevertheless an eager pupil.
These then are some of the problems Children of Bududa staff and volunteers find themselves confronting. Some solutions are as simple and relatively inexpensive as supplying additional food; others may entail lengthy negotiations with multiple parties and even the involvement of the local authorities, not to mention considerable expense and hence an appeal for supplementary funding. In all cases it is the needs of the child in question that are paramount. But the rewards come as we see children grow up, progress from primary to secondary school, or perhaps enter and graduate from the Bududa Vocational Academy and become established in life with a marketable skill.
Sheila Havard from Coldstream Monthly Meeting in Canada attended her first AGLI sponsored workcamp in 2004. She comments, “It was a thrilling experience. I loved, and still do, doing physical work alongside Africans…I found the Bududans so friendly and the scenery so stunningly beautiful.” Since then she has been returning for three or four weeks each year during the Canadian winter. Since she loved to hike, she began concentrating on home visits in the hills surrounding Bududa. A year ago she volunteered to become the International Coordinator of the Children of Bududa program. If you would like to sponsor a child, she can be reached at email@example.com.
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Since 1998, David Zarembka has been the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. He is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region (available at www.davidzarembka.com).
David Zarembka, Coordinator
African Great Lakes Initiative of Friends Peace Teams
P. O. Box 189, Kipkarren River 50241 Kenya
Phone in Kenya: 254 (0)726 590 783 in US: 301/765-4098
Office in US: 1001 Park Avenue, St Louis, MO 63104 USA 314/647-1287
Webpage: www.aglifpt.org Reports from Kenya: www.aglifpt.org/rfk/