In Kampala (where I live) and many other cities around the world many people don’t like the idea of giving a street child money/ food because apparently once you feed street children, thats an invitation for more children to occupy the streets. Now I wouldnt want to see any child on the streets, but then again I dont want to see a street child starving or dying of hunger.
To some of these children those streets are the “safest” place to live. Not by choice but because of the circumstances that you and I might never know/ understand.
Five days ago I arrived in Mbale from Soroti (both of which are districts in Eastern Uganda). For the first time I have got to spend a couple of nights in this town.
First I was not amused at how dirty Mbale town is especially since in the early/ mid 2000 Mbale was one of the cleanest towns in Uganda. Just before I could recover from the scene of dirty streets and huge potholes in the heart of the town I learned that these streets are a home to dozens of street children.
My colleagues and I had stopped to buy cooked maize and jack-fruit from street vendors in Mbale town when I notices 4 children who kept roaming the small stall to feast on jack-fruit fingers that have fallen down. The jack-fruit vendor is extremely careful, almost nothing falls down. To him every finger of jack-fruit has monetary value. He basically gives you not more than 10 fingers of jack-fruits for Ugx 500.
“Hello, do you want me to buy you some jack-fruit”? I asked one of the children. Yes he answered. In about 4 minutes or so I had bought jack-fruit for 4 children. Each of these children walked to me to say thank you before and after getting their jack-fruit from the vendor. For me, it was really surprising to find this much discipline on the streets.
I also offered two other boys an offer to choose between cooked maize and jack-fruit, they went for maize.
This evening my friend Mark and I left our hotel and went out to find some roasted chicken and rolex for our dinner. As we moved from one vendor to another comparing the size of the pieces of chicken (which were all relatively small for Ugx 3,000 by the way) I spotted two boys on a verandah just about 3 meters from where I was standing. I asked them to come to me and they did.
The boys’ names are Aggrey (12) and Dennis Stephen (who is guessing that he is 10). Aggrey appeared to be eating something, so I asked “what are you eating”? Fish bones he said, there is a man there who gave me the left-over bones.
Aggrey is a jolly boy, when you ask him a question he answers it straight away. You can tell from the way he looks and talks that he is an ambitious kid. Dennis on the other hand sounds a bit young and shy with a peaceful and kind look on his face – he never looked at me straight in the eyes when he was talking to me.
I asked Dennis and Aggrey whether they were hungry and they said yes, so I offered to buy them one chapati each. They agreed so we went to the vendor. Meanwhile the vendor had just sold out his first batch of chapati but he was rolling some more. As we waited for the chapati to get ready I took time to have a conversation with the boys – asking questions in turns as they answered.
How did you end up here I asked Aggrey? “My father married another woman forcing my mother to leave. My step mother mistreated me and I ran away from our home which is not very far out of Mbale Town.”
Dennis on the other hand is a Munyoro from Hoima/ Masindi (he doesnt recall) after the death of his father, he moved to Mbale with his mother who abandoned him to go work in Kampala.
Aggrey added that he was in Primary 5 when he left his home.
About 10 – 15 minutes later we are still waiting for the chapati so I decided to take a 5 minutes walk with the boys to a super market to buy the boys some drinks to go with the bites.
On our way to the supermarket Aggrey ask “sir, why are you buying us one chapati each”? Do you want me to buy you two instead? I asked inquisitively pretending not to understand his question. “No, not two. But that’s so kind of you, are you a parent?” Aggrey added. No I am not a parent, but I was once a young boy like you and I know what it means to go hungry. You know? I said. Yes, Aggrey smiled in agreement and went on to thank me.
So I asked what the boys wanted to have for a drink. Aggrey said that I can choose whatever I want – presumably avoiding to flex my budget. Dont worry, I can get you any drink you want so go on a choose, I said. “Well, there are many things I really admire – Mirinda, Mountain Dew” said Aggrey. And what about you Dennis? “I will have some juice” Dennis said. So we got the Mirinda Fruity and some juice.
As we went on and on with our conversation Aggrey picks on the fresh burns on Denni’s left cheek. “Do you see his ear and cheek? Someone poured hot water on him while he was sleeping on the verandah at night.” Aggrey said. “I even have more burns here on my arm, you see” Dennis goes on to unfold his long sleeved t-shirt to show me.
Do you know who did this? I asked. “No, we dont know, we were sleeping when we woke up I was in pain, we didnt recognise the person who did it” says Dennis.
“I took him to St. Francis Hospital and they refused to treat him. So I took him to Red Cross and since then they have been offering some medicine which has helped him to get better. Even this afternoon we went to the Red Cross and they gave him more medicine” says Aggrey.
As Mark and I parted with Aggrey and Dennis, they said that they were going to a “cover” – a place where they can have their chapati and drinks with no interruption while Mark and I drove back to our hotel. After saying “good night” to the kids the two of us go into a small discussion about life and what it means surviving on the streets (of Mbale Town).
I was deeply touched by the stories of Aggrey and Dennis, and I was really disappointed in whoever hurt Dennis. I can go on and on to lament and tell the story of the two boys. But I am glad that I did the little I could for the two boys and I am praying for Dennis’ quick recovery.
Have you ever wondered how many children between the ages of 8 and 17 live on the streets under God knows what circumstances? Or have you ever even cared to know how they got on the streets? Or even who they are?
So, the next time you see a street child I dare you to ask them some of the above questions and please dont mistreat them, try to show them that you care. Bottom line is, BE A RESPONSIBLE CITIZEN!