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Francis Laduma: at the Surface-Uganda offices in Gulu town on December 22, 2015.

GULU TOWN: It is a hot December 2015 day here in Northern Uganda where everybody else is wearing light clothes to suit the weather conditions except twelve year old Francis Laduma.

I found Francis wearing a dirty gray over-sized jacket with black collar at the Surface-Uganda offices located along Doctor Lucille road. This is a Non- Governmental Organization (NGO) who supports homeless children who live on the streets of Gulu town. He was together with about fifty other children of his age who live on the streets of Gulu town in Northern Uganda. They were invited there by the NGO for an early Christmas Party on December 22, 2015.

He adjusts his chair after realizing that I wanted to take his picture as he opens his eyes wide waiting for the click of my phone camera. When I asked him what profession he wants to be in the feature if he was given the opportunity to go back to school, Francis did not hesitate to think over it like many of his peers in the room but replied quickly: “I want to be a doctor”.

A baseline survey conducted by Surface-Uganda among 150 street children indicates that 92.8% say they want formal educational opportunities if given a chance to study while only 7.2% said no to formal educational opportunity. On whether they can take skills training opportunity if given the chance, 97.6% gave it a nod while only 2.4% said no.

The consultant who conducted the survey, LUID Consultants based in Gulu, interviewed the street children individually and came out with a remarkable result. 32 wants to become Engineers, 16 wants to be drivers, 7 wants business, 4 opted for lawyers, teachers and soldiers while 3 wants to become presidents, etc.

Francis wanted to be a doctor like his father he knows only as Sakwa who is practicing medicine from Mbale, his hometown. He is a product of a broken family where the parents never stayed together as husband and wife who join hands to raise their children. His mother is Patricia Lamunu who is a businesswoman based in South Sudan. She has now spent two years without seeing her son, Francis, nor sent his school fees. Francis dropped out of school in 2012 in primary four from Gulu Primary School where he was in the boarding section.

“It was my mother who would send money for my fees and other requirements from South Sudan. I was chased away from school after she failed to send me money”, says Francis as he tries to hold back tears from his eyes. HIS maternal grandmother who used to have a home near St. Mary’s Hospital-Lacor located four kilometers from the town center, have relocated to Amuru district leaving Francis stranded with nowhere to go to except live on the streets of Gulu town,  

Another street child I found at Surface-Uganda taking breakfast of porridge is twelve-year old Basil Olara at 11-30 am local time (09.30 GMT). He had just finished bathing and shaving his head off hair. The group was watching television featuring wrestling matches.

He too dropped out of school in primary three from Minja Primary school in Gulu district in 2013. His father, Thomas Onen died of TB in 2014 after which his mother, Florence Alok, went back to her parent’s home after the death of his father. Unlike Francis, Basil was chased away from his mother’s care by his elder brother from another marriage, one Geoffrey Ojok.

“He waited when my mother was not at home. He came in and found me sleeping and he started beating me with iron bar saying I should go back to my father’s home. I ran for my life in the bush and the following day I started tracking to come to live in the street”, recalls Basil.

The first few days were not easy for Basil as he knew no one in the town. He found a Good Samaritan he re-calls only by one name, Opoka who took care of him from Pece Prison sub-ward, Laroo Division home.

After nursing his injury from Opoka’s home for sometimes, he found a friend in the person of one Genesis Ogenrwot from Buganda Pub, a popular night spot in town where all sorts of people go to socialize. Ogenrwot introduced him to an NGO, Charity for Peace Foundation where they were given food and shelter for some times until the NGO closed shop. “Today, a group of us sleep in a makeshift eating house at Cereleno in Pece Division which belongs to one Zaida”, says Basil. Basil wants either carpentry or being a doctor if given the opportunity to go back to school.

A day in the life of a street child.   

According to Basil, he spends the whole day scavenging the different places in town looking for metallic and plastic materials of water and oil discarded by people where he sells them to earn a living. He sells a kilogram of metals at shs400/= per kilogram. He spends about shs1500/= on breakfast if he gets money fast enough.

Basil has managed to save shs30000/= with this business so far and the landlady keeps his savings for buying clothes

Thomas Okettayot, the Project Officer at Surface Uganda says the biting poverty in the region which is a result of the over twenty years of insurgencies, is now manifesting itself on orphans who later turn to be street children..

“Each child has unique problem that brought them and also sustains them on the streets. They come from different backgrounds”, says Thomas.

Surface-Uganda has partnered with African Center Arts & Crafts to impart on them basic skills on making hand bags using beads as a mean of giving them opportunity for self employment

The Mayor of Gulu Municipality, George Labeja says the best option for the street children should be sending them back home to re-unite with their family members.

“Some of you are lazy children who don’t want to do manual work like digging. I want you to register your names and I see how to re-unite you with your family members”, says Mayor Labeja..

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