Uganda: A day With a Children’s Family in the Forgotten IDP Camp Reveals Amazing Resilience, Thirst for Education

Orphans of a security guard at Achioli quarters, the last forgotten IDP camp
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The author (in blue shirt), with the family of children headed by Janet Lamaro (in red T-shirt).

“Good afternoon daddy. I hope you are doing well. They said that we, who are in the last year, are to go back to school but we are badly off. We have no hope for money yet it is a new year and payments are to be done. It is me Vicky”

“I have done everything possible but I think they might have to stop dreaming of ever continuing with education. I simply can’t raise enough money for all their needs. To make it worst; the weather is very unreliable”

“Is he now coming to claim these girls, whom he called ‘prostitutes’, to be of any use to him when he left me struggling alone with them? I think he is looking at the dowry the girls might fetch in marriage. I don’t want to even see that evil man”

KAMPALA-UGANDA: It is 06:28 PM local time (18.28 GMT) on Thursday, August 26, 2021 and I was listening to BBC’s Focus on Africa program from my home in Keyi ‘B’ cell, Kasubi North Parish in Gulu City. I saw a message flashing on the screen of my smart phone which reads; “Good afternoon daddy. I hope you are doing well. They said that we, who are in the last year, are to go back to school but we are badly off. We have no hope for money yet it is a new year and payments are to be done. It is me Vicky”.

I didn’t have credit on my phone and I couldn’t borrow more airtime as well, as I still had not paid back the airtime I borrowed the previous day. Since I was traveling to the village in Palabek, Lamwo district, the following day, I left the matter hanging but deep inside, I knew what to do. I wanted to find out from her widowed mother, Ms. Judith Akumu, the challenges she was facing paying school fees for her six orphans. Vicky Lamunu is 24 years old, she is a final year student pursuing a Diploma in Education at the Arua based National Teachers’ College- Muni.

Ms. Akumu lost her husband, the late Charles Oyet, who was a security guard in Kampala to HIV/AIDS in 2003 when Lamunu was just six years old and has singly handedly been raising her children through vending on Kampala streets. The family is among the thousands of families from Acholi sub-region who fled the war infested region and have been living in Acholi Quarters, a slum in Nakawa Division in Kampala Capital City. This is the last, largest, but forgotten Internally Displaced Person’s (IDP) camp in Uganda since the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) menace was resolved more than fifteen years ago which saw the rebels fleeing to Central African Republic (CAR).

When Kampala Capital City Authority’s law enforcement officers became tough on vending on the streets of the City and income through vending could no longer sustain her family, Ms. Akumu left her children under the care of the eldest daughter, 26 year-old Ms. Janet Lamaro, who had training on hair dressing after senior six and relocated to the village in Palabek, Lamwo district, to try her hands on farming to meet the needs of her children back in Kampala Capital City.

I met her in Palabek on Sunday, August 29, 2021 and discussed two issues; first, was the fate of her children she left behind in Acholi Quarter, Nakawa Division in Kampala. Secondly, we discussed a request by her brother-in-law, one Oballim to let him pay compensation for his brother’s children since they were born outside marriage to enable them return to their father’s homestead in Labworoyeng in Palabek Gem sub-county. The Acholi culture dictates that one pays luk /luk/ (dowry), usually in form of one cow for each child born outside marriage.

On the fate of the future of her children left behind in Kampala, she tells me that she is ‘helpless’ as she is unable to raise all the money demanded from her for their fees. According to her, her daughters (she has no son) may have to stop at that level of education unless some Good Samaritan bails the girls out.

“I have done everything possible but I think they might have to stop dreaming of ever continuing with education. I simply can’t raise enough money for all their needs. To make it worst; the weather is very unreliable”, she laments.

Speaking about the request of her brother-in-law’s request to pay ‘luk’ of her brother’s children, Ms. Akumu says; “Is he now coming to claim these girls, whom he called ‘prostitutes’, to be of any use to him when he left me struggling alone with them? I think he is looking at the dowry the girls might fetch in marriage. I don’t want to even see that evil man”.

On Monday September 06, 2021, I visited the six children that Ms. Akumu left behind in Acholi Quarter slum headed by her eldest daughter, Janet Lamaro to get comprehensive report on their educational and daily feeding needs.

I found them in a two-roomed house each hardly large enough to fit a bed and two chairs, one of which is a two seater chair while the other is where the rest of the children sleep. The brick house has poorly connected electricity with the socket hanging loosly, a risk for the chiildren. The houses are constructed bumper to bumper with a space of just about two feet apart. They have shared pit latrines and bathrooms. A single street runs through the slum, which is built on the slopes of Mbuya hill.

Ms. Janet Lamaro, (26) runs a saloon as a livelihood business to feed her siblings and is a student pursuing a five-year online course in Public Health from Bring Young University (USA). She needs at least UGX 650000 (about US$180.00) for the first certificate.

Ms. Vicky Lamunu (24) is a final year student pursuing a Diploma in Education from National Teachers’ College- Muni who still needs a total of UGX 1770000.00 (about US$ 492.00).

Ms. Atenyo Brenda (22) is a final year student pursuing a Diploma in Social Works and Social Administration (SWASA) from Nsamizi Training Institute-Mpigi cumpass. She needs a total of UGX 700000.00 (about US$ 194).

Ms. Mary Atim (20) is a first year student at Uganda College of Commerce, UCC Tororo compass pursuing a Diploma in Records and Information Management. She needs UGX 750000.00 (about US$ 208.00).

The last two children, Adyero Prudence (13) is in Primary 5 and Joanah Favor Aber (7) in Middle class at Luigi Giussani Pre and Primary School under the sponsorship of Meeting Point, an NGO who supports people living with HIV/ AIDS and their families.
Behind the smiles one sees in the faces of these little children, one can easily see a story of amazing resilience and a big thirst for education because ordinarily, one would have expected the four bigger girls to be carrying babies on their backs as is the case in Acholi sub-region now. Over 17000 school children got pregnant in Acholi sub-region since the first lockdown in March 2020.

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