Lessons from a Ugandan slum

Recently Cambodia Project Officer Peta Thomas joined our Africa Project team to monitor some projects in Uganda. The following is an excerpt from Peta’s report after visiting the J902N African Hearts project:

“We visited with Project Manager Abi and he took us to the community where his team works in the Kisenyi Slum. Abi told us that this is the most dangerous slum in the area. Only the most hardened and tough boys dare to come and live here, sleeping in the gutters and shipping containers around the slum. These are the boys that Abi and his team works with. They provide a midday meal, and the team run daily classes, encouraging the boys that there is a life beyond where they’re at right now.

For the boys who are ready to change, African Hearts run a transition home where they can stay while their family are traced and they catch up on school. Then, if they can’t go back to live with family, the boys are offered a scholarship to go to the project’s boarding school and can stay there until they graduate. So the opportunities for these boys are ready and waiting.

What I couldn’t get out of my mind was why so many boys who clearly respected and valued Abi’s attention and the program were still living on the street—why wouldn’t he just take them all in today, and give them a safe home away from that horrid slum? I asked Abi and he told us:”

‘We set criteria for the boys, it’s up to them when they want to come and stay at the transition home. The prerequisites are that they must come to the meetings here, they must wash every day, they must stay off drugs. They have to prove to us that they want what we are offering enough to change their behaviour…

‘We used to take all the boys who wanted to come to the transition home, but if they were not ready to change they would be a bad influence on the others, and would eventually run away, most likely taking other boys with them back to the streets. So it’s really important that they show us they are ready to change their lives. Until then we will still work with them, and hope they will be ready soon,’ he said.

…I believe there’s a lesson for us all in African Hearts’ experience. Although we can see a great opportunity for the boys to leave street life, it’s only when they are ready to change their lives and fulfill the criteria to prove they are ready. This is such an important concept in development because although we can provide the environment for change, it’s only the individual who can choose to transform their lives.”—Peta Thomas, Global Development Group Project Officer.

More info on J902N