Until October 31, New Vision will devote space to highlighting the plight of slum dwellers as well as profiling those offering selfless service to improve conditions in these areas. Today, ELVIS BASUDDE brings you the role Amazima Ministries has played in transforming the lives of the Karimojong community in Kikaramoja slum, Jinja town
“When my husband died leaving me with seven children, I knew the world had closed its doors on me. Everybody abandoned me. I had no food and no clothing for my children. I could not raise fees for them,” Maria Rokote narrates.
With the future looking obscure, the 47-year-old resolved to go begging on the streets. But just as she was about to give up, Amazima Ministries came to her rescue.
“I got a job and bought land. I can now provide food, pay school fees and medical care for my family,” she says.
Rokote is one of the 30 women being taken care of by Amazima Ministries, a community-based organisation working with populations in Masese III, Kikaramoja slum in Jinja town.
Kikaramoja gets its name
According to the LC1 chairperson, John Mwero, who has lived in the slum for 30 years, the place got its name from the big population of Karimojong immigrants. The Karimojong found their way there while fleeing insecurity and cattle rustling activities in their home area. The slum has been in existence for over 50 years.
Mwero says the area is home to over 10,000 dwellers, 90% of them Karimojong. Others keep coming from different places in search of jobs.
A narrow dusty road littered with human waste and sandwiched by rickety mud-and-wattle structures, with tin and cardboard roofs, leads you to the heart of this slum. The smell of alcohol, urine and human waste hang in the air.
Joyce Rwamaholo, a resident, says their culture dictates that Karimojong women do not use latrines.
“They believe if women go to latrines they will not bear children, so they use the bush,” Rwamaholo explains.
He adds that many people in the area are poor and unemployed. Most of them are hawkers and others work as security guards in Jinja.
“The men spend most of their time drinking, leaving the women to support the families with their meagre income from brewing alcohol and making beads,” Rwamaholo explains.
She adds that many young girls engage in casual sex increasing the spread of HIV. The Karimojong do not believe in HIV testing nor do they use condoms. Family planning is a strange concept to them, the reason the population is increasing drastically.
Rwamaholo says as a result of alcohol and unemployment, petty theft and domestic violence are rampant.
“Most Karimojong men still carry guns and also force their women into sex. Since the women are supposed to be submissive, there is no negotiation,” Rwamaholo adds.
Pointing at a graveyard within the slum, Lucy Eyam, the area finance secretary says the dead are buried in Kikaramoja since most of them were born there.
She adds that the school drop-out rate had reached alarming levels. On their way to school, children rummage through rubbish heaps looking for scrap for sale. But the local council is now taking tougher action encouraging parents to send their children to school. They have also instituted disciplinary measures to deal with errant children.
Kikaramoja is home to one of the oldest and few UPE primary schools in Jinja Municipality, Masese Co- Education, which has been in existence since 1929. It is here that most of the children in this community go, Eyam says.
Medical care in the area is lacking, with only one government health centre, which is poorly–equipped.
The medical personnel say the facility operates from Monday to Friday, meaning that when one falls sick during the weekend they cannot access medical care.
Eyam says unlike the Karimojong, the few Itesots and Acholi, who live there are fairly educated. Most houses in Kikaramoja are of mud-and-wattle and often overcrowded. A single room goes for sh20,000, which is too expensive for most residents.
Hope comes to Kikaramoja
Despite all the squalor, life goes on in Kikaramoja. Amazima Ministries has done a lot to help the community since 2009. Its vocational programme includes 30 women from the community who are able to support their families with the income they earn from making paper bead necklaces.
Christine Aloyo, a social worker and counsellor, says when they first came to this area, many women were miserable because they were not earning a living.
Today, their lives have been transformed. The women were counselled and trained and they now earn and support their families. Each woman has opened a bank account, where they save part of her income. Many of them have bought land, built houses, and send their children to school.
Betty Toddy, 30, could not hold her emotions as she recounted how Amazima has transformed her life. Toddy who sells necklaces, recalls her painful past when she used to eat from dustbins and sleep on the floor.
“I used to take care of 13 children. I would get cow dung and smear people’s homes to earn a living. I can now feed my family, give them medical care and take my children to school,” she says.
Many of the women have turned away from brewing alcohol, prostitution and collecting garbage. They make the necklaces in the comfort of their homes while looking after their children.
They also have a network of friends who gather to study the Bible, share information and experiences to uplift their community.
Eyam says when her children fall sick Amazima takes them to hospital. Aloyo says extra proceeds from the necklaces are brought back to improve the community in the form of a feeding programme.
“Three years ago, there were many malnourished children here. The headteacher reported a huge dropout rate because the school could not provide lunch,” she adds.
Amazima came to provide lunch for about 1,200 children. School attendance also went up and malnutrition went down.
“We are proud the necklaces project has made the programme possible. We are also working hard to provide medical care to the people in Kikaramoja community,” she says. The programme also teaches the parents how to handle emergencies, maintain hygiene and give first aid.
The residents are also counselled and encouraged to test for HIV and these found positive encouraged to get treatment and taught how to take care of themselves.
Aloyo teaches parents of HIV–positive children how to take care for them. She also makes appointments for them at a local clinic that provides ARVs and other HIV support. She also encourages them to honour their appointments.
“Malnourished children are given food supplements, and their care-givers trained in how to ensure a balanced diet for them,” she says.
Last year provided mosquito nets to all families in Kikaramoja. The programme also organised for the immunisation of all children under six in the Masese community after a measles outbreak.
“We know we cannot make a drastic change in the community, but we can train and help the community members to change gradually,” Aloyo says.
She says she is helping the women believe they can make a significant contribution to the community.