Rescued from the jaws of poverty
Publish Date: May 09, 2014
Rescued from the jaws of poverty
CALM Africa director Ssekiwanuka (R) and Israel Ssekanjako, the fi eld offi cer, chat with children of Jolly Mercy Learning Centre in Wakiso Photos by Agnes Kyotalengerire
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In the 2014 Tumaini Awards, child rights organisations in partnership with New Vision are seeking to honour and recognise individuals, organisations and businesses working to improve the lives of children in Uganda. Today, AGNES KYOTALENGERIRE reports about CALM Africa, an NGO that aids underprivileged children He abandons his peers as soon as he sees me approach the courtyard.

He runs to welcome me and holding me by the hand, takes me to his aunt, Scovia Bukirwa. The Primary Five pupil of Jolly Mercy Learning Centre, is one of the thousands of underprivileged children sponsored by Children’s Rights and Lobby Mission (CALM) Africa. Bukirwa, a resident of Gitta village in Nangabo sub-county, Wakiso district, says four years ago,field officers from CALM Africa approached her so they could enrol her nephew, Moses Nankunda, in one of their schools, Jolly Mercy Learning Centre in Nangabo.

Bukirwa could not afford Nankunda’s school fees. He had dropped out of school in Primary One after his father passed away and his mother was mentally ill.

About CALM Africa

CALM Africa is a local charity that promotes children’s rights as well as protecting them through community empowerment. According to Dr. James Ssekiwanuka, the brain behind the organisation, 1,500 orphans in schools and about 20,000 children in the communities have benefited from the initiatives.

How CALM started

It started in 2004, evolving from a communitybased organisation called Zewuliya Family Alliance Development that aided vulnerable children.

The alliance started as a family help group, headed by his late maternal grandmother, Zewuliya, in Rakai district in the early 1980s when HIV/AIDS had just struck. When the HIV/AIDS epidemic broke out in Rakai, it claimed 17 of his siblings in fi ve years, leaving behind about 40 orphans.

At the age of 19, Ssekiwanuka was caring for the orphans. His grandmother, being a herbalist opted to treat the orphans with herbal medicine and referred those who were critically ill to hospital. Word went round and eventually, people in the community started bringing their children to her home for herbal therapy. The family group grew into a community-based initiative.

The alliance moved a nothch higher in 2004 when Ssekiwanuka, who was then working at the Lutheran Federation Partnership, resigned his job to concentrate on the alliance. He registered it as Children’s Rights Lobby Mission Africa, a national non-government organisation.

Ssekiwanuka says CALM Africa started its works in communities by encouraging parents to send their children to school.

Fighting child abuse

According to a 2012 Africa Child Policy Forum survey, 48% of the children aged between 11 and 17 were reportedly caned at home. Up to 32% reported having been punched, kicked or slapped at home, while 36% reported the same kind of violence from within the community.

To counteract child abuse, Ssekiwanuka says a team of trained community supporters from CALM Africa go to schools to talk to the children about their rights and discourage teachers from corporal punishment. Israel Ssekanjako, the senior field officer at CALM Africa, says as a result of the advocacy, schools are no longer practising corporal punishment and some have developed a child protection policy.

Together with the teachers, they go to the community to counsel children and sensitise their parents about children’s rights.

According to chairperson of Lira district service commission, Moses Otyek, corporal punishment is a form of violence, which makes the learning environment unfriendly. If the school environment is hostile and children are subjected to corporal punishment, they cannot learn because they associat learning to punishment, consequently disliking the teacher and the subject he teaches, Otyek warns.

Corporal punishments can also deform a child. The teachers code of professional conduct clearly stipulates that teachers have a responsibility to protect and develop the child spiritually, physically and mentally, he says.


CALM Africa has set up a number of community schools to enable vulnerable and underprivileged children access free education. Bright Asingwire, the headteacher of Kiganda Education Centre in Rakai, says CALM Africa pays school fees and provides scholastic material for the orphans.

In addition, the organisation has renovated the boys’ dormitories and latrines and constructed water tanks Benefi ciaries Thirty-six-year-old Jane Namakula, a mother of six and a resident of Giita village in Wakiso district, says CALM Africa renovated her house that had a leaking roof, built her a latrine and gave her three mattresses, blankets, mosquito nets and beans. Source of funding Ssekiwanuka says in addition to his grandmother’s contribution, he and two of his friends contributed sh300m to set up St. James S.S, which raised funds for the establishment of three other schools.

The schools that have been set up generate income to pay teachers’ salaries because parents who are well-off pay school fees for their children and orphans pay half the fees with the exception of the very needy. Needy families have also been trained on how to start income-generating projects.

They are given start-up capital, seeds and piglets, or connected to savings schemes or government agencies that can fund them. Ssekiwanuka says CALM Africa has about 150 acres of land in Rakai, where vulnerable families can grow food. The organisation also grows food and distributes it to vulnerable families.

Ssekanjako says other organisations are already emulating CALM Africa such as African Hope for Single Mothers, an organisation based in Nsambya and Uganda Youth Development Limited.


CALM Africa partners with various local charity organisations. Innovations Ssekiwanuka says CALM Africa’s innovations include programmes that focus on teaching people about nutrition, sanitation and hygiene, among many others

The brain behind CALM Africa 

Who is Ssekiwanuka?

James Ssekiwanuka, the founder of CALM, has a bachelor’s degree in social works and social administration, a master’s degree in international child welfare, a PhD in child protection and a higher diploma in development studies. He was born 51 years ago to the late Augustine Kapinda and Jane Nabukalu of Kifamba sub-county in Kakuto county, Rakai district. He attended Kifamba Primary School, Kakoma Secondary School and Kako Secondary School.

In 1986, he enrolled at Makerere University for a bachelor’s degree in social works and social administration. After graduation, he was employed by Save the Children as a project coordinator. In 1991, he enrolled for a higher diploma course in development studies at Cambridge University.

On completion, he was posted to Free Town in Sierra Leone as a government social work advisor. A year-and-a-half later, he was transferred to Liberia as a programme manager for Save The Children. Immediately after the Rwanda genocide, he worked in Rwanda and Tanzania as a community services coordinator.

Later, he returned to Uganda and was employed by the Lutheran World Federation as programme manager, handling HIV/AIDS and children in diffi cult circumstances. He was later promoted to a programme manager in charge of Uganda programmes and Southern Sudan Lutheran World Federation.

Do you know any individual, company or organisation that is working to improve the lives of children in Uganda? Nominate them for the Tumaini Awards by downloading and filling in nomination forms from www.tumainiawards.com. Drop the nomination forms at the offi ces of any partnering organisations indicated in the Tumaini advert (Page 24) or send it by e-mail to awards@tumainiawards.com. All nominations are due by May 16, 2014

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