By Charles Kakamwa
In 2007, when Dennis Emuron was in Senior Four, his father passed on. His mother, who had been the sole breadwinner, also got bedridden.
The responsibility of fending for the family fell on Emuron’s shoulders. He had to struggle to fi nd a source of livelihood for the family, take care of his siblings and mother, as well as stay in school. But Emuron was only a child and could not carry the burden.
He would have dropped out of school had he not found solace in Amazima Ministries International, a child support organisation operating in Jinja and Buikwe districts. When social workers at the organisation met Emuron in 2007, they began by counselling him and his mother. The following year, Emuron and his two sisters were registered by the organisation as benefi ciaries.
They were enrolled at Lords Meade Vocational College in Njeru, Buikwe district. Emuron completed Senior Six in 2010. He was admitted to Makerere University for a bachelor’s degree in education, which he completed last year. One of Emuron’s younger sisters, who is also sponsored by Amazima, is studying industrial art at Uganda Christian University, Mukono, while the other completed Senior Six last year.
Although not yet employed, Emuron is optimistic that his future is bright. “I appreciate the assistance rendered to me by Amazima. What they did is what a parent would for his children. Amazima’s intervention has made me what I am today. I hope to get a job and assist other underprivileged people,” he says. Emuron’s family is one of hundreds of others benefi ting from Amazima Ministries’ generosity to vulnerable communities in Jinja and Buikwe.
Children at Masese Co- Education School and others from the community in Masese, Jinja, line up to get food at the school. Photos by Charles Kakamwa
Amazima Ministries International was founded in 2008 by Katie Davis, an American citizen. Davis, who came to Uganda in 2006, was working as a kindergarten teacher at an orphanage in Buziika village, Njeru town council in Buikwe. As she went about her day-to-day activities, Davis was shocked to learn that children who had reached schoolgoing age woke up in the morning to sit by the roadsides, while others went to till the land.
Davis later learnt that most of the children could not afford to pay the fees in the privately-owned schools, which were the nearest to the community, because they were from impoverished families. Determined to change this trend, Davis registered Amazima Ministries International as a community-based organisation in 2008 and later as a non-government organisation in 2010.
She started with a child sponsorship programme for mostly orphans and vulnerable children in Buziika. Her target was initially to have at least 40 children under the programme, but at least 150 children had been registered by January 2008. To date, the programme sponsors 721 underprivileged children, according to Shana Penner, the programme director of Amazima Ministries. Over 400 of these are in primary schools, 200 in secondary and the rest in higher institutions of higher learning.
Three, including Emuron, have completed university so far. Rather than put the children in a home, all children sponsored by Amazima live with their parents or guardians except those in secondary schools, where they are required to be in the boarding section. “All pupils are in day schools because we do not want them to feel detached from their parents or guardians, with whom we raise them,” Penner says.
Every Saturday, the children whose education is sponsored by Amazima, all of whom are from Buziika community, converge at the organisation’s chapel in Buziika for mentoring and spiritual guidance. They are also given food. Penner says the organisation, whose name is derived from the Luganda word Amazima (truth), seeks to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the benefi ciaries. According to Penner, every outreach programme of Amazima Ministries is accompanied by Biblical teaching and spiritual encouragement. “We know that meeting the physical needs of these people is not the ultimate goal.
We long to see them fed spiritually and restored into the right relationship with God,” Penner adds. Amazima also runs other programmes in Masese, a slum in Jinja municipality, predominantly inhabited by Karimojong. The organisation conducts community outreaches, where over 30 women are engaged in making beads and necklaces from locallyavailable materials.
The women meet every week and sell their products to Amazima Ministries. “We encourage them to use some of the proceeds to meet their domestic needs and also save some in the bank. The women can now take care of their children without waiting for us,” Penner says. Amazima also runs a programme, where social workers sensitise residents and advise those who are ill to seek help from health centres and hospitals.
Bradley Lang, the operations director of the organisation, says the benefi ciaries each contribute sh1,000 and the organisation tops up the medical bill. Lang explains that the ‘affordable’ fee is meant to enable the patients appreciate and attach value to the service provided. Lang contends that over 2,000 patients have benefi tted from this programme. He adds that through the programme, they have rendered assistance to residents with health issues ranging from HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, skin infections, malaria and complications arising from alcoholism and prostitution.
The organisation also has a feeding programme, which is implemented in conjunction with Masese Co-Education, a school under the Universal Primary Education programme in Walukuba/Masese division, Jinja. Amazima feeds the pupils, as well as the children in the community who are not in school. For over four years, Amazima has been providing 150kg of maize fl our and 100kg of beans per day for lunch for the over 1,200 children. Of these, 800 are pupils of Masese Coeducation School.
Charles Opoya, a former headmaster of the school, says the feeding programme led to a tremendous increase in the pupil enrolment at Masese Co-Education School. Opoya, now the headmaster of Main Street Primary School in Jinja, says Karimojong parents were reluctant to enrol their children in the school, but were attracted in big numbers by the food. In addition, the 150 children in the nursery section, which was established and is run by Amazima Ministries, are given porridge for breakfast. Penner notes that the organisation will not expand for now. “We have to be cautious and strategic in whatever we do. We have potential for growth, but want to ensure that whatever project we set up is doing well,” Penner says.