Whisper resuscitates hope for children in jigger infested –communities.
Uganda has been described as the Pearl of Africa. However, in this beautiful land, there are a number of harmful cultural practices that makes it a place no child would want to live. As the third series of the Tumaini Awards is launched, SHAMILLA KARA explores how Whisper Orphanage is changing the world for vulnerable children in Jinja and Kamuli districts. when the orphanage people went to collect baby Diana, the four-month-old had just lost her sole care giver. Her baby skin was cracked; her putrid scalp was teeming with infections and knotted hair while oodles of jiggers fed on her tender feet and hands. The infant, who was only four kilogrammes, had never been bathed before and it took seven days to rid her baby scalp of grime. Two days before, Diana’s HIV-positive mother had breathed her last in front of a health centre and her body hadbeen dumped by a boda boda man at the roadside in her village. Before that, the young mother had implored a family friend she found visiting another patient, to get help for her children especially her baby. She told the friend of how doctors at the health centre had refused to give her treatment or admit her, too scared to touch her since her body and face were infested with jiggers. This is a grim reality of the many heartrending stories of the conditions many vulnerable children aided by Whisper Orphanage based in Mutai village, Kagoma sub-county, Buwenge county, Jinja are found in. The programme is under the charity organisation, Whisper, the World’s Orphanage Fund.
How they work
Founded in 2009 by Veronika Cejpkova and Antony Genco, the charity organisation operates mostly around Jinja district and Kamuli. Its projects include the orphanage, a nursery and primary school and outreach programmes to sensitise people in villages, especially children’s caregivers on hygiene, first aid, and livelihood. It employs 24 people directly and works with vulnerable children, child headed families, malnourished children and caretakers of such children. Apart from the orphanage, the organisation also started a school called Whisper’s Child Academy of Hope in Kagoma gate, Kakira, the first ever in the area. It came with latrines, another first for the area. It caters for nursery and pre primary education (up to P4).
The organisation provides for almost everything including uniforms and millet porridge, and the children only pay sh10,000 for registration. “People usually call us to pick children although most of the children in our care come from our research,” says Cejpkova. “Our social workers go around villages asking LCs and religious leaders if there are any children who are neglected or suffering,” says Hashim Suleman, the project manager. He adds that usually, the villagers do not respond immediately until they ascertain that Police is not involved. The orphanage is a transition place for vulnerable children, who are then treated and taken back to their families when they are able to understand life in the village or to care for themselves. “We apply for guardianship in instances where we picked a child or children living alone in a hut and their parents died or when it is a child-headed family and the eldest is like five years old,” says Suleman. The organisation is also involved in outreach programmes, which include training caregivers onutrition, hygiene and business, supporting them with basic needs such as food, beddings, clothes, scholastic materials and toys. So far, they have supported more than 500 children around Jinja district. “We have a dedicated day for outreach work for jiggers, another day for community work and the third day is for working with extended families of our orphans,” Cejpvoca says.
She adds that Emmanuel Mugabi, who is in charge of the jigger outreach programme, heads the jigger cleaning exercise and visits the affected families to check on their healing and hygiene progress. Thereafter, the organisation provides the families with beds, mattresses and mosquito net and teaches them about improving their sleeping conditions. “We teach on how to improve sleeping conditions of the children in the villages. Most of them have jiggers because of where they sleep so we teach them and their caregivers how they should look out for their homes, about hygiene,” adds Cejpkova. So far, they have improved sleeping conditions of more than 120 children around Mutai. With regards to working with extended families, Cejpkova says they try to teach families how to live with the children, care for the orphans and improve their homes so the children can return to a safe environment free of jiggers and malaria. “We try to do everything not to have the children going back to the dire situations we found them in,” says Suleman.
The organisation has also trained communities around Kagoma sub-county on how to dress wounds, do CPR/first aid on people, trainings about hygiene and family planning.
“Each of the 200 people in Kagoma gate got a first aid kit and were trained on how to use their first aid kits which had gloves, disinfectants, condoms, some plasters, among other things,” says Cejpkova. To entice them, samosas were given out during the training. It is in the same vein that Cejpkova gave out sanitary pads she packed from the UK to women so they could attend a meeting to educate them on family planning and hygiene
Sources of funding.
The organisation relies on fundraising, sponsorship and donations from London and Czech Republic where Cejpkova hails from. She also knits socks which she sells online, relies on car boot sales in the UK and used money she had saved up. It is all about maximizing the last coin for Cejpkova, a former air hostess. She painted the orphanage herself and she studied web design so she could do the website herself.
“We constantly get sick, from jiggers, cough and other diseases we get from the children we rescue,” says Suleman. Cejpkova says their biggest challenge are people who mislead Whisper staff. “Many people do not speak the truth maybe because they are scared of going to prison for not treating the children right. Most of the children we pick are in life-threatening conditions and the guardians fear to expose their faults,” says Cejpkova. Another sad but genuine challenge, is when parents refuse to take back their treated children from this transition organisation. “When we take the children from their parents and treat them back to health, the parents do not want to take them back and tell us to keep them,” says Suleman. The organisation’s staff also has to contend with bad working conditions that include horrible roads, poor feeding- they usually feed on chapati while on outreach.
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Whisper resuscitates hope for children in jigger infested –communities