Every child deserves a chance to control their destiny. Without guidance and help, many become a menace to the society they are supposed to build. They may become drug addicts, prostitutes or street children. Such is the state of many children who grew up during the war in northern Uganda. It wa
By Norman Katende
Every child deserves a chance to control their destiny. Without guidance and help, many become a menace to the society they are supposed to build. They may become drug addicts, prostitutes or street children.
Such is the state of many children who grew up during the war in northern Uganda. It was very hard for many to access basic education and social services at the height of the Lord’s Resistance Army rebellion.
Many parents were either abducted or killed, leading to an increase in teenage-headed families. Some children lost all their relatives as they escaped from the rebels. These children, many of whom were below the age of 14 years, were left to fend for their families. They had to risk their lives as they tried to raise a meal and keep the little ones alive for another day.
When Pastor Gerald Mwebe encountered the vulnerable children in northern Uganda, his heart melted. He set about trying to provide basic education to some children to help secure their future.
“I knew that they were so many, I could not help all of them. But, I had to do something to help those I could,” Mwebe says.
Mwebe started an institution, the Uganda Jesus Village, to try and give the young children hope. The project started without a formal proposal, but with a deeply altruistic urge to succeed and give the children hope amidst their troubles.
Mwebe’s first project was in Amuru’s internally displaced people’s camps.
“Seeing over 200 naked and malnourished children shocked me. I had never experienced such a situation and I did not know what to do,” Mwebe says.
“It had never occurred to me that I would look after disadvantaged children or even have a home for them. I felt that my life’s purpose was to raise my own family.
My life changed in Amuru immediately I looked into the faces searching for hope,” says Mwebe.
Back in his hotel room that evening, he could not sleep. He kept picturing the children and thinking about ways to help them have better and more meaningful lives. In the morning, he approached the camp elders and asked them what he could do for the children. But they too, did not have a solution.
“One advised me to take some children to Kampala and look after them,” Mwebe says. But the task of picking 10 children from the 200 needy ones was never going to be an easy one for Mwebe. Even today, hundreds of children cry, wanting to come to Kampala. Unfortunately, not all of them can be taken in.
Some of the children shouldered adult responsibilities. Osma Akello, for example, headed a family of three after her mother died of AIDS and her father was abducted by the rebels. She is currently an S1 student.
“These were the kinds of stories everywhere. It is children like this that I bring here, to try and give them a meaningful life and let them grow in the Lord,” Mwebe adds.
He had to move from Balintuma Road to a bigger place in Lungujja Kikandwa to accommodate the children.
Settling them down in the new environment was not without its challenges. The children were a nuisance in the neighbourhood. Several times, Mwebe had to walk into each homestead asking for forgiveness and for patience while he helped change the children. “They would steal people’s food and destroy property. When they fought, a win on one side left the opponent bleeding,” Mwebe says. He cites an incident when a child was injured. When he was taken for treatment, he asked to be given the money instead, as the wound would heal by itself.
Mwebe was also strained because the children’s misdeeds were being connected to him all the time. He notes that in the past, neighbours were allowed to discipline an errant child.
The behavioural changes in many of the children is impressive, considering only seven years have gone by. Twenty-one children did last year’s Primary Leaving Exams (PLE) and they all performed well. Mwebe now looks after more than 60 children. He has opened Light School in Mengo, which also offers bursaries and scholarships to communities in Kikandwa, a slum in Mengo.
Mwebe makes sure that the children go back to their native homes during third term holidays, to interact with any family members who are alive. This helps them maintain ties with their roots. The children will, hopefully, be a testimony and effect change in others who have been affected by trauma.
Mwebe now looks after more than 60 children. He has opened Light School in Mengo which offers scholarships
One of the youngsters who makes Mwebe proud is Moses Watum, who scored aggregate six in PLE and is now at Makerere College.
“These are leaders of tomorrow and they need to have a good foundation. I am looking at their destiny not their desperation. I might not be able to change all of them, but let me try to do the little I can,” Mwebe says.
The home has been blessed. Well-wishers, mostly neighbours, donate things to help run the home. However, he still lacks volunteers to help in the daily running of Jesus’ Village, and this has been a stumbling block. Fortunately, Mwebe has a farm from which he can harvest some food for the children and this subsidises the expenses.
“It is not easy. But that is my calling and I do not want to disobey it. My dream is to construct a school in Amuru. Through the school, we will be able to help an even greater number of children by giving them basic education and vocational skills,” he says.
He is also looking to build another vocational institute at Sissa on Entebbe Road, where he has already aquired land.
who is mwebe?
• Gerald Mwebe was born to Bernadette and Raphael Musoke Masembe of Ssisa in Wakiso district.
• He studied at City Primary School in Kololo and Kitante Hill School for his O’level.
• For A’level, Mwebe attended Kako Senior Secondary School, before pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in education at Makerere University.
• His desire to serve the Lord saw him join
Dallas Theological Seminary, US, for a master’ degree in theology. There, he was inspired by the works of Rev. Martin Luther King to start preaching on social transformation.
• Mwebe is married to Dianah and they have four children.
• He formed the Uganda Jesus Village with a view that in a traditional African society, everyone helps in a child’s upbringing,
Father to the fatherless