Boys come to the streets of Kampala for many reasons. For some their parents have died or are no longer willing to care for them. They have nowhere to turn so they run. For others, their home is so bad that they think life on the streets with all its hardships would be better than staying in that environment. Many of the boys come to the streets for less extreme reasons. Sometimes they have done something wrong and instead of facing punishment they run. Sometimes they come from very poor families and although these families love them the boys feel like by coming to the streets they can make a way for themselves that is somehow better than what they could otherwise. Many poor families cannot put their children in school and so the boys grow board and come to the streets for something to do. Some boys are just downright stubborn, the draw of the streets and the “freedom” and “adventure” it entails are too strong. They don’t like school, they don’t want to dig, or fetch water, or listen to those in authority over them and so they run. Each boy has his own reason for running. Each story is a little different and the issues are complicated. But, in the midst of it all, you can clearly hear God’s heart – He desires to restore what has been lost.
There are many boys on the streets who given the opportunity and support are willing to return home to their families. This is a challenging endeavor and one which needs a lot of wisdom. It is also incredibly rewarding. It is a beautiful thing to witness the joy that families often express when their lost son comes home.
In the past few months API has been part of a number of resettlements. Each boy that went made the initiative to go home on his own. Each boy was excited in his own way. And when he arrived home each family was happy to see their child returned to them. They were all so very thankful saying “ Webela! Webaly nyo nyo nyo! (Thank you! Thank you so so so much!).” They showed that they were willing to take over reasonability of their child again. Here are two of the boy’s stories.
Felix is 12 year old. He has come non-committedly to program for a number of months now and just lately voiced an interest to go back home to his family. His home village was a far ways from Kampala. We boarded a night bus headed for the hills of western Uganda and arrived at the bus stop around seven-thirty in the morning. But this was not the end of our journey. We traveled farther into the hills on in the back of a small pick-up truck (Ugandan’s can sure fit a lot of people in the back of a pick-up truck!). The roads were a bit rough so it took us over an hour to reach Felix’s small village. We followed the narrow dirt path that wound its way through banana trees until we came to his home. It was a small (but not that small by some standards here) mud house. His mother came out of the house when she heard us arrive. When she saw Felix she expressed happiness in seeing him home safe. He grandmother came to us too and with tears in her eyes thanked us.
As we talked with the family is became clear that Felix had a habit of repeatedly running away. This was not the first time he had come to Kampala. They were afraid that is would not be the last. The chairman for the town was a neighbour and came by to visit as well. He confirmed that the mother really loved her son. He said they had enough food and Felix had been in school. He asked that we would pray for Felix to stay home. He said he was willing to support him and the family in any way he could.
We talked with Felix some more about the danger of the streets (something he knows well first-hand) and how home is a much better place for him. When we left Felix was playing with his small cousins. For now he was happy to be home and be with his family. We are praying that Felix makes good choices and does not heed the call of the streets. We will be calling his family soon as a follow-up to see how he is doing.
Ivan is 12 years old. He showed up at street program a little over two months ago and was very new to the streets at that time. At the street program he was friendly and engaging. He constantly attached himself to the Uncles and Aunties and it became evident that he has run away to the streets looking for a better life. His story remained elusive until one day he opened up. He told us he had a mother who he loved and some younger siblings. He did not have a father. His mother was very poor and could not afford to put him in school he had become tired of having nothing to do in the day and had come to the streets to see if he could find someone to take him into their children’s home. He was not enjoying life on the streets at all and when he was asked if he would like to go back home to his family he said yes. We took Ivan home last week. We traveled by bus a ways outside of Kampala to a village. There we unloaded and weaved our way between homes until we found the one that was Ivan’s. His mother was there cleaning rice in her one-room house. She was happy to see us and invited us in to sit on her floor. As we chatted it became clear that Ivan’s story had been more or less true. His mother really loved him but had been struggling to provide her children with adequate food and money to cover school fees. She said Ivan had begun to hang out with the wrong crowd of boys in the village. She speculated that they had encouraged him to run to the streets. She desired to take care of him now that he was back, but it was evident that she could use some help.
By the time we left Ivan and his family, he was laughing and joking with his mother and playing with his younger siblings. He seemed contented to be home and excited at the prospect of starting school immediately where we are going to sponsor him so that he can be able to stay at home and be educated. We left him then but will be visiting him again in the next few weeks. We plan to begin a chicken project with his family as they would benefit from an additional source of income. We hope to get this started next time we visit him.
Being part of restoring families is a beautiful thing. Boys make choices to run to the streets, but if they desire to go home we want to encourage and support them in that. Maybe by getting to know the specific stories and needs of each family we can decrease the number of boys living on the streets of Kampala one at a time!
David & Abby
(A great big shout out to all of you who give to our Feed+ program. These kids went home because of your help! If you'd like to help in future resettlements you may donate to the Feed+ ministry of IVO.)