Uganda: My Kiddos
Laura Leach ‘95 is working as a Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda. She is sending updates to KWConnect about her experiences in Africa. Click here to read her story from the beginning.
I started going to the Haven last June. The Haven is an emergency shelter for women and children who are experiencing domestic violence and need a safe place to stay while their case is being sorted out. While the idea was that it would mainly be used by women and their children, there ended up being a lot of children placed there on their own. These children have faced problems such as defilement, incest, physical abuse, and some are runaways.
Such cases are not easy to resolve in Uganda. According to a survey done by the Uganda Bureau of Statistic in 2005, the Ugandan police are considered the most corrupt service provider in Uganda. Part of the problem is lack of resources, and part of the problem is poor ethics and a culture where corruption is commonplace.
In some cases when a child is defiled and the case is taken to the police, the family of the perpetrator will offer a bribe to the police to make the case go away. If the child’s family can’t come up with their own money to pursue the case, then that child will never receive justice.
Another challenge is that girls are treated like a commodity here. Their value rests in how much their parents receive for bride price when they wed. If a child is defiled, her parents will often settle the situation by accepting some payment from the defiler, because the girl is now spoiled and won’t command a bride price if or when she weds.
Some of the cases prove challenging just because of geography. Right now we have a girl who is from Bwindi which is in Western Uganda, so the challenge is researching the situation and finding family who can take her in, and then getting her there. Due to these challenges and others, the children were staying at the Haven for extended periods of time, and there was no programming in place for them.
During my first visit with the children, they greeted me as a visitor and recited their alphabet chart and number chart. I quickly went from visitor to Teacher Laura, spending a couple hours with the children every morning. We read stories, color pictures, solve math problems, play games, sing songs, and generally have a good time together.
The most important thing I try to do with the kids is instill confidence in them and make them feel loved. But in truth, I feel like I receive far more from the children than I give. Every day when I arrive, they come running to greet me, grabbing my purse and bags to carry in for me. Every day when I leave, I am engulfed in hugs and well wishes. The truth is, they’ve increased MY confidence and made me feel loved by them. What a great gift.
Next time: two individual stories of girls at The Haven …