27 June 2011. Thirty-five years ago, thousands of school-aged children in Soweto, South Africa took to the streets to demand the right to a quality education and instruction in their native language. Over 100 of these children died, and more than 1,000 were injured. The Organization for African Unity (now the African Union) initiated the Day of the African Child in 1991 to commemorate this event. Since then, the continent has come together every year on June 16th to celebrate the hopes and needs of its children.
For this year’s celebration of the Day of the African Child, the focus was on the estimated 30 million street children across Africa. BRAC Uganda, in collaboration with UNICEF, took part in this event by hosting a visit from the Honorable Barbara Oundo Nekesa, State Minister for Karamojan Affairs. Many of Uganda’s estimated 10,000 street children come from the Honorable Minister’s region of Karamoja. As one of the poorest regions in the country, these children were forced to migrate due to severe drought, poverty, food insecurity, and decades of conflict that ravaged this area.
Since the cessation of conflict in Karamoja, renewed attention has been paid to developing this region. As part of this effort, BRAC Uganda launched 120 Empowerment and Livelihood for Adolescents (ELA) clubs dedicated to the social and economic empowerment of young girls. In the morning, the clubs serve 25 pre-school children with care and stimulation through toys, games and support. In the afternoon, the clubs provide livelihood and life-skills training, as well as a customized microfinance program, for adolescent girls between the ages of 13 and 20.
The Honorable Minister had the opportunity to meet and speak to many of the beneficiaries of the ELA clubs, many of whom are former street children. The Minister was particularly touched to hear the testimonial of one young girl who, due to poverty, was separated from her parents and forced to find employment away from her hometown. Her journey first took her to Kampala by bus, and from there, she moved from city to city and even ended up in Southern Sudan.
Throughout this time, she struggled to find work opportunities, slept on the streets, and was unable to find food. When she returned to Iriiri, Karamoja last year after the long journey back home, she was finally reunited with her parents and joined BRAC Uganda’s ELA club. She explained how BRAC’s programs are providing the necessary support to keep her—and many other girls—off the streets.
After meeting with beneficiaries, the Honorable Minister inaugurated BRAC Uganda’s programs by distributing the assets of girls who were awarded for their successful completion of vocational training. Those who undertook courses in poultry rearing received a chicken coop, ten chickens, and a month’s worth of chicken feed. Those who undertook agricultural training received a variety of different seeds to plant during the rainy season. Throughout the next few months, club mentors and trainers will work closely with these girls to ensure that they are able to fully utilize their new assets in order to earn an income for themselves and their families.
At the end of her visit to BRAC’s programs, the Honorable Minister gave a strong message of support to BRAC Uganda and its partners in Karamoja. She reaffirmed the Government's commitment to programs like BRAC’s that provide key opportunities and support to children so that they will no longer be forced to migrate from their homes.
This article was written with contributions from Dr. Nicola Banks. Dr Banks works with BRAC's Research and Evaluation Unit in Uganda. She previously worked for BRAC's Research and Evaluation Division in Bangladesh, before completing her PhD in Development Policy and Management with The Brooks World Poverty Institute, The University of Manchester. She remains an Honorary Research Fellow at the Brooks World Poverty Institute.