A children’s home changed my fortunes forever

Saturday March 19 2016

Proscovia Naluyima Ssewankambo (R)  is an alumni of SOS.

Proscovia Naluyima Ssewankambo (R) is an alumni of the SOS Kakiri. Left, children play at the centre. 

By Beatrice Nakibuuka

“I’m the sixth born in a family of nine children. My journey to SOS children's home started after my father’s death in 1990 when I was eight. We lived in Nyenga, a village in Mukono, and used to go to good schools in Jinja.

After my father’s death, my mother was not certain about our future because she was HIV positive and she knew she did not have so long to live.

Our eldest sister, who was then about 20 years old, had got married but she was not financially well off. The second eldest brother, who was at Busoga College Mwiri had to drop out of school to run the spare parts business my father had left us to help out with the family income.

My mother was stranded with taking care of us with the little education and low income she had when an aunt of ours tipped her off about the SOS villages.

Joining the child homes was a long process but ours got a little more complicated when we were featured on television. In 1991, SOS came home and interviewed my mother about why she wanted us to be taken to the child homes and the interview was aired on television.

My paternal family was not happy with my mother, insisting that she was embarrassing them making it seem to the public that they were too poor to take care of us. But mother firmly retained her resolve to admit us to the homes because she felt it was what was best for us.


Life at the child home
My youngest brother, sister and I were finally able to go to the home in Kakiri and the life there was very different from how we used to live at home. Everyone had a wardrobe, a bed, good meals and the home mother used to take care of us very well. My brother was always sickly and died when he was 12 years old.

My mother remained sickly too but had to take care of the other children who had remained back home. She also continued to visit us and each time, I asked her when I could return home with her to join my other siblings.

Although we were given everything at the home, I wanted to go home. I thought it was just a matter of my mother finding us another father and then taking us back home. She had explained to me that this was the safest place for us because she could not take care of us.

The mother at the child home treated us like we were her own children. She taught us to farm, we were taught to do crafts, and we had to do chores and had a duty roster. I remember a time when I was pulled out of a Maths lesson because I had dodged my duty.

She told me that one day I would appreciate why she had done that and indeed I learnt a lesson. I should have thanked her for how she raised me but she died when I was 14.

Chosen to study at abroad
My mother who passed on in 2001 had told us to behave well and when we did, all the good opportunities were given to us. My sister and I were chosen to go to SOS International School in Ghana. I did exams where I was competing with over 200 other pupils and I emerged the ninth.

The kind of programme I was put through and the people I met there inspired me and I was determined to become a lawyer. When I completed six years there, I went to South Africa for my Law Degree course.

I came back to Uganda in 2009 and enrolled at Law Development Centre to be able to practice law here.

I thought the three-year setback would be too long for me so I thought of doing something else. The next year, I got married and was soon expecting. I decided to stay home and look after my baby but I have been doing businesses on the side.

I have made fresh fruit jam and sold it, I have a magazine called Business Locator that advertises people’s property, I have owned a real estate business, I have a blog where I speak to mothers on how to handle their jobs and parenting through emails and also do camps for children where I empower and talk to them.

There are several women who need to be empowered and though I am not practicing as a lawyer, I can still be of help to the other people in society.
SOS presents a lot of opportunities but it is upon each child to use them. I’m not this spoilt child who has been abroad and does not know what to do. My husband and I now have a big farm on Bombo Road that is doing very well.

I think I can fit in all situations because of the skills imparted in me by SOS. I have met and interacted with so many people who have more than what I have because their parents provided for them but the confidence I have that I’m just as good as the others has helped me excel wherever I have been. You are not any better than me because you have parents.

It is unfortunate that I was an orphan but my being disadvantaged at the time is why I am advantaged now.
My sister went to the US for her degree in economics and is now completing her master’s degree in public health.”

tale of a house mother
Anita Kiconco, 33, a teacher and house mother of House Three has two biological children. She read an advert calling for house mothers in the newspaper in 2010 and when she applied for the job, she got it and has worked at the village since then. She narrates;

“When I saw the advert in the newspaper, I realised it was going to be in my line of profession as a teacher so applied for it. When I came here, I worked as an aunt for two years until I went for a three-months training in Kenya that taught me about attitude, time management, behaviour, how to control anger, child development and home management.

I wake up at 5am and awake the children, we say a short prayer after which they do the chores according to the duty roster, then shower as I prepare their breakfast. When they leave, I tidy up the place, cook their food and wait for them to return. But there are times when a child is brought in at a very young age and I have to wake up in the night to feed them, change their diaper and the like.

It is a bit tricky balancing seeing my own children and the responsibilities here. My children are, however, allowed to come and play with the children here during holidays. We are given four days off a month, an annual leave, a salary of Shs450,000 per month, medical insurance - 100 per cent coverage for me and 90 per cent for my biological children - and I will be pensionable, so it is all worth it.”

About SOS Children’s Villages Uganda

The SOS Children's Villages Uganda aim at caring for children without parental care and those at risk of losing care of their parents. The children may be neglected or orphaned due to HIV and war, some are got from babies’ homes, police, on streets, dust bins or rescued from captivity.

According to the Entebbe Village director and family basic care manager Christine Florence Kizito, the probation officer makes an assessment of where the child is coming from and the facility where the child is going to be brought.

After the assessment by the officer, “There is an admission committee to discuss the child, do a thorough health assessment to ensure that this is the right facility for the child because we do not have the capacity for children with special needs and HIV so if we found one, we would refer the child to the place where he will be taken good care of,” says Kizito.

The Entebbe child village, which also houses the national offices of SOS, houses 120 children and is located at Abayita Ababiri 25km along Kampala Entebbe Road.

The first child village was established in Kakiri in 1991. There are others in Gulu, which started in 2002, and Fort portal with international funders from Austria.

The village in Entebbe comprises of 12 houses and each house accommodates 10 children headed by a mother and an assistant called an aunt. The mothers have to go for training in Nairobi, Kenya, on how to handle the children.

“The children are brought to the centre aged between zero and five, and anyone above this would be a special case. The children, except those in kindergarten section, are day scholars who go to the nearby schools.

After primary school, we take them to boarding secondary schools. Some are then taken to vocational schools and some to university, depending on their abilities,” says Kizito.

When the child grows beyond 15, they become youths and are take to separate facilities for boys and girls headed by an uncle or aunt from where they continue to be supported. It is the responsibility of the administrators at SOS to trace and find the relatives of as many of these children as possible, although there are those for whom no one is ever traced.
“If a child has parents or relatives, we allow him to visit the relatives,” says Kizito. When the child makes 17, we usually engage their relative if they are there so that the child will stay home while we continue paying school fees and providing other necessities. Family engagement helps the children a lot because it provides them a sense of belonging.”

When the child turns 23, they are assumed to have completed school and can sustain themselves so they are cut off from the program.

According to Joselyn Kayaga Kiwanuka the Programme Coordinator Family Strengthening Program about 1036 vulnerable children at a risk of losing parental care have been reached through their community outreach program.

“We have done economic strengthening of the vulnerable households, provided education to the children whose parents were unable to provide for them, trained the mothers basic skills like ensuring food security and proper nutrition for the children,” says Kiwanuka.

She, however, notes that they have had a challenge where they have tried to intervene in cases where children are battered or defiled as the parents usually prefer to settle the cases outside police.

She says, “Some parents think we are spoiling the children through the child protection so some settle the cases of defilement outside court and when we try to interfere, such parents shift to another place where they think we shall not bother them.”