There is an aura that Saturday comes with, shops opening past 9am or even the simple lack of traffic even in places you would naturally find boda bodas struggling to fix a tyre on an ordinary week day.
In slums though, it is different-whether it is a weekend or a weekday, these places rarely seem to catch a break.
On a week day, you will find pupils rushing to school alone or in the company of their parents. Saturday mornings are still a bit of a rush with a good number of children joining their parents at a shop, food kiosk or a roadside vegetable stall.
Edwin Agaba grew up in Zone Six Nakulabye, a slum in Kampala. Like these children, he says during his time many of them had absentee and drunk fathers, and were exposed to violence.
Agaba is the founder of Children Reach Out, Uganda, a community programme that takes place every Saturday in Kiwunya and Kiyaye communities in Nakulabye. The programme focuses on engaging children, as well as interesting them in reading and writing.
Established in 2011, Agaba started with 50 children, though he has been able to attract about 500 and set up two commnity groups in Nakulabye.
Unlike other organisations Children Reach Out does not have a physical address for instance, they do not have premises where they meet for reading and writing activities, instead, it all happens in the community.
On one side is a charcoal stall, with brownish iron sheets, it is a signal the place has been around for some time. in fact, parts of it have been eaten up by the years.
The rest of the surrounding are houses, some with half-baked bricks while others are complete, just that time has not been good to them, they are losing much of their paint.
A verandah for a class
The organisation improvises most of the stations for these activities, for instance, the children are divided into four groups in the different places of the area – some use residents’ verandahs and each group engages in different activities.
Agaba highlights that community members offer their verandahs for children to study, while others offer a service as volunteers. Referred to as Essomero Lyaffe by parents in the area, they have since been sending their children on Saturdays to learn.
“We get different volunteers who offer to teach the children every Saturday although on some days we are outnumbered, while on other days, the volunteers outnumber the learners.”
The children have grown fond of Agaba. In some classes, toddlers run to him when they see him, many of them refer to him as Uncle Edwin.
“When children see him, they are always happy and look forward to Saturdays when they meet Teacher Edwin. There is a time he had travelled for a while and the children were sad because he was away,” says Ali Namwanja, a parent.
Agaba shares that for some of these children, this is the only education they will ever receive as parents cannot afford school.
Julie Bogere, a volunteer, says she has known Agaba as she refers to him since he started the community project and is proud it is turning out well.
“The children embrace us, welcome us and appreciate what we do. Seeing the progress of the children is very encouraging,” says Bogere.
Many of the children they deal with have many challenges and to motivate them, they reward them with small gifts such as sweets and chewing gum.
The project has impacted many children that some of them have even completed high school.
“We have been able to bring more sponsors on board, who are part of the programme. Some offer story books, clothes, scholastic materials and much more to the children,” Agaba says.
For the time he has been running the project, Agaba has created a bond and such chemistry with the children. He easily calls each of them by their first name.
“I have to know each child by name because this creates a sense of belonging and they will be interested in learning and taking part in the programme,” he explains.
He shares that interacting with them makes them feel loved and as such, they give you audience because they believe that he loves them so much to know them by name.
The project plans to expand and reach out to more children in Nakulabye, which Agaba says has a population of more than 100,000 children. He hopes to give all a chance to learn how to read and write.
Kampala’s slums are notorious for drug and alcohol abuse and violent crime, poor sanitation and abject poverty. Families survive on just one meal a day and cannot afford to send their children to school.
Out-of-school children are left unsupervised during the day while their parents try to make a living, and without a daily purpose or safe space to go these children become even more at risk. Many of the children that we work with have been abused, neglected, orphaned or simply abandoned. (Source:Internet)
Christine Nakyanzi, LCII Councillor, Nakulabye
“I thank God for Edwin and our various sponsors. He helps us with the children in the community. He is giving the children in the community a chance of education which will help alleviate poverty in the society. There are times we take children from broken homes and he does not segregate them, he takes care of them all. I just pray for more sponsors who can help us so that our community, Nakulabye, can change for the better.”
Rukia Nanyonga, Teacher/ Volunteer
“We meet every Saturday for the Children Reach Out Uganda project under Edwin. As a facilitator or volunteer, I realise that most children have picked up, especially those that did not know anything when they were joining the programme. The children in the area are always looking out for the Saturday program and every time we miss, there is a child that is affected regardless of the weather. The numbers are always increasing every Saturday but it is worthwhile and I believe that through the programme, we are building future leaders. Parents too in the community appreciate and always send their children to “school.”
Mildred Namagembe, 13, Student/ Beneficiary
“Uncle Edwin has really been of help to most us in the community. He has given us hope because some of us never had school fees, shoes or even books but he would get us everything that we needed. He taught me that every child matters and together we can build the nation. He has invested in me and that is why I am where I am. Some of the children are in boarding school but he has invested in so many others.”