During our time spent in Kampala, one of the most impressive and confronting experiences we had were our visits to the slums, together with Happy and Jahmedin Kahema. In Kampala (currently home to an estimated 3.5 million people) and its direct environment there are many slums. “Enkele slum”, “Lusaka slum”, and “Kikuba Mutwe slum” are all located nearby Nsambya, a small town that borders the city and where (part of) HWMCO is located. Actually, most of the boys that play soccer in Happy’s “Miracle Youth Soccer Academy” (MYSA) live in one of these slums.
A slum can be recognized by characteristics as inadequate access to clean water, inadequate access to sanitation, lack of good infrastructure, poor quality of housing, overcrowding. Many people with a very low income or without employment are at risk of ending up in a slum. Unfortunately, but not very surprisingly, slums know high rates of criminality, drug abuse, immorality (meaning pornography and prostitution), and alcoholism. Unavoidably, HIV/AIDS are very common.
In developing countries like Uganda, there is a huge migration from rural areas towards the cities. Many youth hope to find a job and build a better life than they can in the villages where they were born. Kampala and its direct environment are also confronted with that migration. Yet, on top of that, in past years they have seen slums growing explosively, and even new slums appearing, because of great amounts of refugees from the war-torn zones of Northern Uganda, Congo and Rwanda coming to the capital, hoping to find a safe place from where they could build a new life.
Jahmedin Kahema (29) is one of the soccer coaches for MYSA. He spends a lot of time in the slums observing situations and trying to offer his help whenever he feels it is needed. His focus is mainly on the children. He may for example find a child which is abused by its father who is an alcoholic. He will then approach that father, explain to him what impact his behaviors have on his child and convince him that he has to change his ways. Raising that awareness, followed by regularly monitoring the situation, will in most cases lead to a better situation for that child.
In the past, with Happy’s focus mainly being on Kampala, he, like Jahmedin, would often be found in the slums doing the same work. Yet, with Happy currently also being very active in the village of Mbaba, which is located almost 300 kilometers from Kampala, he is spending a lot of his time there, but he is most happy to know that Jahmedin is continuing this important work with all his love for the children.
Boys who have reached the age that they can take part in the soccer trainings from the soccer academy (MYSA), especially when they are seen to be seriously at risk of ending up on wrong tracks, are invited to join. Offering them this opportunity not only allows the boys to spend their time in a joyful way, it also helps them to develop their soccer skills. This may turn out to be of great help for them in the future. Already, MYSA has proven to be successfully producing talents, since several well-performing boys have been selected and offered scholarships for private schools.
Ahead of sharing more about the actual circumstances we were faced with during our visits to the slums, I feel the need to mention how incredibly touched we were about noticing in what warm ways both Happy and Jahmedin were welcomed, both by the children and the parents from the slums, from the first moment we entered them! Everywhere, young and old started coming to them, calling them, sometimes even kneeling before them.
On entering the slum areas, immediately there was a bad smell that could in no way be ignored. Not really surprisingly, with the first four characteristics for a slum mentioned at the beginning of this article clearly evident, and dirt lying around in the burning sun everywhere. Clean water was visibly lacking, as we noticed several places with ditch-water where the people have to get it from. In only one of the slums we found a place where some water was flushing from a pipeline.
As a Mzungu (white person) you can simply not remain unnoticed, so immediately children started waving at us, while enthusiastically welcoming us, endlessly calling, “Mzungu, Mzungu…!” Some started following us for a while, clearly amazed about our white appearances. Whenever we made a short stop to hand out sweets, in no time big groups of children gathered around us, all of them most grateful for the little they received.
The circumstances we were faced with where nothing but heartbreaking… everywhere, we saw scarcely dressed children, many of them barefooted, several suffering from skin problems due to the lack of clean water; the few clothes they wore were dirty and had holes in them; both sides of the paths we walked were crowded with small, shabby houses. Clothes that had just been washed, were hanging to dry on clotheslines everywhere.
During my first visit to the slums (as I had arrived in Kampala three weeks ahead of the others, I could visit the places twice), I was introduced to Kyomusimire, a young mother of four small children who unfortunately had to take care of them all alone, as her husband had been put in prison, convicted of a crime he had not committed. Not knowing when her innocent husband would be released from prison, she was giving her all to survive with her children.
Next, I was introduced to the old grandmother of Musa, one of the boys from MYSA who had recently been selected for a scholarship. I was explained that Musa’s parents had both died very shortly after he was born, due to a deadly and infectious disease. His grandmother had been taking care of the boy and his sister ever since their parents had died. The old lady welcomed me warmly and I had a hard time realizing what kind of troubled life this woman must have been facing, spending all of it in a slum……
Also, I met Rose, who is the mother of Colleen, another boy from MYSA that had recently been selected for a scholarship. We found her selling fresh fruits on a small market that was located in the slum, welcoming me with a happy smile!
During both visits to Enkele slum, Happy and Jahmedin showed us an enormous dumping ground and told us that the first place which they had been using as a soccer field to provide soccer trainings from in the past was the site located directly next to this dumping ground. In that first period they had often found children busy picking metals from the dumping ground which they could sell in town. Happy and Jahmedin had strongly advised the children to stop doing so, because they were at risk to be caught by the police, who may easily suspect them of having stolen the parts with all its consequences. Fortunately, the children had followed their advice and currently no children are involved with that risky activity anymore.
Sadly, there is another activity which still needs to be fought today, which concerns the collecting of plastic bottles that can be found between the dirt. There are the individuals who motivate children to collect the bottles and hand them in to be sold. Yet, instead of at least rewarding the children for their efforts, these individuals just use them and take all proceeds themselves, which is of course completely unacceptable!
While moving along some places where music was playing inside and where people were meeting each other, Jahmedin explained that, as peaceful as the atmosphere perhaps seemed during daylight, to visit the place at night would not be safe. He confirmed that criminality, alcoholism and prostitution are absolutely present during nightly hours. Many women are trying to gain some money as a prostitute, which leads to unwanted pregnancies, as well as HIV/AIDS being spread on a large scale. Add alcoholism to the problems and it is not so difficult to understand that many slum residents have ended up moving in a vicious circle of misery from which they can almost impossible escape and from which many children become helpless victims.