Martha is free! For the eleven year old Martha starts a new life today. Finally out of Kampiringisa, finally no more isolated punishments, finally a home and enough to eat, finally education and future prospects. Only few days ago Martha’s life looked so hopeless. When Martha turned eight her step mother brought her to Kampiringisa. That was three years ago. Martha did not commit a crime. She only took food from home because she was hungry. That was reason enough for the stepmother to bring the unloved Martha to Kampiringisa. Martha was kicked out of the family without any consultation and without court.
Kampiringisa is the feared place in Uganda all parents threaten their children with when they do not behave. This is not without any reason. Kampiringisa has the reputation of a smelly, dirty place without any future prospects. It is located only few kilometers away from Uganda’s capital Kampala. More than 300 kids between three and seventeen years are there. These are mainly street kids and those who were dropped off by their parents, relatives or stepparents under dubious accusations. Most of these children are put in there unfairly and unjustly and have to stay until they turn eighteen years. Escaping is only possible when parents, relatives or stepparents pick them up. Of course that hardly ever happens.
When Martha arrived in Kampiringisa, she had to stay firstly in the so called “dark room” for six weeks. Her only consolation was that she was not alone. Few days earlier the police “cleaned up” the streets and collected over 30 street kids. They brought them with lorries straight to Kampiringisa and put them into the “dark room”. The “dark room” is a rehabilitation treatment for new arrivals. There is not only one single piece of furniture in this room – not even mattresses or blankets for the children. The floor is made of concrete and the walls are bare and dark. The kids are only allowed to wear shorts and no tops. And the nights are cold in Kampala! The guard’s keep the children quiet and under control with strict rules. These cannot really be considered as moderate European standards. Very often the one or other child has to spend few days or weeks isolated.
The daily live in Kampiringisa is as monotonous as their food of maize porridge and beans. Some of the older kids have to work on the surrounded fields. However they cannot keep the harvests. The children are not even allowed to take one fruit. If they do they get punished. Where the harvest goes is not quite cear.
Foodstep’s weekly visits are the only highlights in the big disaster. The people from the small NGO give some hope for the children every Thursday. They bring good food, clothes, medical care, give some entertainment and provide encouraging conversations.
Since Foodstep’s visits the situation in Kampiringisa has improved slightly for the children. When Nathalie, the head of the NGO Foodstep, came to Kampiringisa the first time five year ago she experienced terrible conditions: The toilets were totally clogged and overflowing. There was no running water because the water pump did not work. Cockroaches and rats were everywhere and felt like paradise in the dirty, smelly place. The children’s bodies were covered with flees and worms because they were not able to wash themselves. School education and medical treatment did not exist at all for the kids and there were neither mattresses nor toys to play with. When the young people with 18 years finally got released they were condemned to live on the street again because they did not learn anything.
The first thing Nathalie did was taking care for the rooms to be cleaned as well as to arrange some children groups to keep them clean every day. Through various donations Nathalie was able to buy plates and mattresses as well as mosquito nets. With the help of some Kampiringisa kids Nathalie was also able to repair the water pump. Through further donations some of the children are even able to go to the local school. In addition she arranged for some older children to do an apprenticeship as a carpenter. These children share their knowledge with other children. In the dark rooms she was only able to improve the conditions. The new arrivals can wear at least shorts. Foodstep also ensures now medical treatment for the children with injuries or illnesses. These improvements did not take place instantly but only gradually. It took a very long time and Nathalie was negotiating patiently with the Kampiringisa management. To facilitate the negotiations and to improve the conditions in the prison, Nathalie founded the NGO Foodstep four years ago. Foodstep consists of three members: Nathalie, her husband Werner and Mariska who joined 1 ½ years ago. The NGO is financed by their private properties and individual donations.
Foodstep did not only want to improve the conditions in Kampiringisa but also wanted to give some of the children a future and hope. Therefore Foodstep started taking out some of the Kampiringisa kids and give them a home. Kampiringisa management allows that if a sponsor for the respective child can be guaranteed. Foodstep released the first child one year ago and the number has increased in the meantime to more than twenty five children. Foodstep is renting a house directly at Lake Victoria and hired two social workers. They treat the children really lovely because they were both brought up in an orphanage. Each child has their own bed and can go to school every day.
The children Foodstep is accommodating are very talented and thankful. There is for example John and Frank. Their grand parents were found and the boys visited them together with a social worker. However when the siblings were alone with the grandmother she poured hot oil over John and chased them off. Another example is the eight year old Tom. His mother was contacted and she came to Kampiringisa one day carrying a baby on her back. Tom could hardly believe and was so happy. However the mother did not have a permanent address and there is a law in Uganda that a woman can only take two children with her in the street. What Nathalie did not know was that there was also Tom’s sister in Kampiringisa and unfortunately the mother decided for her daughter. She left Tom behind totally alone and desperate. He did not talk for five weeks, only cried and pulled out all his hair. Only now Tom can laugh again at Foodstep’s place.
Martha can also smile again because Foodstep released her from Kampiringisa today. Foodstep’s negotiations with the Kampiringisa management were difficult but successful. Luckily Martha made it. She also has a bright future to look forward now, she moved to a beautiful home and can go to school immediately.
Foodstep’s wish and goal is it to build a little guest house and a restaurant as well as a farm with vegetables and animals. Everything will be managed together with former Kampiringisa children. With that Foodstep hopes that the project can take care for itself and can release many more children from Kampiringisa. The piece of land is already there. It was a present from a Belgium friend. Hopefully they get the green light soon to start building. This will help many more Kampiringisa children and provide them a bright future with a purpose of life.
How can I help the Kampiringisa children?
Foodstep does amazing work for the Kampiringisa children. If you would like to support this project, please ask Foodstep Uganda directly.
Foodstep Uganda Ltd
Telephone: +256 (0) 718 969 969
Post: PO Box 1093 Entebbe, Uganda.
Location: Bwerenga, Wakiso district.