Kampala discussion focuses on families for children

More than 40 senior leaders in Kampala joined Viva and its partner network CRANE at a landmark meeting last month, which explored how Christians in government and civil society can work together more effectively to ensure that children in Uganda are raised in safe families.

Using the vision statement, ‘We want to see every child living in a safe, permanent family’ the high-level engagement was between government ministers, senior denominational church leaders, CEOs and state authorities.

The discussions follow a recent report showing that most funding for children’s homes in the city comes from non-Ugandan churches and Christian foundations.

After the Ugandan government last year ratified a new children’s act requiring all children without parental care to be placed in families – with institutional care only being used as a last resort and as a short-term measure – there is an urgent need for the Church in Uganda to respond.

There are an estimated 50,000 children in institutions, even though 80 per cent have living relatives. There are less than 30 government-approved children’s homes in Uganda, with hundreds more running ‘under the radar’ of the government.

With support from Viva, CRANE began its family reintegration programme in 2010, and has now reunited more than 1,000 children, who were in child-care institutions or living on the streets, back into safe, loving families.

With a focus and experience in this area of work, and a goal of seeing a city-wide solution to the issue, Viva and CRANE invited 44 senior leaders to the roundtable discussion at Kampala’s Protea Hotel on 21 March.

Viva’s patron Rev Stephen Gaukroger (pictured right, on the right) started the day by helping people to understand the biblical foundations of childcare and the consequent need for state and church to work together for the sake of children.

The Director of Public Prosecution, Justice Mike Chibita (right), went on to describe the current challenges faced by the Justice, Law and Order Sector in protecting children. Kyateka Mondo, the Assistant Commissioner for the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (below), expressed the government’s desire to work with the church to tackle the immense challenges faced to see children in safe families.

During the discussions, it was agreed that whilst there is clearly a need for non-Ugandans to continue to support the Ugandan church with their efforts, it is essential that this initiative is Ugandan-led.

It also needs to look further afield than Kampala as children often have roots away from the capital city, and the Church has the capacity to support work in villages.

Mim Friday, Network Consultant for Viva Africa, says, “The next step after the meeting is for us to visit the key stakeholders with a way forward and then invite 10 to 15 people to a strategic workshop, led by an independent facilitator. Viva is committed to supporting this group so that we quickly formalise a framework for collaboration.”

Kampala faces complex issues in how to keep children safe. The 1980s AIDS orphan crisis saw an influx of well-meaning, overseas investment. However, thousands of children were put into orphanages rather than helping the communities to rebuild, as they always had done in the past.

The word ‘orphan’ does not exist in any of the vernacular Ugandan languages because every community would ensure that if there was a death of a parent, the children were absorbed into the extended family or the community before sunset.

This is a practice we want to rebuild following the roundtable discussions to help prevent further family separation and to restore broken families.

Brian Wilkinson, Viva’s Head of Network Development, says, “I believe this was significant event and follows us having built up the right relationships over time, avoiding pitfalls and negotiating a path to engage and envision all main stakeholders in the city. This is just the first step in a much bigger process but it’s a great start.”