Written by Bee Friedmann
On my recent adventure through Kenya I decided to also visit Uganda. As we work with some brilliant Ugandan artisans up in the Kabarole district, and Uganda borders Kenya, it seem like the logical thing to do. It was also a great opportunity to visit the headquarters of S.A.L.V.E International, a Ugandan charity that we are so excited to be partnering with. This International Children's Day, we are going to introduce you to the charity and announce our exciting new partnership! From today onwards, AARVEN will be donating 2% of all sales from our Ugandan Collection to S.A.L.V.E International to help support children throughout Uganda.
Founded in 2008 by Nicola Sansom, Helen Bolton, and Mike Asiya, S.A.L.V.E strives to make life better for street children in Jinja, a bustling tourist town, 3 hours from the capital Kampala and the source of the Nile river. In 2008, Nicola and Helen were working as teachers in Jinja and Mike was a trained councillor who was fully aware of the precarious position many street kids find themselves in. The passion of these 3 individuals drove them forwards and despite very little financial backing they managed to create their first Halfway Home. Since then, through organic growth, they have purchased a small piece of land half an hour out of Jinja and created a sanctuary for children to thrive in, learn how to be children again and allow them the time to heal, and in some cases recover from addictions to street drugs.
Retiring after 10 years, Mike handed the baton over to Alfred Ochaya who is now the Country Director and whom spent time with us up on the S.A.L.V.E hilltop showing us around. Nicola who has a Clore Social Leadership Fellowship specialising in Homelessness is now the CEO and Helen whose career is now in publishing remains a committed board member.
Esther Ruth Kismet, Bee and Alfred outside the therapeutic building
When you talk about addiction in Uganda the drugs of choice are not those we are used to. Apart from marijuana, there is no addition to crack, cocaine or heroin. The main substances of abuse are glue, aviation fuel (known as Mafuta) and marijuana. S.A.L.V.E runs a street outreach programme and through street walks, street sports and drop in centres and identifies children who are in need. Many of the street kids have lost all trust in adults and the street walks allow the team a chance to spend time with the children in their space, on their terms. Their street sports programme allows the children to play and forget their troubles. They learn valuable teamwork skills and just have fun!
There are separate drop in centres in Jinja for boys and girls where the children can get more counselling and plan how to get off the streets. The centres offer a variety of activities including counselling, art, drama, dance, music, life skills and career guidance as well as a place to wash, discuss medical issues and have a good meal.
An open air classroom
My trip to their hilltop sanctuary with it’s glorious, green views of the rolling Ugandan countryside was tinged with sadness. I attended a lesson with the children who vary in ages and it was so heart warming to see them all contributing to the lesson and becoming involved – especially when we did the funky chicken dance. There was laughter and joy and a sense of unity. It was only afterwards when I met one of the nurses, that the reality set in. Esther Ruth Kisame explained that most of the children who are addicted to glue and mafuta have also been subjected to prostitution from a very young age. The work that this small charity does is so paramount to the survival of these children. Giving them a space to be free from their troubles, be nurtured and supported, learn life skills and gain general knowledge in such beautiful surroundings is a little drop in the ocean but can be the main game changer for some of them.
The charity also strives to reunite the children with other members of their family who can offer them support and continue the work that S.A.L.V.E has started to ensure they do not end up back on the streets. I also met Solobon Otale who is Halfway homes and Resettlement Manager who explained to me how they go about working with the families of some of the children to find them a safe place to return to where they will not be tempted back onto the streets and back onto drugs. I also met some of the teachers and one of the councillors who understands what these kids are going through as he shares his previous life with them. All the staff I met filled me with hope that there is a small light flickering at the end of the tunnel and even though the tunnel is winding and long – the light that S.A.L.V.E offers is shining brightly.
Up on the hilltop, surrounded by the open-air classrooms, happy goats, playground, safe spaces and veggie gardens I felt humbled and honoured to be made so welcome and enormously happy that AARVEN could contribute to realising the motto of ‘No Street Called Home’.