Right in the middle of down town Kampala is a slum called Kisenyi. It’s a place with a mix of many language spoken in Uganda, Eastern Congo, Tanzania, Rwanda, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. The roughest Kampala neighbourhood I have ever been. We visited Kisenyi on Saturday 28th with friends, some of whom I know personally and others through twitter after @AndyKristian called us for a photo shoot. I had only passed by the outskirts of Kisenyi as a journalist. I had never seen anything like that before. In just a few minutes from the crazy crowded bus parks we were in a place where we felt visibly foreign.
It wasn’t long we were moving through the garbage, heaps of polythene bags, flowing sewage besides little wooden houses which most people sleep in. We were with a young man that runs a program for kids in that neighborhood and that’s why it was easy to move around.
Andy and Ed Echwalu were ready with cameras. You can’t shoot without getting the toughest kids on the block to guard you here. Before the shoot, a crowd of kids gathered, it was quite touching to see a child beg you to buy them sugarcane for 100 shillings for lunch. We were there around 1pm, most of these kids don’t easily find a meal. There are all sorts of businesses going on but survival business like selling empty water bottles. More than three quarters of the kids and youth here were intoxicated with all sorts of substances. There were a few women who came to the shooting site. There were lots of young girls too.
I spoke to Angel Nantale, barely five years; she goes to Nakivubo blue Primary school. She told me her mother is a bar tender, her two elder sisters stopped in primary four. The two sell tea in Kisenyi. As we chat, Nantale tells me she wants to be a doctor to the laughs and disbelief of the some boys who were eavesdropping on our conversation.
But Nantale doesn’t even turn to them. I ask her why she specifically wanted to be a doctor and the reply “when my mum is sick I can look after her very well.”Our conversation was in Luganda and English. She says she pays about 70,000 shillings (about 30 USD) but she has a hard time. Sometimes she is chased from school because of late school fees payment especially before exams. I took sometime to tell her that she will be a doctor if she puts her heart to it, she smiles and I am called for the next kid to interview. Nantale and I we part ways.
Most children here lived with their relatives, some ran away from homes. I had never seen such a scene, a group of 30+ children high on different drugs. I wondered how this can be the same city we live in and what was government doing. I spoke to another woman 29 years old, HIV positive and couldn’t afford drugs. She said she had left her home in Rukungiri at 18 after the death of her mother. She came in search of a job in the city.
Then there was Madina, I called her pretty Madina because she has such gorgeous eyes. She’s barely 5 also and she was carrying two three-litre jerry canes to go fetch water. Not knowing how to approach this child labour question, I ask her whether she had siblings. She tells me she has many. I ask why they aren’t fetching the water, she says they were somewhere playing and her mother needed water. We talked and she said the water wasn’t that heavy, and that she was ok, she could bring the six litres at once.
Watching this whole environment I wondered what it means to grow up from here as a girl child. I wondered, would she survive sexual violence in such a drug filled environment? How long did she have before her dreams of school die? Madina told me she had gone to a school once but she was out because she did not have a uniform. Just a uniform stands in the way of her education.
I wondered why would our government boast of a universal primary education if it doesn’t tailor in special needs of kids from tough places like Kisenyi. And what have our local government done in terms of catering for the urban poor especially children. How can a place like this never ever feature in our news? How can hundreds of families never be mentioned much?
And in the end I asked what could I possibly do about this? Some of the youth- the boys wanted money from us. They said the same charges we hear put on “foreigners coming to Africa to take pictures of us and make money from out of our misery.” They didn’t have to say it, I had already started wondering how can I help beyond just being part of a photo shoot organized via twitter which these kids might never hear of?
What can I do to see that Madina, Nantale and others have an education and not simply be part of this cycle of poverty and hopelessness?
Check #KisenyiPhotoShoot on Twitter.