Ghost relatives in the Middle East.

Long story short, it was December 2015 when Bridget finally flew to Oman…

Bridget was her name, she was about 18 going to 19, a child according to the Ugandan law. We had met a few times because she was a cousin to John, a former workmate who she visited every now and then at work. Bridget was orphaned when she was little and her mother struggled to raise her and her siblings single-handedly. Consequently like many Ugandan girls, she had to drop out of school because of poverty. Neither literacy nor numeracy was her strong points, at least that’s the deduction I made from the conversations we had on those few occasions. English comprehension wasn’t her forte but as I tried to talk her out of going to Oman, I really hoped she’d understand.

Hitherto that she’d told of this exciting opportunity John had found for her on the Internet. Everything she explained was too good to be true; a good paying job as a domestic servant, no travel or visa costs and then expeditious handling of her travel plans. Of course, being as cautious as they come, I conducted due diligence on this God sent agency. A website with insufficient information, a fictitious address and to top it, shared the name and branding of a renowned human resource agency overseas.  It then dawned on me that the agency was a possible trafficking scheme.

In a lengthy conversation later that day I explained my fears to both John and Bridget.  I explained to John specifically about the role he’d played in selling this child and the consequences on the Prevention of Trafficking Person act because together with her mother, they’d bought into the juicy idea and could take no advice to cancel plans as the adults. For Bridget, I tried to explain the plight of many Ugandan domestic workers abroad in the middle east especially. But that did not faze her, no amount of video or newspaper reports changed her mind.

John took my advice but his aunt and cousin, not so much and now John appeared like one sabotaging a good future for the teenager now that it was seemingly real. He had become the enemy of progress. Bridget would be a maid, take care of rich old people and send her mum the killing she’d made, or so they thought. I cautioned her, told her of how traffickers confiscate passports and phones and that she should be careful and survive at whatever cost and look for a way to contact home while planning an escape from whoever had enslaved her in case the need arose.

Long story short, it was December 2015 when Bridget finally flew to Oman with the encouragement from her mother without informing anyone. It is a year and 4 months now and nobody, not even her mother, has heard from her. Our fears are yet to be confirmed but we only hope she’ll live to come back home someday. This is probably a story you’ve heard a thousand-fold. But yes, we now join the many other families that are waiting for their children, husbands and wives, if not rich like they’d hoped, but at least alive.

Just a couple of weeks ago, news broke out of 4 young women from Kampala who were rescued in Tororo after the Police were tipped off by hotel management; they would soon be crossing the Malaba border to Kenya to catch their flight to Oman. None of that made me sleep better, because more girls had probably crossed over a few days ago, and more still did a few days later. It doesn’t stop. I am now pretty sure that’s what happened to Bridget. Kenya now provides a quick and more insidious manner for trafficking.

I do not know if it is our ignorance or something worse; because these recruitment companies are obviously trafficking. Even I could tell that this company was shady. What of the police who undergo vigorous training, aren’t they able to discern and pick out these wrong characters? I sometimes wonder to myself, am sure other citizens have carried the same thoughts; “if I were the police, I would just go over right that moment, arrest them, lock them up and close these life-threatening agencies.  I mean, these unlicensed agencies are right here under our noses; they’re not even hiding!

It keeps getting worse, I say. These adverts not only (boldly) run on our national television stations, but also on the streets printed on A4 sheets complete with contacts. It is easy to think that security would call these numbers undercover and close more agencies the next day but well… what do we know?

I am just saddened that at that time with all my suspicions, I did not tip off the police; maybe the agency could have been closed, and a lot of girls saved. (I am however told that these unlicensed agencies have mastered their art of survival, and that is why they boldly advertise on TV without coming to any harm. I do not want to think about how they do it.)

What is not being done right? From recent stories, a number of women and men have been assisted by the police to come back home; but is that the primary place we should be looking? Should we not focus on who is taking them away while they’re still strong, healthy but naïve young people instead of how to rescue them from the Middle East after they’re battered and weak from ALL kinds of enslavement?

In a Ministry of Internal Affairs’ 2013 annual report on the trend of trafficking in persons in Uganda that was published in February 2014, among the national interventions to combat trafficking was to form working groups in stakeholder ministries, departments and agencies on trafficking in persons, which by the end of the year were formed but lacked institutional support. I guess in simple English it just means that not enough work is being done. On top of that, “…a total of 8 capacity building workshops were held with a total of 350 stakeholder members trained…” all in regards to practical investigation techniques among others.

All the above are great initiatives. But if only we could start with the simple exercise of just visiting these offices that don’t care to stand out in the city and closing all that are unlicensed, we would have fewer victims to rescue with time. Most of the victims are young men and women who are only comfortable expressing themselves in local dialects, I, therefore, think that an advert should run on every local TV station depicting a brief Trafficking experience to create awareness of the vice and ways to avert it.

Featured Image: http://www.ungift.org/images/ungift/about_ungift/africa4.jpg

A tasking education for the nation’s child.

We clearly have a problem, and it needs no introduction…

Heading out to work on a field-day, driven on the KabaleKisoro high way far off in the South West, I sat by the window of the double cabin every morning so I could do the usual; think my life through and wonder how I got myself to a particular point in my life that I happened to be reminiscing on that morning. There was however a constant sight I didn’t miss; the little girls and boys in blue shaggy and faded uniforms walking barefoot in a single file on the side of the high way as they knew to be the safest way to get to school, lest they get run down by a crazy driver at those sharp turns on the hills.

The thing that caught my attention was that every day the children carried brooms and others, the older ones, hoes to school. As my daily assignment was to visit as many schools as possible, I took the opportunity to inquire from one teacher in one of the schools about it, and he said that the children were required to carry brooms for general cleaning and the hoes so that they could dig and till the school land as part of the afternoon program; it is from that land that they would grow some of the food they feed the children.

I felt my heart sink a little lower. In that moment, I started to think about the children back in Bweyogerere, a Kampala suburb where I live, who get to be picked up by buses to school and never have to carry along with them a broom or a hoe because one child pays school fees enough to educate 10 others of the ones I saw every morning along the high way. But of course, one is poverty stricken and can only depend on the questionable government initiatives, while the other has got it all together.

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Primary 1-7 pupils in Arua gather for an assembly in a dialogue on hygiene and good morals. Photo/Karen Ihimbazwe

Poverty is definitely a longer story for another day, but I believe that Uganda can do much better in educating its poor children. That at least a rather comfortable education can be afforded to these children so that we are rid of the shortfalls of illiteracy in the future of the nation. With billions of dollars given to the education sector every Financial year; my focus is really on primary education where school begins, that actually spends about 54% of the Education budget, at least according to FY 2015/16 which allocated approximately 1,095bn, you agree that it’s probably not much, but that for starters, the children can be afforded a meal at school and not have to dig in their free time when they should be taking the chance to play and just be children, because these same ones come from homes where they have to follow their parents to the garden to do just the same; sometimes before they head out to school.

On top of having to go through imposed child labour at school, they are most likely to miss a couple of lessons because their teachers won’t show, or they just simply lost enthusiasm about going to class. In a recent visit to a Kamwokya KCCA school, one of the counsellors and founder of a sponsorship program sadly expressed to me that “…the kids no longer want to come to school, because they see no reason why; they have little or no inspiration. They fall out and end up not doing their PLE…” Children (pupils), I found out, are quickly affected by their surroundings, and so they will either be eager to learn or hate their school experience altogether. This definitely affects their general performance.

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Pupils enjoy a light moment in an ice breaker. Photo/Karen Ihimbazwe

We clearly have a problem, and it needs no introduction; although in a report by the New Vision, the minister of Education and Sports highlighted in her speech at the 23rd annual education and sports sector review workshop saying…
I can honestly dare say that the largest giant of a challenge we have today is indiscipline and selfishness that make people misappropriate the resources meant for Government work which we will now have to fight and try to plug those holes so that all the resources we get in our budget serve the purposes of this sector…”

And with that, we can only do so much as citizens to implore that these fights indeed be fought so that the nation’s children are afforded a normal education that could change their stories and give them a chance to celebrate knowledge in the wake of their dreams.