OVC is the acronym for orphans and other vulnerable children. Because of the staggering number of OVC, Uganda’s national government has a program to deal specifically with their issues.
There are over 2 million orphans in this country. Here, children become orphans because of deaths of one or both parents as a result of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, and violent conflicts the country has experienced in last fifty years. Abductions during conflicts and traffic accidents also account for a significant number of orphans.
Vulnerability, a much broader concept, is caused by many factors. Abject poverty, broken marriages, domestic violence, disabilities, malnutrition, unimaginable abuses, intellectual disabilities, psycho-sociological stress, alcoholism and unemployment are some of these factors. Thousands of children living on the street or living in camps in northern districts as a result of conflict and those in institutional or foster care in an unstable environment are also vulnerable.
A Polio Victim
Born with Club (twisted) Feet
Vulnerable Children with Disabilities
Children and Parents at a Village Meeting
Recently, I had an opportunity to talk to the coordinator of an organization that provides linkages and support to OVC. When I browsed through their files for specific cases, I was astounded to find a wide spectrum of OVC. I have selected excerpts from five letters in which writers were requesting support from this organization.
Letter from a woman 31-40 years of age:
I write to request you to link (name of the child) to anyone who can support his education and welfare. I am a poor woman caring for nine children and my husband sells everything I get from casual labour on alcohol. He moves from town to town, prison to prison. My land has been sold because of his wrong. I am very poor to look after my children.
An 18-year old young man wrote:
I am a vulnerable orphan and disabled aged 18.My father died of HIV/AIDS. My mother divorced even before the death of my father. I am disabled due to poliomyelitis which attacked me in my childhood. I am cared for by my grand (aged) mother (grandmother’s name) who carry me to and from school because I cannot walk or stand. I am in senior 3 at (name of school) two kms away. Kindly link me with any organization that can support my education and welfare.
A woman over 61 years wrote:
(name of the child) is the biological child of (names of parents) born 15/6/1993, a Ugandan, Omukongo by tribe. (name of child) lost his dear mother 20 May 2004 who acting as the mother at the same time as the father. Although the father is alive, he took a double orphan at this time he is living with his grandmother getting no help from the father who is polygamist with a number 50 (fifty) children. The grandmother is over sixty years is unable to work. So it is a duty of this child to do hard labour to get what eat.
A single mother wrote:
I would like to inform you that I the mother of (child’s name) was formerly abducted by the rebels in 1998 and delivered in the bush and encountered problems. I couldn’t get what to eat, where to sleep and in addition a lot of work was given to lift heavy lugages, walking long distances on an empty stomach. By God’s mercy I escaped after one year of suffering. (Child’s name) is now striving for life and in P.4 now at (name of school). I cannot manage to support her education since all my properties were stolen and her father being a casual labourer.
Letter from a woman 51-60 years old:
(Child’s name) is aged 13 years. She is a Ugandan Mukonzo. She sat her PLE (Primary Level Education) this year 2009 at (name of school) where by results are not yet out.
How (child’s name) came to stay with me; My late husband (name) died in 1995. After two years of his death, a certain woman came to me with a baby child of two years claiming that the child belonged to my late husband. The next day, the woman escaped leaving this child behind. She was no where to be seen. I reported the case to police, radio announcements in search of the woman. I had it rough to settle this child… I am keeping her that claim of the mother without any evidence… As a widow with no external assistance from the clan I regret that I may not be able to give her enough support for her further education since I have other orphans…
Gabriel’s story depicts one of the extreme cases of vulnerability. I could not believe my eyes when I first saw Gabriel. He was not on his feet. He was rolling on the dirty, filthy, bumpy streets of this town going over rocks and pot holes and all. With worn out wooden sandals in his hands he would prop himself up so his head wouldn’t get hurt. His knees were wrapped in layers of rags and he wore a torn shirt and ripped pants which probably had not been washed in ages. Most likely, he did not have a shower or a wash for months. He didn’t seem human. He showed no emotion. He was like an animal, worse than an animal. I found it very difficult and painful to watch him in such a miserable condition.
Gabriel was born in an extremely poor family with a severe case of cerebral palsy and he was unable to use his legs. His disability was a huge burden; so, his family abandoned him on the street. To survive, the only thing Gabriel could do was to roll himself. He would roll from door to door and shop to shop. Seeing him in such a pathetic position, some community members took pity on him. They would give him some food or money. But, that was never enough. Finally, an Imam of a nearby Mosque could not bear to see Gabriel in that state any longer and gave him shelter. But, the Imam himself had limited means. He could not do anything more for Gabriel let alone help him with immobility. So, Gabriel continued rolling on the streets and lived on generosity of others. That’s how he grew up.
When we launched the wheelchair/tricycle campaign, Gabriel was one of the first individuals I thought of. Peter contacted him, and last week, he came to pick up his vehicle. At first, he was dumb founded, but after a chat with Peter, he decided to give it a try, albeit hesitatingly. He had trouble getting on the tricycle because he had never been in any position other than horizontal. Sitting up in the tricycle was a huge and painful effort. But with encouragement from others, he managed. Just a few instructions and he started the tricycle using his strong arms. As he moved, his face lit up. That was the first time in his forty years that he was looking at the world from a different position. What a profound experience! Since everyone in Kasese knows Gabriel, people on the street were all watching him with intense curiosity and joy.
Gabriel trying out his precious gift
It has been a week since Gabriel picked up his tricycle. Peter tells me that some people from the neighbourhood have called to say how, like a kid with a new toy, Gabriel is riding the vehicle. They have never seen him so happy.
Thanks to all my Canadian friends for donating these life-altering gifts. You are indeed making a difference, a huge difference, in the lives of some unfortunate people like Gabriel and Biira Gatrida.