Every Saturday, 18 impoverished communities in and around the capital city of Uganda welcome staff and volunteers from Kids Club Kampala for games, music, Bible study, and other exciting activities. Olivia Barker White, Corrie Fraser, and Samuel Wambayo started these weekly Kids Club meetings in 2009. With an initial presence in only two communities, Kids Club Kampala spread as other neighborhoods invited the ministry to hold weekly gatherings with their children. The staff of Kids Club Kampala recruit volunteers from local churches to reach out to these communities, and both the staff and volunteers undergo extensive child protection training before they are allowed to interact with the children at Kids Club. One of the goals of these gatherings is to create a safe space for the children to simply enjoy being children.
Over time, bonds form between the children and the Kids Club Kampala facilitators and volunteers. Occasionally, a child mentions that he or she has not seen family members recently or is not sure where the family is currently located. The founders share that it was conversations like these that spurred the need for the Ewafe Project House, which means “where we belong” in the local Luganda language. This house is an emergency transition shelter for children who were abandoned or separated from their families. As part of the Ewafe Project, each child receives free medical and nutritional care, as well as individualized counseling and child-centered case management provided by trained paraprofessionals.
Ewafe Project social workers also meet with each child to begin the process of family tracing. Any evidence or pieces of the child’s memory can lead the social workers along the right path to find the child’s birth family. Children are separated from their parents for different reasons, but often these reasons include lack of housing, poverty, disabilities of the child or parent, and lack of access to education. Corrie and Olivia share that in desperate situations, families send their young girls to the city to work as housemaids to secure food and a small income for their families. If this arrangement does not work out, a child ends up on the streets, not knowing how to return to her family.
When the social workers are able to trace the child’s family, they first travel alone to meet with the family and assess the situation. If reintegration is in the best interest of the child, the social worker, in tandem with the staff counselor, is responsible for actively engaging both the family and the child during the reintegration process. The child has a supervised day visit with the family, followed later by a short overnight stay. Each step of the way, the social workers and counselors are there to listen and consider the child’s needs and input.
If safe reintegration back into the family is possible, the future needs of the child and family are assessed and, if deemed necessary, the child can be place under the Kids Club Kampala’s Education and School Sponsorship program. This allows for Kids Club Kampala to continue monitoring the child and family. In situations where reunification is not in the best interest of the child or if the family cannot be located, the child is able to stay at the Ewafe Project house until a permanent family can be identified.
Joshua,* a vivacious nine-year-old boy, was separated from his aunt when they traveled to Kampala together from their home on a distant island located on Lake Victoria. Lost and alone, he took to sleeping on the streets. He was found by the police and referred to the Ewafe Project.
Over three weeks’ time, Joshua shared his story with the staff of the Ewafe Project and said he knew how to find his family. He told the staff that if they took him down to the boats on Lake Victoria, the boatmen would know where to take him.
A social worker traveled with Joshua to the shores of Lake Victoria, and indeed, the dockworkers knew the young boy. Joshua’s home island was a two-day journey from the shores of Lake Victoria and Joshua and the social worker had to stay overnight on a separate island. When they finally arrived at Joshua’s home, his family rejoiced as they assumed they would never see their son again and even feared he might be dead. Without the Ewafe Project, Joshua could have needlessly ended up in an orphanage or on the streets while his family grieved the loss of a son.
Successful reintegration requires that each child’s case be handled with individual care and attention. Since January 2016, 13 children have been reintegrated with their families while 6 more are currently in the process of returning home. The Ewafe Project is able to provide this needed service through their well-trained and caring staff. Because of their time and effort, children like Joshua are back with their family—where they belong.