Emma Ratheram is in her second year in the History Honours program at the University of Manchester.
This summer, I and fifteen other students from across the University of Manchester were given the opportunity to work on a four week community based research project alongside S.A.L.V.E International (Support and Love via Education), a local charity that works in Uganda to help children living on the streets reconnect with their families and get back into education.
Founded in 2008, S.A.L.V.E International is an organisation committed to reducing the number of children both living and working on the streets in the local area of Jinja in southern Uganda. In Jinja, S.A.L.V. E operates a daily drop-in centre and a rehabilitation facility for children who developed substance issues whilst on the streets. The organisation also provides emergency housing to families in need of short-term accommodation. S.A.L.V.E’s main facilities are based outside of Jinja and are intended to provide shelter and support in the form of schooling, housing and counselling for children who may have been on the streets for a number of years. The overall aim of these initiatives is to enable children to feel comfortable enough to return to their families and go back to school or start vocational training courses. Our work with S.A.L.V.E aimed to gauge the attitudes of local people towards street connected children and to research the institutions working within the area to see what action could be taken to prevent children living on the street and also how to integrate them back into family and academic life after they have been on the streets for a long time.
Now in its third year, Team Uganda is an initiative developed by S.A.L.V.E in collaboration with the University of Manchester volunteering department. The programme offers Manchester bursary students an opportunity to volunteer on an international project at no personal cost. Although the project was funded by University of Manchester alumni donations, we were each tasked with fundraising £500 for S.A.L.V.E to fund vital improvements to their facilities in the area of Jinja as well as continue the work of their staff in rehabilitating the children, tracing families and reconnecting them with family members. Much of the fundraising was carried out as a group and included fancy-dress bucket collecting at university open days, very messy but popular glitter and face painting stations at Pangea, Manchester Student Union’s music festival, as well as a very difficult to crack coconut shy stall.
Although selection for the programme began in March and the training sessions were run throughout April, May and June, it was soon July and all fifteen of us were at Manchester Airport on our way to Entebbe airport.
The fifteen of us were split into two sub-teams and assigned Ugandan counter-parts, recruited by S.A.L.V.E for their knowledge of the local area and language. The advocacy team was tasked with interviewing local residents and the other team’s goal was to map out the work of institutions within the area. I was part of the mapping team and the six of us covered three communities in Jinja. As part of our work we interviewed the heads of schools, vocational training centres, organisations and other charities working within the local area in order to gain their perspective of how to combat factors such as poverty, family discord and tensions that lead to children living on the streets. These conversations were crucial in giving me and the other UK volunteers a deeper understanding of the issues that caused high numbers of children to resort to life on the streets.
At the end of the research project, we were able to compile all of the information we had gathered and create a booklet for the community and then we invited all of the organisations to local meetings which were intended not only to thank and, feedback to those who had participated but also facilitate an event for the community leaders to network with each other. The event thus started the process of greater cooperation between organisations, with the hope that in the future they could collectively provide a more integrated system of help not only to children living on the streets but also other members of the community in need of support.
In the final week of the project, we ran a summer camp for the children at S.A.L.V.E’s facility outside Jinja, which was a chance to give the children a break from their lessons and have some fun. The colouring activity I ran resulted in a rare and brief moment of calm in what was a very chaotic week of closely fought football matches, assault courses; capture the flag, campfires and where paint and glitter from other craft activities could be found on every surface.
Overall the camp was an enjoyable and tiring week for both the children and volunteers after the three weeks of research and presentations. The camp also provided me and the other UK volunteers a chance to work with both the children and the S.A.L.V.E staff members helping to run the week and get a greater insight into the essential work they do to help the children transition back into family life.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the University of Manchester volunteering department for selecting me for this project and the Manchester Alumni donors who fund amazing projects like this one. The work of the Alumni department and the donations made are crucial as they provide students who might not otherwise be able to volunteer internationally or in other parts of the UK, unique opportunities to utilise their skills for a range of sustainable and worthwhile causes around the world.