I love taking time to write about African success stories. The things that are happening in the continent of my birth, the things that remind me that you can achieve anything you like, even in the face of great adversity.
Today I am going to write about an organisation based in Uganda. Uganda is a relatively small country in the heart of central Africa, one that caught the headlines for the notorious actions of its leader Idi Amin Dada in the 1970’s. Having spent much of the 70’s and 80’s caught in the grip of civil war, Uganda was highlighted in the media for its scant regard for Human Rights. During this time it is believed that upwards of half a million people were killed in state sponsored violence.
In 1986 president Yoweri Museveni took control of the embattled nation and turned the fortunes of the country around, introducing economic and democratic reforms, and taking control of the army and police, his government are credited for substantially improving the prospects of life in Uganda.
However as is the case with African nations, the stability has not won complete peace, and rebel movements still cause significant unrest in the rural north of the country. The cult like Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been described by some as one of the most effective guerrilla armies in Africa and is attributed to the displacement of over 1.5 million people in Uganda and the neighbouring countries.
This constant state of flux between war and peace has meant that the relative stability for Uganda has not always meant that its people can enjoy the benefits of economic growth and prosperity. In 2000 Uganda was recognised by the Paris Club as one of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries and was granted debt relief. In 2008 Uganda recorded a 7% growth figure despite the financial insecurities facing the global markets.
Despite this progress, we are well aware that economic growth does not equate to poverty elimination. According to the World Bank 31% of the 32 million people that live in Uganda live in poverty. However consideration should be given to the fact that since 1992 when the figure was at 56% of the population showing a concerted effort by the government to reach the Millennium Development Goal of eradicate extreme poverty.
In the centre of this success is the fact that Uganda is regarded as something of a prodigy in terms of its response to AIDS in any African country. Since the 1980’s when more than 30% of the population were infected with HIV, Unicef put the current HIV prevalence rate (age 15-19) at 6.5% of the population. The nation still deals with a significantly high number of people living with HIV, but through its openness and a concerted effort at addressing the causes of AIDS among its people, the control of its spread is remarkable success that health authorities in Uganda can be proud of.
The AIDS epidemic may be under management in Uganda, but it has created a new epidemic for Uganda. Uganda has the largest orphan population per capita of any country of the world as a result of the number of deaths from AIDS. In Uganda today, more than 200 people a day die as a result of AIDS, devastating the 25-40 year old segment of the population, leaving behind more than 2.4 million orphans in the country. 63% of this number are living without any natural parents living, and this is where organisations like Children of Uganda step in.
Established from a desire to see the children of Uganda receive an education and become healthy, productive members of the community, Children of Uganda was born in 1995, and since then has achieve remarkable things while working among vulnerable and precious members of Ugandan society.
Twenty two key staff have immunised more than 13.5 million children. Twice yearly the team reach out to more than 4 million children to accelerate Vitamin A Supplementation and catch up immunisations and de-worming programs. 3.7 million girls have benefited from the Girls Education Movement launched in 18 districts across Uganda. Over half a million mothers have been assisted at 91 different sites for Prevention of Mother-to-Child Transmissions of AIDS. Over 9000 excluded or disadvantaged children have been reached though 250 non-formal/complementary learning centres. A volunteer program with over 2,300 community health workers reach over 300,000 children in conflict areas with first line treatment.
The list of achievements just goes on and on. From the provision of fresh running water through pump schemes in areas of displacement, to Early Childhood Development sites. From the provision of therapeutic milk and high energy biscuits to severely malnourished children to providing shelter for over 30,000 child night commuters. No matter where it is the Children of Uganda team have made massive strides to touch the lives of children with literally nowhere left to turn.
This remarkable organisation has changed the life of many African children in Uganda. I encourage you to visit their website and see for yourself the impact that they have in reading some of the success stories on the site. One that touches my heart is that of a young boy called Ronald. At 17, he has watched both his mother and father die as a result of AIDS, and now struggles with HIV himself. Having to face the reality that like his mother and father he would himself die, Ronald was taken in at Kiwanga Home in 2002, a Children of Uganda orphanage.
He has a heart warming story of a life transformed. Coming through the tragedy of being alone in the world, the bullying that children with HIV suffer at the hands of other children and the lack of education, Ronald met with his sponsor in 2003, who is himself HIV positive who has survived through the use of ARVS drugs which Ronald now has access to through the kindness of this sponsor.
Through a support network, and a sponsorship program Ronald now has a shot at life. In his story he tell us about the challenges he faces in life, how has come through remarkable difficulties, overcome unreal loss, and still is wonderful young man. A true son of Africa, he shows all of us that when a community are given a chance, a little help and support, and the tools, it can transform itself into a vibrant society.
Uganda is a success story in Africa. It’s not perfect, and faces some tough challenges and much the same difficulties as so many other African nations, but I believe that we can accept that no place on earth is perfect. Crime, corruption, war, famine and strife are part of our way of life, even in the 1st World. It is just warming to see that despite all the odds, there are African countries that are making progress and changing the lives of their people.