Getting back childhood

Someday, I want to be a mechanic and run my own car repair shop.

— Omware Denis, Student

Student Omware Denis

The way he speaks and laughs – the way he talks about his past and future – is both upbeat and humble. He radiates a kind of lightness which is in stark contrast to his tough past. “We had almost no money,” says his father Robert Ogguta. The boy practically had no alternative: Omware Denis had to earn money in the goldmines, just like thousands of other children in eastern Uganda. As the oldest child of a large family, this lot fell on him. With the money he earned, he bought goats as a way to provide for his parents and seven siblings.

Even after the CaRNaC team spoke to him about his work, offering him an alternative, he was still hesitant. “In the goldmines I earn money,” explains the – in the meantime – young man. Those who live in poverty clutch at straws and are reluctant to give up the little they have. But in the end he gave the experiment a shot and went back to school. Today he says: “I’m happy I decided to take this path.” His father also says: “I was never happy about my son working in a goldmine.” For, this work is very dangerous, and with a smile he adds: “Now I hope that my son will have a better future.” When asked about his future and his aspirations, the pupil says: “I want to be a mechanic and run my own car repair shop.” Until then, he rides his bike to school every day, which takes one hour each way. He knows this will pay off in the end. And just as he used to toil in the goldmines for his family, he now fights for his own future.

A new purpose in life

Just fantastic: Meanwhile 100 tomatoes grow on one single tomato plant.

— John Bosco, Farmer

Farmer John Bosco

His hands are strong and weathered from his daily work in the fields. He sits on an old, wooden chair in front of his house, and while he speaks, his eyes light up. He enjoys speaking about the past years, about the changes that have happened, how his farm has been transformed. He used to harvest 300 kg of corn on 0.4 hectares of land. “Today, on the same amount of farmland, I harvest up to 2,000 kg,” he beams. He experienced similar success with all other produce he grows: tomatoes, bananas, soy and beans. All thanks to the training that CaRNAC provided. But also thanks to his tireless work, his sharp mind, and his unparalleled passion for his profession.

Finally, his hard work was paying off. He could breathe a sigh of relief, as he no longer needed to worry whether he could afford his children’s school fees. John Bosco is thriving – and has even found a new purpose in life: He wanted to share his good fortune with others and for this reason founded an agricultural school. Here, he shares the know-how he acquired through CaRNaC, true to the motto: A joy that is shared is a joy made double.

Back to school

Instead of digging for gold, more and more children are now coming back to school.

— Mugeni Deo, Deputy Headteacher, Tiira Primary School

Teacher Mugeni Deo

Hundreds of children are playing in front of the Tiira elementary school. They’re a colorful bunch, wearing red, blue and yellow shirts. They are running around, laughing and waiting for their teachers to hand them their semester report cards. Mugeni Deo is one of the teachers. He’s thrilled about the CaRNaC project which for over four years now has focused on motivating the children of Tiira who work in the goldmines to return to school. “Education is the key to healthy development,” he explains. And the effects of CaRNaC’s work are clearly noticeable – “The number of pupils has strongly increased.”

Over the past four years, CaRNaC has been financially supporting around 400 pupils. CaRNaC focused on those families who very much wanted their children to attend school but who couldn’t afford the school fees. But CaRNaC’s work overall impacted far more children. Its local Project Manager, Moses Ojambo, highlights: “We’ve managed to motivate at least 1,000 pupils to come back to school.”

At the same time, CaRNaC is training both teachers and parents on how to treat children in a healthy way. Children’s rights are addressed, as is the topic of child abuse, and the fact that appropriate authority can be achieved without resorting to physical violence or disciplining. “Children can only reach their full potential if they feel loved and supported,” says Moses Ojambo.

Hope is returning

We always did well during the harvesting season. But soon after, the hunger returned.

— Robert Ogguta, Farmer

Farmer Robert Ogguta

By European standards, Robert Ogguta is a small-scale farmer. He has less than a hectare of land, all in all farming eight thousand square meters. Even though he worked hard all his life, he barely made a living. Hunger was a part of everyday life, as was the fact that his oldest son, Omware Denis, already as a child had to go and work in the goldmines. Poverty is widespread in Uganda. 35 percent of the population live on less than 1.90 dollars a day. But Oggutta is a hard-working, loyal man. He never gave up, got up every morning and fought to provide for his loved ones. And one day his hard work paid off – or he was finally rewarded for being faithful in the little things: The CaRNaC team chose to work with Robert Ogguta, training him in a more efficient way of farming. This involved ecological farming which includes key features such as mulching, a crop rotation principle, as well as doing without burning harvested fields and soil cultivation.

His work is still tough. He still wakes up early every morning, reaches for his hoe, works his land, and earns his living by the sweat of his brow. But one crucial thing has changed: His modest amount of farmland is now enough to provide for his family. Hunger is a thing of his past. “The harvest hasn’t just doubled, it has increased far more than that,” Oggutta is happy to report. He gives an example of an experiment that he did in the very beginning. On an area of 300 m2 he suddenly was harvesting 150 kg of corn. In comparison, with his initial way of farming he harvested only 100 kg of corn on 4000 m2 of land. Now he can even sell some of his vegetables on the local market. Thanks to this he can send his children to school. Robert Ogguta’s life is still not easy, but he’s now able to meet its challenges.

Getting the support of politics

We saw that many children and their parents were choosing the wrong path.

— Joshua Omerikit, Counselor of Tiira Parish

Counselor Joshua Omerikit

Moses Ojambo is doing focused work on his laptop, next to him sits Kennedy John Wmima, telephoning with one of the local villagers. For the past four years they have been working together for the good of the children in and around the village or Tiira. The biggest problem: Many children here are sent to work in the goldmines by their often destitute parents. Many children also decide themselves to head out and earn money instead of attending school. This in turn generates many new problems. To stop this from happening, significant legal changes are needed – a law that would prohibit school-age children from working in the goldmines in the first place. Moses Ojambo says: “The decisive factor in the beginning was to win over politicians as partners for this cause.” Of course, NGOs can’t themselves go and write new laws.

Luckily, the politicians were eager to listen and take action. Joshua Omerikit, whose office is not far from CaRNaC’s office in Tiira, is one of these politicians. “Things had been developing in the wrong direction,” they had already recognized this. And they were thankful that CaRNaC was fighting for the rights of children in the region, an endeavor that was very much needed here. “We wanted to support the work of CaRNaC,” says the politician. To do this, they enacted a so-called by-law which prohibits school-age children from working in the goldmines. If the law is violated, the child is then brought to the local police station, the parents are informed, and all parties are required to sit down and have a talk. Counselor Omerikit is convinced that success will only be possible if everyone works together here.