An African slum.
What comes to mind?
I was given the chance to visit one of these extreme environments. And for the next two weeks I’ll show you photos and video of the conditions, the lives, and the institutions of a slum in Kampala, Uganda.
Earlier this day, my guide at the Gaddhafi Mosque had arranged this improvised slum visit. We had been concluding our tour from the top of the mosque tower when he mentioned the slum down below. That was all the opening I needed for inquiry, and he happened to know a man who could fulfill my interest in seeing what a Ugandan slum, and the peoples’ lives within, are like.
By the time we descended the steps of the tower, a motorcycle was waiting for me at the mosque complex entrance.
The man drove me out of the city center–from the administrative buildings and spacious layout, to a gradual shrinking and cramping of buildings and growing amounts of people.
Along the way, I wondered what I was getting myself into.
Off of a busy two lane street, we hung a right into an environment whose standards took a sudden drop.
We were in Bwaise.
In what felt like off-roading–except we were in the middle of city–the bike bumped and see-sawed along the hard dirt roads and paths. We stopped at an opening where the dirt roads came together to make a large square. On the side nearest to us was the one-room office of Volunteers for Sustainable Development (VFSD).
But before I could enter, children came up to me as soon as I dismounted the bike. They did so with the excitement of American children toward the ice cream man, only with the intimacy as if I were an uncle.
I entered the small, though solid and clean office with red carpet, two large wooden desks, guest chairs, and bright posters on the yellow-painted walls promoting Uganda tourism.
I spoke with Salim, dressed in slacks and fitted black t-shirt, and Seru-Nassar in slacks and a blue button up. These two young men had started and operate VFSD as an agency to improve the lives of the people in Bwaise. Themselves from the slums, they said they understood the challenges of keeping kids in school, keeping teenage girls away from prostitution, telling boys it’s not cool to walk away from a pregnant girlfriend, and then helping resultant single mothers make ends meet.
They said the conditions here were “appalling” and that slums grew because more people move into the city and Bwaise is cheap.
The organization is just these two guys, but with some outside help they’ve been able to conduct events (neighborhood gatherings) and initiatives (safe sex programs). One organizational project had been to survey families in the slum to document the status and progress of those most in need.
I arranged a picture collage atop a desk from a few dozen of the affected children from these families.
Another initiative was fund-raising by way of conducting slum tours.
Bwaise is a world of people earning less than $50 a month.
Salim and Seru-Nassar started to show it to me.
We walked back outside to the immediate reception of more children.
“Mzungu!,” the little boys and girls yelled. This is one of the few words that are the same in Swahili, the language of Tanzania, as it is in Luganda, the language of Uganda. It’s a term for white people.
I don’t know why children came up to me, exactly. Salim would say that they liked my camera, but I also think it’s in their minds that people that look like me are wealthy and helpful.
We wander about Bwaise:
We happen upon children, a man ironing clothes for a living, and then more children out by themselves.
Here it is captured on video:
The Home Stop
Salim and Seru-Nassar then led me to a home of a Bwaise resident. We entered the shoddy brickwork building through a small, creaky wooden front door and into a small bedroom-sized dwelling. A pink/peach fabric hung to separate the bedroom side from the living room side. Once the door closed, inside was dim and cluttered. There were two easy chairs with torn arm rests and an uneven couch with white sheet atop. A few cobwebs in the corner strung across old newspapers as wallpaper.
Margaret, 30, is the woman of the house. She’s a single mother making money by washing people’s clothes.
She has three children:
All four of them are HIV positive.
I was surprised, as they all appeared healthy. International organizations help with medications.
Margaret’s husband infected her after contracted HIV from another of his wives. He’s been dead for seven years. Margaret ekes by with a 13,7, and 6 – year old children. They pirate electricity from nearby power lines.
I suddenly notice a man who had been in the corner no more than six feet from me the whole time we had been talking. Curled up in an easy chair, the sickly-looking man decided to pick himself up and slouch over to the couch.
I stood on the chair he had been on for a picture of the place.
We didn’t stay too long. Salim wanted to show me the rest of the stops.
We got back outside under the bright sun. Children find me and take my hand.
We continue on through the slum.
Not all the children looked as healthy and happy as the girls in the pictures with me.
I hoped the girl above would get healthy, clothed, and when older, make it to our next destination: the Bwaise primary school.
But getting all these children to school is difficult. There are many orphans. And many are sick. Salim became energized with frustration when back in the office telling me, “Parents give children 100 shillings to buy something from shop, and when child returns, parents are gone.”
There’s a perpetual and growing cycle of difficulty under their noses that Salim and Seru-Nassar are not able to repair by themselves.
Next week I’ll show you pictures and footage of the school, the slum aqueduct, and a special chance meeting of Nathy, my host in Kampala, and Salim–a hopeful collaboration for a better future in Bwaise.
Until then, check out, “like,” and feel free to reach out to Salim via VFSD’s Facebook page.