"Home Free is changing the trajectory of child welfare in Uganda"

Wilmary, second from right, with the Home Free team in Uganda, 2018.

Wilmary, second from right, with the Home Free team in Uganda, 2018.

I had an amazing experience volunteering with Home Free in November and December of 2018. During my time I saw how a few dedicated people can make a profound difference in the lives of vulnerable children. The work being done by Home Free is changing the trajectory of child welfare in Uganda.

I also witnessed the impact that moving a child from an institution to family-based care can have on a child’s life.

To give one example, here is the story of Grace:

Grace’s husband died four years ago. Without the support of her husband, she was forced to send two of her children Samuel and Joshua to an orphanage, when they were seven and five years-of-age.

During one of her visits to the institution, Grace noticed that her sons were malnourished. Joshua, who had been a strong boy, was just skin and bones.

It was even more heartbreaking to hear Samuel recalling he and his brother’s experience.

Samuel explained that they were only given one meal per day and the children were always hungry. He told us that one time another child at the orphanage stole cornmeal, and in retaliation, a worker caught him and burned his hands in front of the other children.

He also told us how his little brother Joshua, sometimes wet his bed at night. In the morning, the staff would punish him by making him wash his clothes and sheets, and then send him to school alone. Samuel would try to help, but the workers stopped him, in an attempt to dissolve the brotherly bond that gave them hope.

The few times that their mom was allowed to visit the boys, her sons begged her to take them home, but Leticia was not allowed to, nor did she have the support to care for them.

An organization that works with Home Free, worked with Leticia so that she could rescue her boys. Samuel and Joshua are now back home and thriving at school, and Home Free continues to support the family to ensure that they never have to go hungry or resort to an orphanage again.

I will forever cherish my experience working with Home Free. It has impacted me both professionally and personally. Working with Home Free helped me dream bigger as to what is possible for countries who have not yet moved away from institutional care.  

My experience with Home Free has motivated me to start my own organization in my home country, the Dominican Republic. As someone who was in the New York City foster care system, I know how important Home Free’s work is, and I believe that introducing similar support systems to other countries could mitigate the hardships that vulnerable children face.

Guest Post: Wilmary

How a 12-year-old Girl Inspired Foster Care

The young girl who inspired our foster care program, and her siblings in 2016 (identity protected)

The young girl who inspired our foster care program, and her siblings in 2016 (identity protected)

Two years ago, a courageous young girl was referred to our office by a partner organization. She was living in a family with violence, substance abuse and neglect. She told us what was happening at home, in hopes that we could help her, and her young brothers and sisters.

Our social work team contacted the police, and together, investigated the case.

The abuse the children suffered was shocking.

As a result of that investigation, two family members were charged, and imprisoned.

Prior to our investigation, the community had taken action to protect the children. They began removing them one-by-one and placing them in orphanages.

We knew we had to do better.

With no parents or extended family to safely care for them, we asked the community for help.

The community responded, and today, the children are growing up with foster families. They are now like any other child in the community. They go to school, have siblings and friends, and have the security and love of family.

Today, we are leading the first foster care program in Central-West Uganda. We have trained our social workers in foster care, and recruited five foster families.

The foster families we work with volunteer their time to care for children in their own homes. They provide short-term care for children in emergencies, and long-term care for children who cannot safely stay with their parents or extended family, or whose families are missing.

Foster families give children day-to-day care, and the love and security of family. We support our foster families with basic necessities, medical care and school fees for the children, and the long-term support of a social worker.

Thanks to the courage of one young girl, we are now supporting nine children in long-term foster care.

Our Partners: CALM Africa and SFAC trained our social work team in Foster Care.

A Mother’s Love

Visiting with Maddie and her family in 2016.

Visiting with Maddie and her family in 2016.

When I first volunteered in 2009, there were two little girls in the orphanage. They were about five or six years of age, and best friends, always sitting and playing together. 

The orphanage was a bad place. There was no clean water, no regular meals and little care or supervision. The neglect was evident. They girls were malnourished, and often sick. When they played, they would often shout insults and hit each other, imitating the orphanage housemother and volunteer teacher.

When I left the orphanage, I hoped that at least those two girls would make it home to their families.

A year and half later, the girls were gone.

I visited with one of the girl’s mothers two years ago. Her story is so similar to many of the families we work with, that I wanted to share it.

Mama Maddie gave birth to her daughter when she was a secondary school student. When Maddie was born, she soon dropped out of school, and began work as a maid for a family; cooking, cleaning and providing childcare around the clock.

Many vulnerable young girls are exploited this way in Uganda, working 24/7 as domestic servants for room and board and $20 a month.

She was not allowed to keep her daughter with her, and so she placed her in an orphanage.

She was determined, however, that she would save what she needed to bring her daughter home.

Mama Maddie would visit the orphanage when she could. Every time she visited her daughter would be worse off: unbathed, sick and malnourished. It was heartbreaking to visit.

Three years later, she had the money to bring her home. She went to the orphanage, picked up her daughter, and told the Director she was taking her home for a visit. She never went back.

With her savings, she joined a microfinance group. She saved enough to rent a small grocery shop with a room in the back. From the shop she could support her daughter with the basics, and send her to school.

The transition wasn’t easy.

Maddie would eat from the garbage, steal and lie. All things she learned to survive at the orphanage.

With time, patience and her mother’s love, Maddie flourished. She is still unable to talk about life at the orphanage, but when asked about her mother she will tell you just how much she loves her.

Mama Maddie, Maddie and her little sister Jojo live together in the same shop that her mother started to bring her home. Maddie goes to primary school where she is doing well. She loves to play with her little sister. We regularly check in with the family, and all are doing well.

Post by: Jennifer Martin, Executive Director, Home Free


Note: We respect the privacy of the children and families we work with. Names may be changed, and photos may conceal identity to protect a child's information.