SLUM EMPOWERMENT BASECAMP
Our Slum Empowerment Basecamp, or Slumbase, is the staging point for everything we do in the Katanga slum. Currently, it houses Thread of Life, hosts vocational rehabilitation classes, and has four units of transitional housing. The property is healthy, clean, safe, peaceful, and most importantly, it's ours.
The Slumbase is just under an acre in size and located outside of the Katanga slum; far enough away to make it a safe-haven for the people we serve, but close enough that they can easily walk to it every day.
As we continue to grow into the property and add more classes and services, the Slumbase will not only be a staging point for everything that we do in Katanga, but a true community center that fosters a safe environment where we can draw more women out of prostitution and care for widows and destitute single mothers.
The Katanga slum is different from others around the Kampala area. It doesn't have street kids huffing petrol, getting in fights and stabbing each other every night. Instead it's full of families; mostly single mothers and their children, abandoned by the father, or widowed by AIDS, Malaria, or some other disease or accident.
Many of these women have difficulty finding work to support themselves and their children and so, often, they are forced to turn to prostitution. This is the root of the orphan cycle. Women who abandon their children to the streets, or to some "orphanage" where the kids will receive a bed, school fees, and three square meals a day; or simply have them adopted by an American family.
This is the breakdown of the family unit. The place where families fall apart and children are left to fend for themselves.
When people move from the village to the city, looking for work, this is often where they end up. It's cramped, dirty, unsanitary, unhealthy and unsafe.
Any goal of long term sustainability or restoration for the people or the country of Uganda, has to start with the family unit. It has to start here. Preventing people from abandoning their children in the first place; empowering and encouraging them to support their families and to take responsibility for their kids, so that, together, they may have a chance at something better.
TOL is the project that is most directly oriented towards family empowerment. It started in 2007 as we went back into the slums of Katanga, where most of the original kids came from, and sought out their families, to work with them and get them reconnected with their kids.
The economic impact of the program has been inconsistent over the years, mostly because we had to restart the program every year when we got kicked out of a house or location where Thread of Life had been based. However, the personal impact has been incredible. Thread of Life has been absolutely successful at reconnecting parents with their kids. Every woman who went through a Thread of Life class continued to stay involved in their kids lives afterwards. They would go to parents’ days at the school and visit their kids at the kids’ house, and all the kids now go back to their families during holidays. Many people call the kids’ house an orphanage. But in reality, it’s much more of a boarding section for the school now. No kids live there year around. Every child goes back home to be with their family on holidays, or to stay with some relative if they don’t have parents. Thread of Life has played a huge role in reconnecting those families and making that possible.
WHY IT’S IMPORTANT:
At CLD we wince a little bit every time somebody calls the kids house an orphanage because, in many cases, orphanages have cause more problems than they help. When orphanages just take in every kid they meet, they actually contribute to the breakdown of the family unit. People are almost encouraged to abandon their kids, knowing that they will get picked up by some orphanage where they will be taken care of.
More recently, this same issue has been showed through adoption. Adoption is a valuable thing for kids who have been completely abandoned, or have no parents or family that can take care of them. But all too often, people in the slums in particular, have been giving up their children for adoption because they are poor.
At Thread of Life we believe that poverty is never an excuse for abandoning a child, or offering them up for adoption. We seek to prevent these situations before they start. Our goal is to do whatever we can to get parents, mostly single mothers, to the place where they feel they can take care of their children, rather than feeling that they have to give the kids to somebody else to take care of. Our goal is to get to the root of the orphan cycle by creating jobs and providing tangible resources that enable people to better take care of themselves and their families.
Thread of Life is doing incredible right now. We have a property that is ours; a stable place that is safe and healthy. Because of this property we can start making more long-term investments in the community. When we go to the slums of Katanga and ask people what they need, the most common answer is “work”, so we are building the business of Thread of Life, trying to increase our markets and grow our customer base so that we can hire on as many people from the slums as possible. Our goal is to provide people with a steady, salaried income, and a job with upward mobility and opportunities for promotion, while at the same time offering them access to all the other services that TOL provides.
The community outreach is growing as well right now. We are starting to offer many free services at the Slum Basecamp for the general community, including English classes, financial classes, and saving circles. Eventually, we want to start a medical clinic on the property as well, to provide quality, affordable medical care to everyone in our community.