Joseph Kiwanuka,35, having grown up with a grandmother in Kyegegwa, Kyejonjo, by the age of 28, he had learnt one major thing about childhood: Every kid needs a parental figure.
“At my grandma’s there used to be a lot of children who would be brought by relatives and friends to stay. Seeing what she did for these children, I developed a passion to serve,” Kiwanuka recollects.
It is against this backdrop that Kiwanuka teamed up with Sarah Hamilton, 31, who had come to Uganda at the age of 21 from Texas on medical mission trips to start Rafiki Africa Ministries in 2009.
The duo, who at the time was working with different ministries, wanted the non-profit organisation to “Raise up the next generation of Christian leaders in Uganda with Biblical morals and values.”
Kiwanuka and Hamilton who later married in 2010 have five children; 4 biological kids and one adopted child.
Kiwanuka a graduate of Project Management from Makerere University Business School passionately holds a philosophy in life of serving others beyond self.
The organisation, whose name “Rafiki” is Kiswahili for “Friend” is based in Naalya, Namugongo in Kampala.
Rafiki Africa Ministries only takes up children who are between the age of 0 to 5 years, and they are normally got from police stations, probation and social welfare officers plus the community.
“We get children when they are still very young because they are easy to handle and groom,” says Kiwanuka.
Some of the police stations they have worked with around central region include: Kira Police Station, Kirinya Police Station, Old Kampala, Katwe, Kakiri, Nsambya plus those from Mukono and Wakiso.
To the police, children are normally brought by Samaritan organisations.
“When a kid has been abandoned the community, the police always calls us to go and pick them,” says Kiwanuka.
One of such figures at the orphanage is a 1-year-old Florence Asiimwe who was picked by a Good Samaritan after being dumped besides a railway line in Bweyogerere when she was just a day old.
Asiimwe who happens to be the youngest child at the facility is now a gleeful and healthy baby.
Before enrolling a child, verification by the police is first carried out after which the child is taken for medical check-up at the hospital.
This, Kiwanuka explains, “Helps us to identify the kids so that doctors can recommend medication”.
Services provided at the centre
At the moment, the organisation has 15 children (7 girls and 8 boys) staying at the centre, but they have more 28 children under their care though they were reunited with parents.
The offices at Naalya boast of a large compound which gives children a chance to engage in a number of activities like sports (volleyball, basketball, tennis etc.), indoor games and the younger kids play with toys.
Besides exercising and playing, children are also home-schooled by a team led by Sarah kiwanuka. On visitation, missionaries on a social call at the facility were skilling the kids on writing and drawing.
Home schooling is basically for children who are not yet school-going age or those that have been just enlisted; the rest are taken to regular schools for normal education.
Spiritual teachings are also emphasised at the organisation. With the help of Watoto church, children are normally taken through biblical training, fellowshipping and prayer sessions.
Joram Kibirango, 10, and Joel Sekamwa, 8, are brothers. They are among the lot that had been reunited with their parents, but had to come back when the parents separated again.
What they like about the place most, Kibirango says: “People here are very kind to us and whenever missionaries come, we are taken for trips and shopping at supermarkets. They also like playing with us.”
The other thing so good about the facility, according to Sekamwa, “At this place, we feel so secure because we have a guard at the gate and when we are moving out we put on Rafiki shirts for identification.”
The brothers also speak good of the diet at the place which involves bread, porridge, black tea for breakfast; rice, G.nuts, beans, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, posho and Matooke for supper and lunch.
The unsettling side of their story though, is that they have realised their parents’ (wanting) situation and living without them is not so much of a bother.
“It’s not that we do not want to live with our mum, but she has no house and she can’t afford looking after us,” says Sekamwa.
The organisation is however trying to construct a house for them in order to reunite them with their mum in order to keep supporting them when they are close to the parents.
Their uncle was also planning to take them up, which they are okay with than staying with the mum since “He has a big house and children to play with”.
Hanna Nalumu, 4, is one of the kids that undergo home-schooling. She likes the place because of Mummy Sarah, the founder, who teaches her every day, and she also likes the games at the place.
Aisha Nakityo’s views about the facility do not differ from Nalumu’s. Nakityo is 6 years old and she is in top class at Dream Africa Naalya.
Rafiki tries so hard to ensure children meet their families so that they are “Protected from finding themselves placed in alternative care unnecessarily.”
Even after children are reunited with parent, the organisation keeps supporting the family, because they (Rafiki) “Believe that poverty is not a reason for a child to be in an orphanage or institution.”
It is only after the institution has failed to locate the biological parents that they opt for foster care and domestic adoption.
They have not had any children taken up for adoption, though; they are calling upon Ugandans to embrace the initiative.
International adoptions have been blocked to avoid children from being taken to places where they can’t easily be monitored.
“We want the children to be near where we can always go and check on them to keep updated,” Says Kiwanuka.
To be given a child, a foster parent is taken through various steps which involve assessing their financial stature, understanding if both wife and husband are in harmony with the arrangement, and being ready to put the child on their Will.
After the first fundamental sessions, the foster parents to be are taken through an adoption panel, which is spearheaded by the Ministry of Gender for more scrutiny.
When they process is finally over, children of the foster parents are trained on how to live with the adopted kids, if at all they are willing to.
Advertising with media and social networking sites is carried out to help in locating parents of the children.
Joshua kajje, 15, now in P.7 at Nagalama Junior was taken to her grandmother in Kamwokya. He came to the facility when he was 5. Kajje is the oldest kid under their care.
Mary Amonge, 14, was also taken to stay with her mum in Amoru district, where the organisation constructed them a house at a cost of Shs6.5m
Amonge suffers from Celebral Palsy, a condition marked by impaired muscle coordination and/or other disabilities, typically caused by damage to the brain before or at birth, which has made her wear diapers up to now.
On her arrival at the institution she was taken to Elizabeth house in Mukono for treatment and up to now Rafiki contributes up to Shs150, 000 to her monthly medical fees.
Rafiki has bought land in Dambwe, Kakiri, Wakiso district, where they are planning to set up a new home so as to relocate from Naalya, Namugongo.
The first phase of the facility which will cost over USD 300,000 is expected to house a multi-purpose building to be used as a community centre and church.
A sports facility, a vocational school and a hospital will also be included in the facility.
Construction will commence next year.
Currently, their current source of funds is through individual donations from Canada, USA and missionaries who visit the institution.
As Rafiki, Kiwanuka says, “We always try to have at least four sponsors for every child”.