Monday, May 14, 2012

A visit to the Namatala slum

Yesterday we visited the Namatala slums.  The group that came with Help International last year did some projects in this area and we came back to evaluate what they did and brainstorm new project ideas for this year.  There are 20,000 people living in these slums.  There is a school that we're working with called Child of Hope that targets the poorest of the poor.  One child is selected from each family to attend the school.  They are fed one meal at school.  Moses, the director of the school, said it's probably what keeps them coming to school, it's likely the only meal they eat each day.  Child of Hope is an incredible organization that's working off of little resources.  They have an office in the UK that is providing funds but it's still a small school trying to influence a lot of suffering people.
These pictures are ones that I took casually throughout my time there.  The people really have nothing.  You rarely saw shoes on the children.  They were rarely wearing underwear or shoes.  And they were lucky to have pants too.  I imagine, by the state of their shirts and dresses that it's the only clothes that they own.  They are so tattered and their tiny bodies were always drowning in their clothes.  I was shocked the whole time, however, by how easily they'd smile if you talked to them or took a picture of them.  They are sweet, kind people.  It was overwhelming.
We walked throughout the slum to get a good idea of what some of the problems are.  About 20% of the slums is infected with HIV--compared to a 6% national average. Prostitution is a problem because they have no other way to make money.  There was recently a cholera outbreak which is pretty much taken care of right now. One of the workers I was talking to said they have 5-10 people sleeping in a house and they'll often have 1,000 shillings to live off of per day...which is less than $0.50 in America.

This darling little girl in the blue dress was so sweet.  The group behind her was dividing up sugar to eat.  She ended up getting a little bit in her palm and licked it.  She was so darling and I feel like their purity and innocence in their eyes just go right to your heart.
The children in the community loved having pictures taken of them.  We'd show them the pictures afterward and they'd laugh and laugh.  As we walked throughout the community, all the kids that we passed would follow us.  We sometimes had easily 30 children following us to see where we were going.  One of the volunteers said it felt like we were felt very strange.  I am not any more important than these kids and their families.  Their instant love and fascination with us felt unmerited.  I was in awe of these people and how they live each day.  It was inspiring to me that they were in the most destitute conditions I've ever seen, but the people of all ages were happy to see us and genuine smiles lit up their faces when we looked their way.
Many of the children would curtsy to us as they shook our hands.  The man giving us a tour said it was a symbol of respect.  Obviously from our end there's no need for them to do that but just look how sweet these little ones are.
I liked taking pictures of the kids on the outside.  Lots of kids were so funny and would jump in front of the camera, but there were the standoffish ones that wouldn't demand attention but were so striking to me.  There's something about their sweet faces and eyes that sink into you.  I don't understand how you couldn't love them.
One of the volunteers told me that on the tour she went on that she saw the children playing soccer with a dead rat...with their bare feet.  It's literally a level of poverty that my mind can't understand or make sense of.  A fellow volunteer, Ryan, was asked if he'd ever seen people this poor.  He said that he "doesn't think there are communities much poorer than this.  You can't survive off of much less."
This is Pias, our guide through the slums.  Josh and I got to go in one of the little circle huts.  Pias told us a family of five will sleep in there on the dirt floors.  The children use their mothers clothes as blankets.
A fellow volunteer named Cami just happened to be around while I was playing with this little girl and told me later that she'd filmed it.  I am so glad that she did because it was such a sweet, sweet moment. I think I almost cry every time I watch it.  Her sweet tiny legs, innocent spirit and loving,  trusting countenance are overwhelming.  I just fell in love with each of these tiny kids and love them for the people that they are and happiness they are finding despite their living conditions.
When we came home from visiting the slums, it was like a reverence fell over all of the volunteers.  It was hard to eat our dinner knowing we're eating more in one meal than those people eat in a day.  One of the volunteers said, "If I ever complain about anything...ever...please hit me.  Because I have no right to complain about my life."

I am excited to have the opportunity to work there.  There are a lot of projects that we can do we just need to develop them.  There are plenty of problems that have project possibilities:  water sanitation, prostitution, child abuse, abandonment by the fathers, etc.  I don't think there's one member of our team that doesn't want to return to Namatala and work to improve the conditions there.  The experience yesterday did something to all of us.  We sat in a circle at dinner last night pondering what we'd seen and feeling a reverence for these people. They are remarkable people and they deserve any help we can give.


  1. Oh Mal!! This just touched my heart so deeply. Those sweet faces, happy despite the most dire of circumstances. I can't help but envy your experience and the way that it is changing your life and ours through your posts. Mya and I watched that little video multiple times and the end when she reaches up and so tenderly touches your face brought tears to my eyes. You have so much love and you so freely give it they will feel it and know that someone cares and that will make a difference to them. I love you and thank you over and over again for sharing these experiences with us. I love you!

  2. I love having this experience through you. What can we do to help? Could we buy chickens so they could have meat and eggs? A cow or goat? I think all of us reading your blog would love to have some part in what you are doing. I love you. Mom

  3. Oh dear me. I just want to scoop all of those kids up and get them out of there. It's truly inspiring how they can smile and be happy in those circumstances. That video was so touching. The way the little girl, who'd never met you before, just instantly loved you and touched your face and gave you a big hug. So tender. I'm with mom, what can we do? Can we send you packages? Can we pitch in somehow to help them?

  4. I want to keep the little girl in the pink dress! Can I call dibbs? You are so awesome Mallory and I hope you never forget the amazing experiences you are having there. We love you!!

  5. At the start of 2011, I travelled from the UK to Uganda and lived in Mbale for 3-months. I was a volunteer in the office at JOY Hospice which is near the Hospital. I stayed in a colonial bungalow in the area of Mbale known as 'Half-London' literally 5-minutes walk from the Namatala slum. Having lived in the western 'bubble' all my life, even seeing pictures of poverty on TV didn't prepare for how it would make me feel when I saw it face to face for the first time. I wanted to help everyone, but I knew the need was too great. So I helped those that I could.. and I would love to go back there in the future. Uganda is an amazing country. Thanks for your blog, it brought back some great memories. :)