What’s your image of Africa? Most of people who never travelled there think of sick children with protruding bellies, dry and cracked land, AIDS, shivering from malaria people, urban slums with no water, no food and no power. And the world rushes with aid.
While some of these images are certainly a part, albeit a small one, of the Ugandan picture, children are the focal point of it.
Uganda is the world of children. If you travel to the most remote corners of the country, you’ll hear them from far away. Children singing, children dancing, children playing. What do they play with? Sticks, sand, old tyres found somewhere in the ditch. Who knows what imaginary heros they dream about.
Around half of the population of Africa is under 15 years old. And how different they are from Western kids! One would not know where to begin… African children work from very early age -they work in the field, they sell and buy in the markets but most importantly they work at home. Their most important task is to fetch water. Everywhere you go you’ll see kids performing this very important function – whether it’s from a shallow well, river or borehole. They carry yellow jerry cans on their heads; cans can be of various sizes so even a 3-year-old can come with a couple of litres of the precious liquid home. Children are also responsible for various functions at home: sweeping, cleaning, mopping, serving older, washing clothes and many more. They rarely need a reprimand or a reminder from parents as these chores have been ingrained into them since they were little and they would not risk getting caned or slapped had they forgotten.
Most of them are incredibly tattered – wearing shredded pieces of materials vaguely resembling shirts, pants or skirts they once were. They’re always hungry so every morsel of food given to them disappears quickly and neatly. However, give them one biscuit, for example, and it will be divided equally amongst all kids even if this means getting a crumb only. Hunger is something normal for them, something you simply get used to. They never ask for food or sweets though. They are interested in your phone, camera, any device really and they’d study it with utmost respect.
The school fees are expensive in Uganda so not many of them only attend primary school and a very few make it past it to senior years / university. But despite of their daily struggles they always laugh. They are always full of life. They make toys out of anything imaginable. They are happy and at the same time sad and maybe that’s why sometimes it makes my heart contract.
Below: kids from Bulambuli district, eastern Uganda.