Travel journal III: From Groenlo to Soroti

Blogger: Dirk Naaijkens*

Day 63– 28th of July 2016

‘I’m going to miss you, Dirk, really. May God bless you.’ This afternoon was the last time I see Martin. At least for a while. He has been at RICODE for a while, where everyone has warmly welcomed him. He is twelve years old, often smiling his big smile, not afraid to give his opinion, but most of all he has a heart of gold. I keep being surprised by the optimism that many of the children show, especially after what many of them have been through. Domestic violence, neglect, sexual abuse. Sometimes even rape. Luckily Martin has not experienced most of these. He ran off from home two years ago. His uncle, with whom he lived, refused to pay his school fees any longer. This prompted him to search for a place somewhere else. He found this in Soroti, where he ended up after wandering around for a long time on foot.

I met him on my first day at RICODE, where he made an impression on me because of his adult behaviour (this might also have been because I lack that quality sometimes). He was also full of humour and acted in a very casual way. During the last eight weeks he was one of the few that showed up every day at the project site. After his sessions with the psychotherapist he said he wished to return home again, after one and a half year on the streets. Last Thursday was the big day. Before they send him home, RICODE and local child protection had a serious discussion with his uncle, who finally said he was ready to care for Martin again. This means more than just taking him into his house again, there are many obligations and responsibilities. When I called Martin that morning to ask him how he felt, and if he was nervous, he responded with only happiness and excitement. He was ready, he looked forward to it. When he arrived it appeared that he did not have a mattress or bed sheets, so me and Johnson brought those over with the motorbike. Two hours, full speed, on the back on a heavily loaded motor driving on dusty sand roads. Before we left, Johnson promised me to top his personal record. The red sand ended up in all kinds of places where you don’t want any sand…

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‘So, you are the one?,’ his uncle asked me when we arrived. ‘The one?’, I asked? ‘Yes, Martin has been talking about his mzungu-friend for the whole week. That you would finally visit him’. His joy was overwhelming when Martin saw me. It is extraordinary to have such a special bond with a boy that I barely know for two months. Full of pride he showed me where he was from, and he introduced me to his family. He also showed me where he sleeps. I proposed to put the mattress down, he had to check if it was to his satisfaction of course. After his ‘approval’ his family offered me and Johnson some peanuts. ‘you know this African thing?’ ‘Of course,’ I answered. ‘We have those as well in my country’, which led to a lot of laughter. They also thought that the pigs that walked around the house were completely new to me. ‘Mzungu knows pigs!’ Before we left I gave martin a present. ‘Come, open it!’ Johnson said impatiently, who was unaware of my surprise gift. Martin unwrapped it, and saw the group picture which portrayed everyone from RICODE; the staff and the group of children two weeks back. He became very quiet. The photo was immediately passed on between the group of curious family members, who wanted to know who everyone was. It was as if I was home with my grandpa in Eefsele: ‘Denne is daorvan, den werkt daor en daor…’ ‘Dirk, can I speak to you?’, Martin whispered after everything calmed down again. I followed him to his sleeping place, where he put the photo next to his bed. ‘When will you be back, again?’ he asks. I explain to him that I have no clue when I will be back again in Uganda. It’s silent. ‘I am going to miss you, Dirk, really. May God bless you.’

Upcoming Monday Martin starts school again. He has a lot of catching up to do, but the biggest step is already in the past. RICODE will stay in touch with him and his family; from time to time they will call or visit. This is one of the many stories of the children that RICODE is helping. One glance in the very diverse lives and backgrounds of this group of street children. One story, one child, whose live we have been able to drastically chance for the good thanks to the many donations.

Would you like to make a donation? Great!

You can send your donation to  NL92 INGB 0003 4247 92, in the name of  ‘Stichting Mama Watoto’, noting ‘Street children Soroti’. For more information, check the website www.ricode.org, or www.mamawatoto.org, the organisation funding this project.  

*Dirk is a student from Utrecht University currently doing his internship in Soroti / Uganda.

Translation: Akeo Veerman