KAMPALA – Joel Sserwada, a young adult has embarked on a search. A search for his lineage, a relative, anyone that he can relate with if only to fill the void he has lived with all his life.
Sserwada grew up in an orphanage after his parents died. He lived thinking the children’s home Administrator was his father because that is what he told the children under his care. “I thought he was our father and the caregivers our mothers, we thought our father had many wives,” Sserwada says.
Tragedy struck when the institution got financial challenges. Sserwada dropped out of school at Senior Two just like the other children in that home. The children had to fend for themselves at that point. The teenagers decided to find menial jobs, which was quite a challenge for Sserwada as he was HIV positive and sickly.
“The home then told us to pay for everything. Water, electricity, accommodation etc,” by and by the institution was closed. What Sserwada had in memory as home had been taken away. “I did not know where to go, what to do. Nobody teaches you even basic things like fending for yourself or living in the community. I was not prepared for life outside,” he says.
The place that housed what Sserwada knew as a home is now a guesthouse.
Sserwada was told he joined the home at 4 years and in bad health as he was HIV positive. Sserwada’s predicament is finding his relatives. “I was told I had sisters. I was the last born and the only boy. I wish I could meet them someday…” he says with a sense of hopelessness.
Sserwada’s testimony was given at Child’s I Foundation’s media engagement on February 28 at Royal Suites in Bugolobi to show how damaging it is for children to grow up in institutionalised care.
Child’s I Foundation aims at ensuring that every child in this world grows up within a loving family.
The Head of the Alternative Care Unit at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Mr. Shafiq Butanda said the government is in the process of deregistering orphanages and certifying worthy ones, but that government encourages Ugandans to adopt or foster as many children as possible to avoid children growing up in institutionalised homes. t
Batanda said Uganda has 82 approved and 34 more will receive certificates of worthiness soon. The ministry official said there have been cases of children in institutionalized care being abused and homes being mismanaged.
Against that background, Ugandans are encouraged to adopt and the emphasis is given that adoption is free. The lie that to adopt one needs lots of money has hindered many Ugandans from adopting children but Batanda says adoption is provided for in the Children’s Act and the ministry emphasizes local adoption.
“You do not buy children, you only pay for legal services,” says Kristian Sekyanzi, the Chairperson of Adoptive Parents Association.
Sekyanzi says the association comprises parents that have adopted children but also supports people who would like to adopt. He said the adoption process has been tedious and deterrent for some would-be adoptive parents, something they want to end as soon as possible.
“Parents go through different experiences and dealing with the processes can be frustrating,” he says.
Sekyanzi said the law allows couples to adopt any child, but single people can only adopt children of their gender. As such, he said there are so many boys without parents, yet girls are easily adopted.
Child iFoundation owned the defunct Malaika Babies Home. The foundation realised that keeping children in a home was psychologically injuring and decided to place the children they had under foster care.
One of the people that offered to foster children is a former caregiver at Malaika Babies Home. Harriet Nakawuki Mugerwa, a wife and mother of four, has been fostering since 2014 and is still going strong.
“I love children and when we worked as caregivers I witnessed some of my colleagues doing mean things to children under their care. Also, everything is done on a routine basis and so mechanically, when the home was closed, I was happy for the children. They have a chance to live a normal life as opposed to doing things like robots. Everything is done as a group, even potty time and that is so unnatural,” she said.