It’s a tough place in the slums of Kampala

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Kampala city has about 2 million occupants, of which statistically about a quarter live in 3 main slums throughout the city, although staff from the outreach projects estimate that this is closer to half the population. Today, our task was to visit one of these slums and meet the outreach teams and their beneficiaries there. I wasn’t sure what to expect. We had been exposed to rural poverty, but knowing that urban poverty is on the rise, and knowing that the programs in these areas are very different and often more challenging, I prepared myself to see the unexpected.

We arrived at World Vision’s UPLIFT Youth Kampala – Urban Youth Livelihoods Project, which is supported by the Australian Government, DFAT, and I was  immediately struck by the overcrowded housing much too close together. The weather was dry which was great because apparently the slums flood in the rain, leaving sewerage flooding out of the short drop toilets (or from open defecation) and running down the street. Houses flood, washing the sewerage inside, and mosquitos breed in the subsequent lying water, leaving the communities in the slums at risk of water borne diseases.


If that wasn’t enough, prostitution and trafficking is rife in the communities. Often children are enticed from the rural areas with promises of education if they come to the city and they end up trafficked into prostitution. HIV and STIs are also rife in the community because while people may be aware of the issues, they are too poor to say no to risky situations which might pay them enough for rent or food. Child sacrifice is also practiced in the communities for cultural reasons. Mostly the motivation is for wealth. World Vision works with communities to ensure children are protected as much as possible from all of these issues.

The outreach program rotates around different locations in the slums, allowing the young people to come along while it is in their area, get HIV tests, results and some counselling. They can get sex education at the station and receive free contraceptives or treatment drugs for basic issues. Mainly targeted at 13-25 years old, older people aren’t turned away if they need help as the outreach team realises that this isn’t productive. Instead they are referred for treatment. The station is run by young people as peer to peer learning has been really important to deliver these messages.


We  chatted to a young mother of only 13 who was visiting the clinic. The father of her child only sometimes visited her (it is common to have many wives here) and she was forced to collect grasshoppers to sell for money, a delicacy here requiring the wings picked off and then fried. Grasshopper season ends in December so the staff at the project identified her as at risk of trafficking and have brought her into the program for additional support.

Drugs and alcoholism is rife in the slum conditions, and the outreach program also offers rehabilitation centres for young people for up to  9 months, soon to be extended to a year.

I spoke with all the staff at the multiple stations and watched an HIV test take place. Some of these staff are paid, but most are volunteers, giving of their time to help alleviate the situations where they can in the slum. One girl was a biomedical graduate and she was conducting the blood tests. She said she just wanted to do what she could, even if it wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things.

some of the street children waiting outside the project

some of the street children waiting outside the project

I spoke to the counsellor who looked about 20 years old. He was tall, well dressed, and had a sad look in his eyes. He said he took great pride in his work, helping those with issues receive the correct psychosocial support. I was in awe of everyone in this project. SUCH good work.

I stepped outside the tent to take some photos and a small hand slipped into mine. I looked down and it was a girl of about 5 grinning up at me with chewed up corn in her teeth from the half a cob she was holding in her other hand. She was wearing a tutu that was pretty filthy but you  could tell it was once pretty. I think it was her prized possession as she kept pointing it out to me and smiling. I don’t think she spoke much English. The dirt was rubbing off her hands all over me and I had tiny handprints in my sunscreen as she stroked my white skin, trying to pick off the freckles that she found!

I started to play with her and her friends, feeling like an increasingly large dirt particle myself as time progressed. We took some photos and I’m not sure they had seen themselves before on a screen given the expressions I saw. Once I was thoroughly dirty and had mashed up corn all over me, my phone and my camera, I went back to the group and thanked them for welcoming us so warmly and for the really inspiring, empowering work they were doing.

We got back in the car and I have never felt so glad to scrape off grime with wipes and hand sanitiser in my life. The slum was a very confronting place, and it felt like dirt was seeping into every pore and up my nostrils minute by minute standing in the street.


Some people have to try a lot harder to stay alive than others. These people were fighters.

We moved along to the area the outreach have set up to teach skills and there was a hairdressing session happening when we arrived. Stepping out of the car you could smell sewerage in the heat. I tried not to think about how many times this ground had flooded and what was running through the water. I stepped over EVERY puddle just in case, although was pretty sure I had already knelt in some poo earlier in the week (I tried not to think about that either).

Some street kids wanted their photos taken and made some cute gangster signs as they posed with Steph.

On the balcony of the youth centre the rooftops of the slums were vast, stretching as far as the eye could see. I couldn’t believe the size. Some rooftops were metal, some were made of whatever they could find. Lots of people waved up, even from a few streets away. I’m guessing white foreigners don’t come here very much.

The hairdressing class was great and the styles quite wonderful! One girl we met was 20 and had managed to leave the sex work she was forced to do since a child. She was learning skills so that she could work  and earn money in other ways.


We didn’t stay long and ventured back onto the street. Later that night when it rained I thought of that place and wondered what would happen to those whose houses flooded regularly. What diseases they might pick up, and what hope of treatment they  might have. I was grateful for outreach programs such as UPLIFT who were daring to go where most did not.

This project just started in 2014, so there was a lot of work to do. Thanks to the Australian Government’s foreign aid and the support of World Vision donations, this project, which was the first of its kind in Kampala, would do great work, I was sure of it.


If you would like to make a difference to a child, their family and their entire community, you can sponsor a child with World Vision here:


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  2. therealedenland

    December 8, 2014 at 12:48 am

    Those slums. Still there … while I sit on my couch watching ads for corn chips on pizza.

    • Lou

      December 8, 2014 at 4:03 pm

      But you did SO much by going and being there and sharing their stories… xx

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