Patrick used to be one of the many street children roaming the streets of one of the slums in Kampala. He used to be high on a mixture of glue and kerosine sniffed out of a plastic bottle or from a piece of rags and he would sleep on the street in some corner, trying to hide from the wind. But years later, he got out. An American women walked by, days before she would head back to the US, and she gave him the opportunity to leave the streets and sort out his life.
Now years later I’m meeting Patrick at the old taxi park, one of the slums in central Kampala. He’s there for an outreach, helping 60 to 90 children that live there. All of them high, all of them in torn clothes and all of them with cuts and bruises everywhere. He tries to be here twice a week, giving the children some attention, cook a (small) meal for them and have Andrew, a befriended nurse, take care of the wounds that most of the children have.
As I’m walking around, the area doesn’t feel that safe. I trust that Patrick knows what he’s doing. Some of the kids grab my hand and put it over there shoulder, or they put my hand on their heads. All they seam to want is some love and attention. Though no money is even asked once, I still find my prejudice self clinging on to my bag as if it’s my only possession in the world. Something I feel embarrassed about when I, later that day, return home and discover that some loose change and some paper money that I accidentally left in my pocket, is still there. Sure, I guess that if I would have crossed this part of town on my own, things might have been different. But that’s something I’ll never know and I’m not planning to find out.
Being there, being with these kids, was confronting and heartwarming at the same time. When two kids of only 8 or 9 years old start to fight over a bottle of glue, that is confronting. As is the cuts, wounds and scars that mark their faces and bodies. But seeing them enjoy the little food they get and seeing them being grateful for the medical care they receive is heartwarming. That said, it was hard to walk away after three hours, knowing that these kids are high only because in that way, they don’t feel the cold of the night and the hunger won’t keep them from falling asleep.
You can see all the photos at my Flickr page