Supporting street children with Hashtag Gulu - News from Omoana - January 2024

We first met Mike and Irene, the director and accountant of Hashtag Gulu, in 2022 following a referral from our accounts and administration officer who lived in Gulu. They explained to us how their organisation came about and what they do. A year later, after taking the time to check the conditions of the partnership and reflecting together on our mutual contributions, here we are, working together on a brand new project: art as a tool for social integration for children in conflict with the law.

In Uganda, thousands of children and young people live and work on the streets and are affected by poverty, hunger and violence. They are rejected, feared and stigmatised by the local community, harassed and arrested by the police, with the risk of becoming criminals for lack of other viable options. Moreover, most street children and young people are already accused of a variety of social ills, and many end up in juvenile detention at least once during their childhood.

The project set up by Hashtag Gulu therefore aims to improve their social integration by using artistic activities to help them develop a positive attitude towards responsible living during, and after, imprisonment, while identifying and developing their talents. In addition, forum theatre is used as a platform for exchange with their community.

The project focuses on young people living on the streets and minors in detention, their parents and members of their communities. In this way, as the young people prepare to live harmoniously in their communities, their parents/guardians and the wider community also prepare to accept them. This is done by strengthening the capacity of these young people to defend their own rights. To this end, the following activities are being implemented: training in forum theatre, scene creation and presentation to communities; artistic training in music, dance and painting; awareness-raising events for parents and communities; parent-youth exchange meetings; and workshops for parents to reinforce a positive parenting approach.


Testimony of an artist from the show Resilience - News from Omoana - January 2024

I’m a 27-year-old HIV-positive person, a highly motivated leader and an active defender of sexual and reproductive rights (SRR), particularly for people living with HIV. I am a former beneficiary of the “Omoana House” project. Now, at St. Francis Health Care Services (hereafter: St. Francis), an Omoana partner, I hold the position of Youth Coordinator. This position allows me to strategically influence the DSR/HIV programmes for young people in the country. I am also director of the Jinja Network of young people living with HIV/AIDs (JNYPA), a network that promotes meaningful participation of young people living with HIV/AIDs and a stigma-free environment in the Busoga sub-region. Finally, I founded Batabaazi Culture Troop, a community-based cultural information and advocacy organisation on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, using Afro-centric and artistic approaches (music, dance and drama).

I lost all the important people in my life: my father when I was two weeks old, my mother when I was 14, then my grandmother and my uncle in a short space of time. I nearly dropped out of school, I stopped taking my antiretrovirals (treatment for HIV). My life went downhill, with no hope and no one to talk to for advice. I was depressed, but thanks to Omoana House, which is part of the St. Francis partner health care services, I was cared for, rehabilitated and brought back to school. I was able to get a diploma in accountancy and I can’t wait to go further. Today, I’ve created my own family. I have two beautiful children, a daughter and a son.

As a result, the Resilience show – which was due to be performed in Switzerland in November 2023, but had to be cancelled due to visa refusal – was a great way to showcase the kind of resilience I’ve shown along the way. I was, however, happy to be able to share this show in schools in Uganda, to bear witness to my journey and inspire other young people. I would like to thank St. Francis and Omoana for their continued support of young people living with and affected by HIV.

Nyanzi Huzairu,
Resilience performer and former Omoana House beneficiary

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The start of a new decade - News from Omoana - January 2024

After celebrating its 20th anniversary, 2024 marks the start of a new decade for Omoana. As at the beginning of each year, it’s time to take stock of the past year, but also to look forward to the year to come.

On a personal note, I joined the organisation nearly 2 years ago and what made me want to apply has only been confirmed: Omoana is based on strong values and puts people at the centre of its projects. This last year has enabled us to consolidate our team. With the Director and the Accounting and Administration Manager, we now form a functional and efficient trio, supported by a Committee that has confidence in us. We’re learning from each other, and the spirit of goodwill is alive and well. I can say without shame that I am happy and proud to be in my position as coordinator, in a job that is meaningful and makes sense.

In terms of projects, I’ve already been lucky enough to go to Uganda 3 times, to meet our various partners and beneficiaries. As a result, strong relationships have been forged, guaranteeing fluid communication, real identification of needs and constant co-creation of solutions. Each time we travel, it’s so rewarding to discover the teams’ new ideas, the energy they put into their activities and their unwavering determination to have a positive impact!

As Omoana matures, it stabilises but also grows. Refocusing on specific areas of activity, expanding into Iraq, supporting new projects for children affected by violence – these were the aims for 2022. In 2023, this has been achieved, thanks in particular to the renewed confidence of our backers and donors. The work is intensifying and, as with every new project, this comes with risks that we have identified and measured.

In 2024, we’ll be focusing on increased fundraising and closer relations with our donors. There’s no shortage of ideas, and we’re already planning a number of events, the details of which we’ll reveal in due course.

So what can we wish for Omoana in this new year, and even decade? Probably a successful expansion, continued bonds of trust between all those involved and activities that continue to serve our mission. For our part, in any case, it’s with enthusiasm and motivation intact that we embark on 2024. I wish us, and all of you, the best of years!

Chloé Collier
Program coordinator

Uganda faces the Covid-19 pandemic

Between April and July this year, Uganda experienced a rising rate of Covid-19 infections. This put a strain on the country’s health system, as evidenced by the number of deaths and hospitalisations linked to Covid-19. At the beginning of June, a national lockdown was declared for a period of six weeks. This measure enabled the country to control the rate of infection among the population and to provide healthcare for the most seriously ill.

Today, the country is opening up again. The infection rate has fallen from 21% to 8%, the number of deaths is down and the population is more respectful of preventive measures. The lifting of confinement at the end of July has enabled the transport sector and certain commercial sectors to start operating again. However, other sectors remain closed, including educational establishments, social and religious community gatherings and the entertainment and leisure sector.

Vaccination of the population is underway, with priority given to essential workers and people suffering from chronic illnesses. The government’s objective is to vaccinate 50% of the Ugandan population to enable the country to control the infection rate. However, to date only 1.2% of the population has been vaccinated. Funds to help victims of the pandemic have been paid out to the most vulnerable people. 500,000 of them have received UGX 100,000 (USD 29) for one month. The government is also supporting research into national treatments for Covid-19. Clinical trials of Ugandan plant-based treatments (COVIDEX and COVICYLE) appear to be showing good results.

Impact of the pandemic on projects

The prolonged and repeated closure of schools has exposed children to problems such as child labour, teenage marriage, dropping out of school and violence, which seem to affect girls more than boys.

In this context, Omoana has encouraged its beneficiaries to adapt to virtual learning platforms provided by schools or the government, such as radio-based study programmes for primary school pupils and distance learning models for secondary and tertiary school pupils.

Our education project partners, St Moses and Handle Uganda, provided additional monitoring of students and tutors to avoid failures that could affect the continuation of schooling when the schools reopen.

The activities of Omoana House also had to be adjusted. Additional security measures were put in place to restrict access by outsiders to the rehabilitation centre in order to protect children at high risk of vulnerability to the virus (particularly HIV-positive children). Additional nutritional supplements were offered to the children to boost their immunity.

During this period, the health of the children reintegrated into their communities was closely monitored and antiretroviral treatment was provided to them at home by the Village Health Teams (VHTs). Peer educators also adapted by approaching beneficiaries directly on social networks (Facebook and Twitter), conducting targeted awareness campaigns and offering individual support.

The mental health project’s operations were mainly affected by restrictions on the number of passengers per vehicle and inter-regional transport. Activities such as community awareness-raising were interrupted due to the ban on gatherings.

Many beneficiaries also face mental health problems due to depression, stress and the stigma attached to people affected by Covid-19. There is a great deal of uncertainty about the country’s health and economic future.

Immaculate Achan
Country coordinator