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Our Work

Psycho-social support

 

Children in northern Uganda, unlike those in other parts of the country, have been profoundly affected by the ongoing impact of the LRA insurgency in the region. The LRA insurgency forced many people to flee their homes and seek refuge in towns due to the constant fear of violence and loss of life. This resulted not only in the loss of their homes and heritage but also in the breakdown of families.

Compounding the situation, there are children who were born in captivity or in IDP camps and grew up without proper parental care, experiencing a childhood far from what is considered normal. As they became adults, some of these individuals became parents themselves, yet their children face the same challenges of not knowing their true homes, parents, relatives, or lineage. Such a reality makes life incredibly difficult and devoid of a sense of belonging.

Adding to the hardships, there is a pervasive issue of alcohol and substance abuse synonymous with street life, further exacerbating the challenges faced by these vulnerable children and youth. However, we are committed to working with these children and youth, providing support and guidance to help them overcome trauma, heal from their past, and rebuild their lives.

Life skills Empowerment

 

Amid the harsh realities of poverty and hopelessness, children and youth living and working on the streets often find themselves resorting to criminal activities as a desperate means of survival. Hashtag Gulu intervenes by providing targeted life and employable skills training in various fields, including carpentry and joinery, hairdressing, tailoring and garment cutting, bricklaying and concrete practice, and agriculture. Additionally, we offer valuable mentorship to prepare them for reintegrating into the community and achieving an improved livelihood.

Through our programs, we establish essential linkages to available opportunities, such as apprenticeships and eventual employment. We also encourage cooperation and collaboration by facilitating their participation in cooperatives, which can lead to collective gain and support.

Re-integration

 

Many children find themselves living on the streets due to a complex interplay of pull and push factors, including poverty, war, lack of care at home, parental loss, domestic violence, physical and mental abuse, economic instability, trafficking, and erosion of traditional values, among others. Once they end up on the streets, they face immense hardships, often being seen as a nuisance and, in some cases, resorting to criminal activities out of sheer desperation.

Our dedicated team seeks out these vulnerable children, inviting them to a safe space where we work tirelessly to earn their trust. We provide them with valuable guidance, offering alternative perspectives on life, instilling good morals, and emphasizing the importance of hard work to achieve a dignified livelihood. Enrolling them in our life-skills program, we equip them with essential skills for self-reliance.

Upon completing the program, we facilitate a thoughtful reintegration process, aiming to reunite them with their families or reintegrate them into the community as productive citizens. Our commitment to transforming the lives of these young individuals and supporting their journey back home remains a central focus. In pursuit of this goal, we collaborate with families and willing community members, empowering them with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively support these children and youths.

Advocacy for Changed Systems and Mindsets

 

In our community, children who live and work on the streets are often perceived as nuisances and even blamed as perpetrators of violence. The derogatory term “Aguu,” commonly used to describe street-connected individuals and other wrongdoers in Gulu, carries a heavy burden of stigma, akin to passing a death sentence or long-term social judgment.

However, our organization has a proven track record of advocacy and speaking up where it matters. We actively engage with schools and communities, seeking opportunities to communicate and interact with people, including families. Through radio and online campaigns, we strive to transform mindsets, urging individuals to embrace their responsibilities as responsible citizens and challenge the negative stereotypes associated with vulnerable children and youth in street situations.

During the peak of the Covid-19 lockdown, our efforts led to the establishment of temporary shelters for street children and youth, with one such shelter being run by Hashtag Gulu Initiative. We have observed a positive shift in the attitude of community members and leaders, as they now critically examine the root causes that drive young people to life on the streets. There is an increasing willingness to ask tough questions, explore viable solutions, and address the underlying issues affecting these individuals.

Art and Therapy

 

The art initiatives at Hashtag Gulu Initiative have proven to be incredibly powerful in promoting healing, coping with stress, and supporting the well-being of young people living in street situations and juvenile detention centers. Additionally, art plays a significant role in facilitating reconciliation and reintegration processes within communities.

Art possesses a unique ability to touch people’s hearts, bringing them together, fostering open dialogue, and inspiring dance and painting. Both the onlookers and performers benefit from the emotional and psychological support that art provides. In Gulu and at the Remand Home, where our projects are based, art serves as a form of therapy, offering a platform for self-expression and storytelling, which are crucial aspects of healing and processing past traumas. Moreover, art empowers the voiceless, amplifying their stories and giving them hope for a better future.

By engaging in artistic performances, individuals gain a sense of visibility and pride in their achievements, leading to increased confidence and recognition. As a result, art becomes a potent tool for rehabilitation, reintegration, and healing for both street-connected youth and the broader communities.

Through our art programs, we instill hope and provide a positive alternative to life. These activities allow us to connect with our beneficiaries on a deeper level, identifying hidden talents and nurturing them to enable these young individuals to earn a livelihood from their artistic pursuits.

Health

 

Young people living in street situations face significant physical and mental health challenges. A survey conducted by Hashtag Gulu Initiative with 50 street-connected children and youths (41 boys and 9 girls) revealed that only 32% of males and 56% of females interviewed reported feeling healthy.

One of the primary obstacles they encounter is the difficulty in accessing proper healthcare due to severe stigmatization by healthcare providers. Consequently, they often resort to self-medication with whatever they can find, leading to more harm than good. Studies on street-connected children and youths (SCCY) have shown that various factors, such as violence, malnutrition, infectious diseases, risky sexual behaviors, substance abuse, and stigmatization, contribute to poorer health outcomes among this vulnerable population.

These factors not only jeopardize their chances of reintegrating into their community or family but also put them at risk of unwanted pregnancies, long-term health complications, and, in the worst cases, premature death. The study also revealed that nearly all homeless young individuals have experienced violence either at home or on the streets, leading to psychological trauma that worsens if left untreated, often driving them toward negative coping mechanisms like alcohol and substance abuse.

SCCY often lack knowledge about where to seek proper healthcare services and have limited health-related knowledge in general. Their lack of trust in others further hinders their willingness and ability to seek physical and mental treatment when needed. While vocational training programs are important for equipping SCCY with skills to find jobs and generate income, addressing their physical and mental health issues is essential and necessary.

In collaboration with St. Phillips Health Center, vivo international, and Elephante Commons, Hashtag Gulu Initiative is implementing the “Improving the Physical, Mental Well-being, and Sexual and Reproductive Health of Street-Connected Children and Youths in Gulu” project. The primary goal of this initiative is to enhance the right to health of street-connected children and youths by increasing their access to and utilization of physical and mental health care services.

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