It is not common to find young people in Uganda whose passion is in rescuing children from the cruel realities of streets.
And yet this is what Hajara Namuyanja has dedicated her youthful years to.
At just 27 years old, Namayanja is helping to support and rehabilitate close to two dozen children she has rescued from streets to try to transform them into useful Ugandans through her children care home named Mercy Alive.
This writer teamed up with other human rights activists to find out how she started and how she has won the praise of many in her community.
As we approached her home located in Kyebando Nsooba, a Kampala suburb overlooking Mulago National Referral hospital, chants and noise of children screaming Aunt Hajara gret us.
Once inside the gate of the foster home, the picture was even more humbling as some 23 children of all ages mobbed their beloved guardian.
As Namuyanja informed us, she’s been picking children from the streets and slums of Kampala since 2017.
She says she registered her charity Mercy Alive as a non-governmental Organization that would give care to disadvantaged children. She adds that she has also received permission from the relevant Ministry of Gender and Social Development, which handles the children docket.
When the children reach Mercy Alive, Namuyanja says, they are enrolled into different skills and life development activities such as sports, counseling, craft making, feeding, spiritual life, medical and education, something which she believes is the best tool for all children to be equipped. Some of the children are fortunate to get sponsors who foot their school fees.
But for those who stay behind, is hard to tell that these children are former street children bearing the huge transformation they wear compared to the life one would imagine on the streets.
Namuyanja is a compassionate young woman with an undying passion for children, especially those who are vulnerable.
Namuyanja says she was inspired to take the path of charity by her background which she says was shaped by charity and compassion by her relatives and other people of good will.
“I was raised by my late grandmother who unreservedly took very good care of me and my brother following the death of our parents,” recalls Namuyanja.
Her grandmother had quite a number of children under her care even those she did not have blood ties with, something that fascinated Namuyanja.
“On witnessing how she sacrificed, worked hard to ensure that we attained an education and always encouraged us to lend a helping hand to those in need, I took it as a debt to repay when I grew up. I was inspired by my late grandmother and Friend Deborah to start Mercy Alive Africa Foundation. They are the very essence of the woman I am and hope to become,” she shares.
Through Mercy Alive, Namuyanja rehabilitates 24 former street children under her care.
Namuyanja operates in Kampala slums such as Kivulu and Kisenyi mainly since majority of the street children are always from there.
“I am able to run this through donations from friends and well-wishers. I devote my time to the children and engage them through religious teachings.”
It is a never ending process that demands a lot of patience, trust and hard work through the day and night to reach out to the needy children to mentor them through counselling and skills development.
Namuyanja adds that while growing up, she nursed dreams of being an academic, a social worker and a humanitarian provider .
She found herself pulled towards humanitarian works especially with the influence of her friends who have continuously helped and cared for many people.
“I am grateful to God that I am living some of my dreams right now like getting to see the children with basic needs that they did not have before including seeing them graduate from one education level to another, resettlement, rehabilitating, temporary shelter among others,” she explains.
She adds; “Debbie my best friend inspired me and ensured that I have had an education. Ruth and Stacy (other friends) also steered me right so that as I become a woman of my own. They instilled in me the value of serving humanity.”
At her age one would expect her to live a luxurious life and perhaps focus on growing her career.
As her age mates are looking out for happening places or looking for the weekend, she spends her time at home trying to make sure all the children have been fed and are healthy.
The Covid-19 pandemic did not also leave her the same as her outreach programs in the different slums around Kampala were halted.
“Another terrible issue was that the responsibility had to increase whether we wanted it or not as we welcomed more children to the center because they had nowhere to go and needed a place to seek refuge,” she shares.
She adds that the growing numbers of street children in Kampala is due to poverty, violence as well as child neglect.
According to Namuyanja, these and other factors render the children vulnerable and end up leaving their homes to flood the streets.
“I rehabilitate these street children in various ways like counseling, teaching, education, sports, games, music and reintroducing the children to godly ways of doing things,” she shares.
Namuyanja says one of the greatest challenges she has observed in her four years of humanitarian work is that the cost of food is one of the biggest overhead cost.
In order to lessen this burden therefor, Namuyanja says she wants to find land where she can cultivate some food as a fallback position when grant funding reduces of dries up.
Besides complementing food needs of Mercy Alive, Namuyanja wants the farm to be another training ground to teach the children some farming skills. She also wants to use the land to raise some money by selling excess food as well as act as a place for expansion of the institution.
Findings from the recent enumeration of street children by Retrak Uganda in collaboration with the Gender Ministry and Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) show that there are more than 2,600 children living on streets aged 7-17 years while 1,410 children aged 7-17 years are estimated to be working on streets.