First Day in Uganda!

By Rebecca Ginsburg, EJP Director
September 23, 2013


Kampala was built on seven green hills that cluster just north of the shores of Lake Victoria. Today I and four other international visitors drove up and down several of those hills as we made our way to appointments throughout the city. Our mission: to learn more about Wells of Hope and some of its strategic partners. Wells of Hope is a non-profit organization (NGO) that conducts outreach to the families of incarcerated and men and women. Among other accomplishments, it offers free residential education to children of incarcerated parents here in Uganda, East Africa and organizes trips to take them 3 times a year to visit their parents in prison.

It’s an impressive organization that I learned about when I met its executive director, Francis Ssuubi, at a conference in Houston, TX earlier this year. He moved me with his accounts of family reunions behind bars. Here we are at the Wells of Hope offices, overlooking the city:

Wells of Hope Office, Kampala - 01

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Tomorrow we’ll visit 2 prisons and speak to parents there about what Wells of Hope’s work means to them. Today’s agenda was to learn aboutx the institutional contexts in which Wells of Hope operates. To that end, we met the superintendent of prisons for Uganda, a woman named Naatukunda Aliyo, and the secretary council of the country’s National Council for Children. I’ve been impressed with how successful Francis Ssuubi and his wife and partner, Ellen Ssuubi, have been in cultivating strong working relationships with partner organizations.

Finally, our group drove to the Uganda Child Rights NGO Network, an umbrella organization that serves 106 groups that work on children and youth issues. I asked what were the major concerns of its members and was blown away by the response:

Trafficking of children into slavery or prostitution, HIV AIDS, effects of participating in or being victims of armed conflicts, and being sold overseas through international adoptions…. Whoa! Whatever happened to drug abuse or dropping out of high school? They don’t even make the list of problems that are of top concern to groups in Uganda. Others that have their attention: sexual abuse and exploitation, disability issues, and the labor abuses of extractive industries (e.g. tobacco. Read story here).

IMG_9722 IMG_9708 IMG_9701 Meeting with Uganda Children's Rights NGO Network - 26

Above, Sarah Roberts from Families Outside, Scotland; Ellen and Francis Ssuubi, with Ben Raikes from the University of Huddersfield in the background. The woman below Sarah is Stella Ayo, executive director of Uganda Child Rights NGO Network, and Jackie (unsure of surname) one of Wells of Hope’s incredibly dedicated staff members.

Uganda’s non-profit sector has its work cut out for it. Fortunately, the people I met today gave me confidence in the country’s future; they were sharp, serious, and committed. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve had an unpleasant moment since I arrived. Everyone I’ve encountered has been friendly and helpful.

According to Wells of Hope, there are about 150,000 children in Uganda with one or more parents in prison. About 420 of those children have parents on death row.

There are over one and a half million children with incarcerated parents in the United States.  As in Uganda, they’re frequently stigmatized by their peers, their communities, and even their family. In addition, they’re more likely to drop out of school, suffer financial hardship, and have difficulties forming healthy relationships. There are proven ways of mitigating these impacts, including improving prison visiting conditions and offering parenting classes inside prison. The best solution, of course, is to reduce the number of people incarcerated and the lengths of the sentences that they serve.

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