The Women of Uganda who initiated the Unite, Speak Out Campaign are commemorating the 2012 International Day of the African Child in Kitgum District in northern Uganda. The Commemoration of the Day is coinciding with the climax of the 6 days journey of the Kitgum Karavan organized to bring hope and humanitarian assistance to the children and families affected by the Nodding Syndrome in four districts in Northern Uganda.
The Karavan team arrives in Kitgum after traversing the districts of Gulu, Lamwo and Pader where they interacted with families with children affected by the Nodding Syndrome. When the International Day of the African Child was first commemorated on June 16th 1991 it was initiated by the Organization of African Unity then, in recognition and honor of children and adults who participated in the Soweto Uprising on the 16th of June 1976. On that day thousands of children and adults were killed and many injured as they marched in a procession to demonstrate and speak out against the poor education system. The commemoration of the 16th of June every year continues to raise awareness about the plight of many African Children and the continuing need to improve the quality of their lives so that they realize their full potential.
It is on this premise that the Women of Uganda decided to commemorate the Day of the African Child this year by uniting in purpose and action to contribute to the efforts aiming to alleviate the desperate situation and suffering of children affected by the Nodding Syndrome in Northern Uganda. We call upon the President of Uganda, members of Cabinet, members of Parliament and all responsible public servants to do everything in their power and in line with international, regional and national commitments and obligations that Uganda has made on behalf of its citizens to address the poor standards in the health care system in Uganda that are making it difficult to establish the cause of the Nodding Syndrome. So far more than 3,500 children in northern Uganda have been affected by the Nodding Syndrome. The Women urge all those concerned to leave no stone unturned to get to the root cause of this condition and keep the public informed on progress made. This strange disease is placing a very heavy burden on the national budget as well as the health care system.
The Kitgum Karavan Team members have noted that several children receiving the palliative treatment for the condition through the established Nodding disease centres and the outreach efforts have improved in terms of their health. However, with the permanent effects of the condition on the mental and physical health of the children government has to ensure that the special educational needs of these children are catered for in the short and medium term planning and budgeting processes. The women nursing the children have proposed that government should endeavour to have a designated classroom block in selected schools already established in their communities where special education programs for the children can be provided. Specialized teachers should be posted to provide the appropriate education to the children.
The Women of Uganda also note the urgent need for government to use the vast public land in the area to establish large scale farms in partnership with Ugandan investors and farmers’ groups. Such initiatives will create jobs for the youth in the area that are not fully occupied in gainful employment or work. This is extremely urgent as a strategy to address the food shortage crisis in the region. The Kitgum Karavan Team has so far distributed at least 50 packs in each of the districts of Gulu, Kitgum and Lamwo and will complete the journey of the Karavan with distribution of humanitarian packs to children and families in Kitgum district on the Day of the African Child. We thank all Ugandans from all walks of life who have supported this initiative with funds we have used to purchase the food items, fuel, vehicles that carried the items from Kampala and the many food stuffs, cloths and beddings. Together we have put a smile on the faces of many children, women, men, health workers, district leaders and fellow Ugandans. Celebrate the Day of the African Child with a difference.
By Norah Matovu Winyi
Member of the Uganda Women Lawyers (FIDA – U)
Director- Peace, Justice and Governance, IRCU