PS Emergency admissions and residential girls like Brenda cost us $50 a month to care for. Please donate today to help us care for the eight teen moms and their babies who are in residence! 100% of your donation goes to the program. Mwebele nnyo!
You probably thought, “Well duh…” to that, because obviously it wouldn’t be called a slum if it was somewhere lovely.
But seriously. Beyond the obvious (filth, muck, abuse, drugs and moonshine, starvation, illness… SMELLS), everyone there operates in survival mode 100% of the time.
In survival mode, you’re not creative. Your body is flooded with cortisol and adrenaline. Your immune system is terrible. Your brain is a weird combination of hyper-alertness and fuzzy thinking.
This is how our girls live all the time when they’re not at the Touch the Slum compound. In the community, they can turn to little baggies of waraji (moonshine made in 50 gallon drums that makes turpentine seem like fine wine) or marijuana to try to ease the stress. If they escape that, they turn to young men who promise some stability but just leave unclaimed babies after they disappear.
One of our missions at Touch the Slum is to create an atmosphere where the girls can not only learn but also RELAX. Feel safe. Laugh. Dance. And create.
In March, my mom, Susan, introduced the girls in the Literacy class to drawing and painting. They loved it! Ever since, we’ve made it a regular part of the curriculum and it’s one of their favorite things.
When the team goes in January, we will have my mom again, who will continue to teach drawing and painting to the girls and staff. Connie is a glass and pottery artist so she’s going to teach those skills. And I’ll be bringing creative writing to the girls with some fun activities to help them have fun with their newly learned English words.
Much of life involves creating: outfits, artwork, stories, hairstyles. Once they can envision the small stuff, they can see the project that will be their masterpiece:
Thanks to you, these girls are learning to think creatively and expand their dreams. That’s an amazing gift and we can’t thank you enough.
PS Are you following us on Instagram yet? We’ve had some great reels there, and the media team is doing a great job with our content. Click the icon below or here to check it out!
When Joyce came from the village to the Namuwongo slum last year to live with her auntie, she had never been to school. While her aunt is a tailor herself, she was unable to take the time to teach her niece the skills she’d need to earn a living.
But she did make time to bring her to Touch the Slum and enroll her into the Literacy Program, and that has made all the difference!
TODAY IS GIVING TUESDAY — please forward this to friends and family and ask them to help support Touch the Slum today! 100% of donations go to the program.
PS Every day we have 75 students in Skills for Life, a FREE literacy and vocational program for vulnerable teen girls in Uganda’s largest slum. It only costs $35 per girl per month to learn, have a meal, receive medical care, and have a safe place to spend their time. Can you donate today so girls like Joyce can secure their future? Mwebele nnyo!
According to the UN, 8000 people a day are currently fleeing the violence in the DR of the Congo — a total of 6.3 million people have been displaced so far. Many end up in Uganda, who has a policy of accepting all refugees.
Unfortunately, accepting them doesn’t mean helping them, so many end up in areas like the Namuwongo slum.
Neema’s family — mom with six children — live in a ramshackle hut in a refugee heavy area there. But Neema has an advantage over most of the refugees who are her neighbors:she’s enrolled at Touch the Slum.
When she joined the Literacy Program in June, Neema only spoke French and Swahili. Now she can speak English and is teaching her siblings.
Have you ever been up in the middle of the night, finding yourself watching infomercials (am I showing my age here?!), ready to dial in for some FREE STUFF?
If you did, you likely discovered that the FREE STUFF cost you money to ship, or required a subscription, or some other back-door way of getting your money.
Uganda’s school “system” is like this.
First, there is no system. Not locally, regionally, or nationally. There are a very few “government schools” but not in the sense we in America and the West understand them. They aren’t open to everyone, and they aren’t free.
Second, “school” is a bit generous! They use a very antiquated semi-British colonial system requiring rote learning and endless repetitions of facts. Most are hugely underfunded, teacher pay is terrible, and the pandemic lockdowns where schools were closed for almost 2 years shifted many good teachers into other jobs.
Third, even at a government school, it’s not “free.” Students are required to bring many of the things we would consider the school’s responsibility, like toilet paper and brooms. They are required to wear uniforms including shoes, which many Ugandans don’t have. They have to bring paper and pencils and pay for testing. Even in a free school! If it’s a fee-based school, even if it’s very inexpensive, they have to pay at the beginning of each term.
This is why only about 60% of Ugandan children go to primary school on any regular basis, and less than half of those go on to Secondary. This is doubly true for girls, who many families refuse to spend money on.
This is why a program like Touch the Slum is so vital to the vulnerable teen girls in the slum. We actually ARE free. 100%, never-any-cost FREE.
We provide Literacy, Skills, food, medical care, daycare, sanitary pads, diapers, clothes and shoes, mosquito nets, water bottles, and, to those especially vulnerable, assistance to the family. AT NO COST.
I don’t know about you, but to me…. that’s what FREE means!
How do we do it?
YOU! You and others donate so our girls can create a self-sustaining life. It’s pretty amazing — and we can’t thank you enough for the impact you are making every single day.
PS We’re halfway there on our reviews at GreatNonprofits – can you take a couple of minutes to leave one today??
What do you think of when you hear the word “entrepreneur?”
For most of us, it’s tech startups and Elon Musk and a new coffee food truck in your town. Things that have a pretty hefty start up cost, and are reserved for the rarified few who are brave enough to enter “nothing ventured, nothing gained” territory.
According to the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs, Uganda is the 2nd most entrepreneurial country for women in the world. And I’m sure you’ve gathered from these newsletters that these women aren’t getting multi-million dollar venture capital investments and renting entire floors of office space in Austin and Raleigh.
But the extremely high unemployment (over 60% when you only count “jobs” with the government or businesses) and very low number of available paid jobs (many do multi-year free internships before ever getting paid!) means that women (and girls) are forced by default to become self-employed entrepreneurs.
Today, I sent the funds for two such young ladies in our program.
Harriet is a teen mom who has been with us for a year and a half. Her mother has decided to move back to their village, and she needs Harriet to go with them because Harriet is the only one with any skill to make money. In short, 16 year old Harriet is about to be the sole breadwinner for her family of 6.
Husinah, also 16, was in our first Literacy class, where she learned incredibly fast. She moved on to Basic and then Advanced Tailoring, where she was a shining star. She graduated when my mom and I were there in April and, as always, her smile was 1000 watts. Her single mother has been sick and unable to make any money for some time, and the family has really struggled.
Harriet is getting an exit package with a manual sewing machine, the supplies she needs to start a small tailoring business in the village, and money for transportation. We are also working with her to make sure she always has a working phone — we want to make sure that if she gets sick, she has a way to contact us. (We are all still grieving Kalunji’s death…)
Husinah is getting a semi-industrial electric machine which she will use at our compound. Our former in-house tailor, Vivian, has gotten a job elsewhere, so Husinah will take her place to fill special orders for items such as aprons and bags that come in. She will receive a small salary for that, and also be able to take special orders of her own for income. Additionally, being at the compound every day means regular food and a safety net for her.
Culture change is slow and requires flexibility and out of the box thinking. It’s very easy to look out at the sea of humanity walking around in bright gomesi dresses and American knockoff shirts and feel that it’s just too big of a job.
When I worked with Hospice Jinja at the very beginning, they had a motto:
Do what you can, where you can, for as long as you can.
We don’t have to do everything. We don’t have to solve Uganda’s problems (thank goodness!). We don’t have to shift from our go-deep philosophy. We just have to do what we can, where we are, for as long as we can.
And we CAN do that because of YOU!
PS Harriet’s project still has $25 left to be fully funded, although we are getting the items today. Her mom wants to leave for the village this weekend, so we went ahead and funded it and trust the remaining balance will come in soon. If you want to help, just click the button!
14-year-old Rachelle, on the left, lives with her aunt and five other children in a bad part of the Namuwongo slum. (Yes, even in the slum there are bad parts!)
Earlier this month, Rachelle started in our Literacy program, the first time she has ever attended any kind of school. As you can see, she is now beginning to read simple books out loud! Hesitantly, with a little embarrassment, but still — she’s READING.OUT.LOUD. in less than a month!
When we were planning our Literacy program, we knew that most of the girls who came through would have never attended school before, and even those that had would have had only a few terms under their belts. Teen girls are not known for their ability (or desire!) to sit still and be serious — as my mom, Susan, said on our trip a few months ago, “They are JUST like giggling teenage girls everywhere!”
But they are consumed with a desire to learn, to speak English, to read and write and know how to use money (and not be cheated). To be MORE.
Without Touch the Slum, the girls in our program will always only be less-than. They are less than the boys in their family, who get to go to school if there’s the money for it. They are less than the younger children, who get food first because the teens should be able to “go out and get money” (meaning from sex work) if they need incidentals like food and sanitary pads.
They know they are at the bottom of the social ladder — and that, without basic literacy and a skill, that ladder has no rungs.
But YOU believe in them, and so they believe in themselves!
And that’s enough.
PS Our monthly sanitary pad project for June is 87% funded – we just need $44 to get sanitary pads to 250 girls. If you want to help, click the button!
PSS The well contractors have still not shown up. (Don’t worry, we haven’t paid them anything except for the surveyor who came twice.) Apparently, they’ve been trying to line up multiple jobs in the region to do back-to-back, but didn’t tell Gideon that until Friday. Our Touch the Slum team took the overnight bus back to Kampala Sunday night, and will return once the trucks are ON SITE! This is Africa…
Let me apologize for forgetting to write this blog yesterday… When you work both from home and 7 days a week, sometimes keeping track of the days is a problem!
But lots is going on as we get ready to start up Term 2 next week. Here’s a recap:
The Literacy girls did not have a break, and they’ve been working and playing hard with fun activities, games, and puzzles that Teachers Fortunate and Moreen have given them. Some of the girls are moving on to Skills for Life next term, but over half are staying in Literacy.
Literacy will expand from 20 to 30 girls next term, thanks to our friends in the Expat Money community.
We’ve expanded and updated the clinic during this time between terms, and we’re ready for the new term. We do have a project up to help with this expense, so just click here if you’d like to help!
We’ve had a TIA experience on the clinic re-registration. (“This Is Africa” – said when people who work for the government get… creative with their job roles.) First we had 36 hours to find an autoclave, which we will NEVER need since we use pre-sterilized and packaged supplies and instruments and send difficult cases to the hospital. Second, he now wants to hold up the registration over not having a poster outside the door, which he never mentioned before. Ronald reports that he is (so far) remaining calm!
Sylvia is mostly back to her normal self after the loss of baby Alpha 6 weeks ago. Obviously, grief is like a wave, and nights are hardest, but she’s fully back to activities and I get video of her laughing and joining in, which is good to see. Thank you for helping us give them a proper ceremony and burial.
The crops at the farm are growing like gangbusters – check out the reel I posted on Instagram last week to see the beans and maize in particular. We are so thankful for our little farm!
The new girls will come next week for orientation in Skills for Life – we’ll have an update on the new “class” next Wednesday! (And yes, I’ll remember! haha!)
Thank you for all your support and encouragement!
PS Bridget is joining the Literacy class next week. Her project for supplies is over 60% funded and we just need $50 to close it out. Can you help? See her story and donate by clicking the button!
Our term break is going amazingly well, and our team has been so creative in the activities the Literacy girls (who are not officially on break) are doing. So far they’ve engaged in debates (Which is better, father or mother?), played all kinds of team games and relays, done some more painting, and some creative problem solving + teamwork using random items.
The teachers have had time to rework their lesson plans for the longer upcoming term, and they’ve gotten lessons on the computers from our Digital instructors Justin and Gloria. Since almost no one has a computer, this is a huge benefit to our teachers and they’re making the most of their time in the computer lab.
This week, thanks to a generous donor, we bought 70 mosquito nets! We distributed over 50 in the community in one day — yes, it was a long day! — and have the rest in the office to distribute as there is need. This is an amazing blessing, since most families in the Namuwongo slum can’t afford nets and so are at high likelihood for malaria.
We’re so thankful for this donor and for all of you who donate your hard earned money to our programs. You make an impact every day, and we couldn’t do it without you!
PS We have crossed $93,000 in donations on DonorSee — THANK YOU! The project for baby Alpha’s final expenses still needs $145 to fully fund. Since we had to pay for those costs out of our general budget, we’d really appreciate your support to complete that project. Any amount helps and 100% (as always!) goes to the project. Just click!
I made a quick trip down to Fort Myers and Naples, just Monday to today, so I could speak about Ten Eighteen’s work in Namuwongo to the Fort Myers Rotary Club. It was so fun – I really appreciate the invite from one of our regular donors, Mark!
Today the literacy girls learned to make budgets and shopping lists. It wasn’t as fun as painting pineapples and funky chickens, but they really enjoyed it. We’re really trying to engage the literacy girls with fun projects and new things to learn over these off-weeks of the term break, and they are absolutely soaking up everything thrown at them.
Everyone is getting back to normal life after the tragic death of baby Alpha. We really appreciate all of the emails and comments from you guys — it’s really given a lot of comfort to Sylvia and the team.
So what’s up these days?
We are continuing the fundraising for the well at Wells of Hope. We still need about $500 so that the project is visible on the wider DonorSee platform. Since 100% of donations go to the project, ANY amount is helpful!
Gideon, the Director of Hopeland and Wells of Hope Primary Schools, became a father for the second time last week. His new daughter, Shalom, is doing great!
We are going to teach some of the hairdressing girls how to do men’s hair during the term break. We get asked by salons if we have anyone who can do both men and women, so we are going to try it out with a handful and see how it goes. Any time we can expand and broaden our skill portfolio, I’m happy!
I have 3 bags made by Jenifer that I will be selling – I’ve already sold one! If you’re interested, I can send you photos this week. All the money will go directly to her, and will make a big impact for her little family.
Thank you for all your support!
PS Donations have been very slow this month, so if you’ve been thinking about giving and haven’t yet, it would be a great time!