Social Work

What Does Rain Do To a Mud and Stick House?

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Wycliff, above, is our newest social worker. He started with us as a volunteer and then intern while he was at Makere University. He is not from the slum, one of the few staff members who isn’t, so the fact that he wanted to come work with us when he graduated is huge. The slum isn’t an easy place – not an easy place to live, visit, or even find your way around, much less work day in and day out.

The house of one of our girls, where Wycliff visited yesterday, is made simply of mud and very thin sticks. The roof is rusty corrugated iron. You can see from the sides of the house that rain — you notice those dark clouds, right?! — and mud don’t really go together that well. It leaks, and eventually, sooner rather than later, the walls will begin to fall down.

This mama makes her living selling sugar cane. They buy it from a truck coming in from the countryside, haul the long stalks home, then use a machete to strip it and cut off lengths to sell. People buy and chew sugar cane when they don’t have much money because it’s cheap and curbs hunger pains. It’s not a very profitable business.

Over 30,000 people live in the Namuwongo slum, which is Uganda’s largest. An estimated 75-80% of them are children or teens.

Our Touch the Slum project is the only NGO in Namuwongo working with teen moms, the only one offering completely free education for teen girls, and the only one offering a free residential program, a free clinic, and free daycare. The only one.

We can’t serve all of the thousands of teen girls there, but we can serve the 75 who come to us every day with the promise, the hope, of CHANGE. Of a life that they can control. Of literacy and English and learning a skill that will last them a lifetime.

We can do that because of you.

Mwebele nnyo,

Jennings

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Bringing Joy Never Gets Old

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This picture may be our Photo of the Year for 2023 – Monica captured the unadulterated, absolute joy in this family when we surprised them with food, mattresses, household goods, and shoes.

14-year-old Rachelle, one of the students in our Literacy program, lives with her aunt and 7 cousins in a pretty bad part of the slum. (Yes, there are bad parts even in the slum!) While it’s nicer in dry season because they have a little bit of space, it floods in rainy season, and the house is mud-and-stick and not secure or made to last.

The family has virtually nothing to their name. (You can see some videos on Instagram – click the icon below.)

But thanks to a quickly-funded project on DonorSee, we were able to get them things they need – NEED, not just want – and able to surprise them after Rachelle got home from Touch the Slum.

This project was only $375 – to bring food, mattresses, household goods, and shoes for 9 people.

And to bring JOY.

Tears. Running to the team with open arms, shouting thanksgiving, children dancing and crying and laughing all at the same time.

This is what you all do. I know you can’t feel it like my team, or see or smell or experience it. (I so wish you could!) But this is the WHY that you share with us, the simple yet profound ways we can join together to change lives.

Mwebele nnyo,

Jennings

PS We have a large project up for another irrigation tank at the farm. With large projects, they have to be 10% funded to show to the wider DonorSee platform. We’re at 5% — the project total is only $1274 total, so small for a “large” project! Can you help? $65 will get us full exposure so we can get the tank in to help with this dry season.

Bring the water!

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Mosquito Nets and Smiles

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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!

Webele nyo!

Jennings

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!

FOR BABY ALPHA

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Hello from Florida – a Quick Update

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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!

Webele nyo,

Jennings

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!

GIVE NOW

DONORSEE PROJECTS

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Rescued Puppies, Rescued People

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The Friday we were in the west, we were supposed to go to Rwakobo Village and do a walking tour of the several surrounding miles. This village is the poorest I’ve ever seen in Uganda, and is where Wells of Hope Primary School is located.

The best laid plans do go awry, and it POURED down rain that morning. The unanimous decision was to cancel the time at the village and go on to the lodge to start our “safari weekend” early. Cold rain, terrible roads, and herds of cattle trying to keep their feet out of the mud by standing on any hills in the roads made the drive take twice as long.

Then we came to a herd that just would not move. They stared at us, those huge Ankole horns pointed our way, and then William saw why: there was a small puppy in the middle of the road!

The puppy was huddled up and crying and very young, its eyes barely open, and there was no way I was leaving it. I hopped out of the car in the rain and the cows let me pass. I picked up the puppy but heard more crying – and there were two more in the ditch, completely soaked and shivering. Soon all three were in the car and they quickly found the warmest spot! And the cows parted for us to pass.

Even in a culture where dogs aren’t “man’s best friend,” the staff at the lodge jumped into action, started making phone calls, and found the owner of the puppies. Everyone thanked us for rescuing them. And of course we did — no one could have left them there to die of exposure.

Every day at Touch the Slum we rescue girls who are dying of exposure – exposure to exploitation, to malnutrition, to neglect.

Thanks to you, we can offer them a warm place, safety, food, reconnection with lost family, training and education, and — most importantly — HOPE.

We can’t thank you enough! Mwebele nnyo!

Jennings

PS Our clinic restock project on DonorSee is 78% funded and we just need $85 to complete it! We’d love your help to make sure we have the medication and supplies Nurse Sherry needs to keep our population healthy. Click below!

Clinic Restock

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Ready, Set, Run!

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If you’re from the US, you almost certainly played the kids’ game Red Light Green Light when you were a child. (For those of you who didn’t, kids line up and the caller yells out “green light” for them to start running, and “red light” to immediately stop. If you keep going, you’re out. The first to the finish line wins!)

As one of our staff retreat team building exercises, we played the game with a twist – you had to link arms with your randomly chosen team mate.

The staff had, of course never heard of this game – not the least reason being that stop lights here get very loosely interpreted at the best of times! – so the first round meant 12 teams charging at me at full speed and totally ignoring (like most drivers here!) my high-volume “RED LIGHT!!!!”

Once round one was out of their systems, rounds two and three proved a lot more successful and hilarious. Accompanied by millions of tiny lake flies, the runners skidded, flailed, screeched to a halt, and ran each other over. Teachers Beatrice and Gloria sensibly just ambled behind, avoiding the chaos.

In short, it was a huge success!

The 6-hour retreat was a great chance to play games, learn skills – my mom taught on PTSS and how to help our girls’ mental health, and focus on our annual theme of Vision Passion Sacrifice.

What these great people do every day is hard. Rewarding, yes, but hard. Giving them tools to help, opening communication, and celebrating them is vital. As were the chicken and chips!

Today (Sunday as I write this) my mom and I are taking the day off. My mom is painting and I’m reading up on regenerative agriculture (and reading my latest No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novel). We’ve had a full and fun week, and it’s nice to relax before diving back in tomorrow.

Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram for all the latest — we’ve been busy busy, and that’s the best way to keep up! (Click the icon below!)

Blessings,

Jennings

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PS Our graduation is coming up on the 8th, and the girls got to do their photo shoots last week. Most of these girls have had minimal to no prior education which disqualified them from “traditional” vocational programs, but they got to get dressed up, wear makeup, and celebrate themselves. We’re so excited to be here on the big day! We have a project up to help with our biggest graduation to date – just click the box!

GRADUATION ROCKS!

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Bounced Around…

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In early April 2022 we had a referral of a teen girl who was four months pregnant and homeless. (We’ll call her Angela.) Unfortunately, we had no available beds to bring her into Touch the Slum, but we were able to refer her to another program called Wamukisa.

Angela lived at Wamukisa while she was pregnant, and gave birth at Amani, who offers free childbirth to low-risk teen girls.

Unfortunately, Wamukisa doesn’t keep girls once they’ve given birth, and Amani only keeps them for labor, delivery, and a short recovery period.

That left Angela homeless once again, and she’s spent the last 6 months bouncing around between friends and evictions.

Unfortunately, this is commonplace.

Angela is homeless now and came to the compound today. Fortunately, we have a bed this time and are arranging for an at least temporary stay as we work out if she has any family she can return to.

Girls like Angela face a huge amount of fear and uncertainty. They have not been to school and have little or no family (Uganda has a huge population of orphans and the youngest population in the world, with 65% under 18). This leaves them open to exploitation and abuse, disease, and potential death on the street.

While we don’t know yet if Angela will stay with us, we try to minimize the stress and anxiety of a life of homelessness for our girls. Our residents are with us an average of a year, and don’t move out until they have the skills necessary to earn an income they can live on. They have access to Touch the Slum forever – the clinic, the daycare, even dropping by for lunch.

They have a safe place to call home, and a safe community in which to thrive.

I’ll keep you posted on Angela’s story – you are the reason girls like Angela can have a safe place to come for help, whether during an emergency or for a year.

Webele nyo!

Jennings

PS You can help us help girls like Angela by becoming a monthly donor today! Just click the button – it’s quick and easy.

BECOME A MONTHLY DONOR

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Holistic Literacy Includes Resiliance

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In the best of circumstances, being a teenager can be tough. I remember playing Barry Manilow records (yes, really!) over and over just to cry. (Oh, Mandy…) When you live in the slum, have been abused or exploited, struggle to find food, and possibly have a baby already, it’s a minefield to navigate.

Each week, on Friday, we host Strong Minds, which is an all-students gathering that then breaks up into smaller groups. Our staff, like Damalie above, lead the girls in discussion and teach strategies for resilience and healing.

On Saturday, we have Turning Point, which is open to the community and not just our girls. This public gathering is open to all questions and sometimes lasts for hours as girls have discussions on topics they aren’t told about elsewhere.

Our social worker Sarah, house mother Mama Santa, and our teachers also regularly engage the girls one-on-one to help them with struggles. Santa, Betty, Derrick, and Ronald all help with money and financial issues and questions and help the girls learn to save for their future.

No questions are off the table. They only heal when they can talk and question.

Our goal is a sustainable future, and that doesn’t just mean that a girl can work her trade. It means she can raise confident children. She can resist the kind of exploitation that targets teen girls and women in the slum because she knows her value. She doesn’t engage in behaviors that harm her or her children because she has healed.

None of this is possible without trust, without diving deep, without a shared life of joy, tears, laughter, and friendship. It takes time. It takes commitment. It takes asking hard questions and listening to hard answers. It takes a vision of the future that is both felt and shared.

I’m immensely proud of our staff, both women and men, who are committed to changing the culture surrounding the treatment of girls and women. Change is slow, but it starts with a dedicated group of young people who want a better life for themselves and their community.

Thank you for joining us in this journey. We are very grateful for your support — you are making a difference every day.

Webele nyo!

Jennings

PS Teen mom Jackie’s project for hairdressing supplies is 80% funded – we just need $55 for it to be complete. We’d love your help today! Click below!

Jackie’s project!

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Welcome Two New Girls to the Dorm

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After the lull over the holidays, things have exploded into laughter, light, sounds, dancing, and music at Touch the Slum — and we couldn’t be happier! While everyone enjoyed their time off and it was much needed, having the girls back in the compound causing controlled chaos every day is magic.

Last week also brought us two new residents in the dorm. I wrote previously about 15-year-old Helen, above, who was sent from the village to work as a housemaid in Kampala. She wasn’t paid, fed, or allowed a phone, so it was several months before neighbors became aware and concerned enough to involve us and the authorities.

It turns out that the auntie sent her to Kampala to keep her from being married off by her guardian, and if she were to return to the village, this is what would happen to her. The auntie has agreed for her to stay with us and learn a skill, which will at least delay any marriage. Hopefully, it will instead allow her to stay in Namuwongo at a job or her own business.

Our second new resident is 16-year-old Evelyn, also an orphan, who came to Kampala and the Namuwongo slum from the North of Uganda at the urging of friends who thought they’d find a better life. (Spoiler alert – they didn’t…)

After not being able to find a job, the friends turned to sex work. Evelyn was being pressured into prostitution but says she didn’t go that far. (We usually find out they did but deny it out of shame — either way, she’s safe now.) One of our teachers, Linda, found her and brought her to the compound. Evelyn’s guardian in the village has agreed for her to stay with us and for Teacher Linda to be her temporary guardian while she is at Touch the Slum.

Both girls have settled in well and joined the Literacy Program. Neither speak much English and both are illiterate, so a couple of months in Literacy before the next term of Skills for Life starts the next term will stand them in good stead once they are in a vocational class.

We can rescue these girls because of you!

You all gave sacrificially at the end of the year which put is in a very strong position for 2023. Since 1018 is donor-funded, we can’t do it without you, and we are so grateful for your support!

Mwebele nnyo!

Jennings

PS One of the best things you can do to help us is to become a monthly donor! This allows us to budget well and plan for the future. You can do that on Donorbox or DonorSee – buttons below.

MONTHLY DONOR SIGNUP

SPONSOR THE RESIDENTIAL PROGRAM

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And They’re Back (at School)!

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While everyone needed and enjoyed their holiday break, school’s back and we couldn’t be happier! Laughing, dancing, sewing machines whirring, kids playing, huge pots of steaming posho… We love our jobs!

Of course, we exist because of the problems teen girls face.

Yesterday, concerned neighbors notified Ronald and the team of the plight of the 15-year-old girl in the photo above. (We’ll call her Rachel.)

Rachel is a true orphan (meaning both parents are dead) who is under the guardianship of an auntie. The auntie sent her from the village to work as a maid in a house, where she was supposed to be paid 10,000 shillings a MONTH. (That’s $2.69 at the exchange rate while I’m typing this.) However, she has never been paid anything. She was being abused. Many times she was denied food. And last night the woman she works for kicked her out.

For now, she’s safe with us in the dorm. Today we are notifying the LC (Local Community leader) and trying to find her auntie in the village. The LC may get the police involved, but — let’s be honest — it’s doubtful that the police will do anything.

Because teen girls are the lowest in the culture.

We have a second case, identified by one of our teachers, of a 17-year-old girl who is being forced into sex work by her guardian who lost his job. Teacher Linda is working with the authorities for now, but if we need to bring her into the program as an emergency admission, we will.

This is what we do thanks to YOU.

It’s very easy to look at the world and see so much need that we feel paralyzed and numb. There’s no way that we, by ourselves, can fix it, so we try not to look.

But together, we CAN make a difference, each and every day, for girls like Rachel and the others in our program. That starts the slow process of culture change, and small culture changes ripple out to create a better life for teen girls in the slum and beyond.

Thank you for your support and encouragement – you make it all possible!

Blessings,

Jennings

PS Thank you for your donations to the mosquito net project for Wells of Hope after our last newsletter! The project is 54% funded and we just need $220 to get the first 100 mosquito nets to these impoverished children. If you want to contribute even one net ($4!) that would help us so much! Just click below!

YES I’ll buy nets!

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