Sharon and I went to visit St. Jude Children’s Home today and witnessed many exciting changes- both in appearance as well as internal structures. Each time I have the opportunity to meet with the staff and tour the grounds, I am amazed at all the thoughtful work that has been done to make this a better place for the children.
New buildings have been constructed to offer a place for families to stay when visiting the children that are working towards being reinstated into the community. The nursery school has been freshly painted and so have the homes for the children living in the orphanage. There is even a beautiful new art studio where children are taught to make beads, sew and create crafts which are then sold in the attached store. New programs are being run to help both children within the walls of St. Jude as well as families outside in the community.
For me, the most significant change has been the removal of our beloved Consolation Home. Consolation Home was the special place within St. Jude that cared for children with special needs. This was such a remarkable and innovative place considering the history suffered by these children in Uganda. I am happy to say that I view this change as an important sign of advancement. The staff at St. Jude are continuing to forge ahead and advocate for the proper treatment of children with special needs.
Disability among children is a prevalent problem in Uganda, but it is seldom recognized and often hidden. According to UNICEF, 13.5% of children in Uganda (about 2.5 million) have some form of disability. They are subject to discrimination and marginalization due to negative attitudes, superstition, neglect, social norms and practices, and lack of awareness of their own rights. In the most severe cases, these children are just left somewhere to die. Many are completely abandoned by their families at hospitals. The children that do survive are often excluded from society. As a result, their basic needs and rights as children are not fulfilled. Only about 9% of children with special needs attend primary school and only about 6% continue to the secondary school level. Laws and policies have been established in Uganda to promote and protect the rights of these children, however they are not fully implemented due to limited resources and an overall lack of attention paid to the needs and rights of children with special needs.
So why is the removal of Consolation Home such a vital step for the children at St. Jude? Because these children have been moved to inclusive homes. Instead of having one Consolation Home where all children with special needs live, they are now housed with all the orphans living at St. Jude. There are ten “mothers” caring for the 95 children currently living in the orphanage. The children are divided equally among these mothers and the “families” live in their own homes. The children that were formerly part of Consolation Home are included in these family homes. While there is still staff such as nurses and physical therapists to offer extra support and accommodate their diverse needs, these children are now mainstreamed within the orphanage.
Recent Ugandan laws identify inclusive education as a possible way move forward in educating children with special needs, but government policies continue to actively promote separate special needs education and the establishment of special schools. I am proud to be associated with an institution that, despite its small size and lack of financial resources, is a true champion in the fight for proper treatment of children with special needs.
Much gratitude to our donors, without whom none of this would be possible. Thank you for realizing and understanding the important work the staff is doing at St. Jude Children’s Home and for helping to support it.