In Uganda, many young children find themselves in situations where their only means of survival is underage working. Such is the case of Okah*, who by the age of just 12 was working as a domestic home help. She had to endure this because both her parents were alcoholics and were unable to take care of her and her siblings. When a family friend witnessed their situation, she decided to help by asking Okah to work in her home in exchange for a monthly wage.
A new job
At first, Okah was welcomed and shown her daily duties which she happily accepted as she was keen to do well in the job. In the beginning the work was not too difficult, but the chores continued to increase and intensify. After only a few weeks Okah was carrying out many jobs in the house including laundry, cooking, cleaning and gardening, and although she found this tough she continued as she was desperate for the money.
At the end of the first month her salary didn’t arrive which made her very concerned, but she was promised her money after two months so she kept working. However, in the second month the tiredness overwhelmed her and she was unable to complete all the chores. This led to a harsh scolding from her mistress and she was threatened with no pay if she continued to be ‘lazy’.
Turning to the streets
With hardly any time to rest, Okah grew weaker, fell ill and had to go to hospital. When she asked for help from her mistress with the medical bills, she was told to first finish off her second month and then she would receive her pay. The hospital discharged her when still sick as they realised she couldn’t pay her bills. Scared of returning and not sure of where to go, she decided to seek refuge on the streets and began following some young girls who were walking around looking for small jobs. With her new friends, Okah began sorting ground nuts in the city market for a daily wage which was enough to buy food. At night though, they did not have a place to rest and as she was too anxious about going home, she slept on the streets with these girls.
Eventually the market authorities started rounding up underage unaccompanied children and Okah and others were held at the police station. The police tried to locate her parents, but she was unable to provide them with any relevant information.
Reunion and recovery
When S.A.L.V.E. International was contacted by the police, staff quickly came to Okah’s aid, taking her in and they began the journey of tracing her home to reunite her with the family.
As you read this story, S.A.L.V.E. is conducting family counselling with Okah’s mother and father to help address their alcohol abuse and enable them to become more responsible parents for their children. Okah is also receiving counselling at S.A.L.V.E.’s Halfway Home for Girls where she is receiving love and care from all staff members. We are on the verge of having a successful family reintegration.
Many thanks to all our supporters who help by donating to keep these programmes going so girls like Okah can have meaningful lives.
*Name changed in line with our Child Protection Policy