My name is Stephen. I am 24 years old and a peer mentor at S.A.L.V.E. International’s Drug Rehabilitation Centre. I am also one of the children who was supported through their services. Let me share with you my true story and journey to S.A.L.V.E International.
Struggles at home
I was a young boy when I ended up on the streets of Jinja city and this life almost destroyed me. I am the third born in a family of eight children. My parents divorced when I was in primary school year one and my dad decided to leave us at home and went on with his own life. This meant my mother was left alone struggling to find food and pay school fees for her children.
My mother remarried but my stepfather was violent and always trying to start fights. I felt unsafe at home but tried to concentrate on my studies and focus on my future plans. However, I could not bear to watch my mother being beaten by this man when she had done nothing wrong and so decided I needed to take action to find peace at home.
One day whilst discussing this issue with my elder brother, we came up with the solution of physically standing-up to this man because our other attempts to help our mum and prevent his violent behaviour were not working. However, after we fought him, we were so fearful about what we had done that I decided to run away from home and go to any other place far away. This is how I found myself in Jinja living on the streets.
Starting street life
That first evening, scared and alone and unsure of what to do or where to sleep, I saw a young shabbily dressed boy carrying a sack of plastic bottles. I rushed up and asked him for help, and at first he was quite hostile to me but I persisted as I had no other options. He eventually explained he was going to sell the bottles and then sleep by a local cinema and that I could join him. This was my first introduction into street life. We would wake very early at 5a.m. to go to work collecting scrap and plastic bottles to sell for food, using the bag I used to collect the bottles as a sheet at night.
After two weeks my new friend told me about an organisation where we could go to bathe and eat lunch if we wanted. He said he was not ready to be helped but I was very keen to find out about this place. Later that morning he dropped me off at the S.A.L.V.E. Drop In Centre and I knocked on the door and was let in by a welcoming member of staff. Inside I found a number of children busy doing different activities like laundry and bathing so I asked for soap and started washing my clothes. After this I went to the classroom and here the staff began asking me questions and took all my details down. They advised me to continue coming to the Centre in the future for support and to develop a relationship with staff, which I did for a while.
Eventually, one of the counsellors started talking about taking me back home. This made me worried as I had erased the hope that I would be welcomed home and felt that I would be safer in my new life on the streets with new friends. In fact, I stopped going to the Centre for fear of being taken back home and whenever I came across anyone from S.A.L.V.E. I would just run away without even talking or listening. Thankfully they were patient and understanding and after 3 months of living on the streets I decided to go back to the Drop In Centre for further help.
I was resettled back home and had family counselling with my mother provided by S.A.L.V.E. I also returned to school to continue with my studies and then completed a mechanics training course, which is a skill that will help me greatly in life. I am now involved at S.A.L.V.E. as a peer mentor, working with other children like me. I do not know where I would be without S.A.L.V.E.’s help and I am so grateful. I thank all the S.A.L.V.E. team for the great work they have done towards restoring the lost hope in the lives of young children like me.