I am one of the Halfway Home Assistants called Santi at S.A.L.V.E. International. This is the story of ten-year-old Sulaiman* who I look after, told in his words.
My name is Sulaiman. I am ten years old and I live in eastern Uganda with my grandmother. We live in a small grass thatched house in a village where everybody knows one another. My grandmother has little money, but she is a loving and happy person. I don’t have a strong relationship with my parents, so I have always lived with her and she is my dearest and closest friend.
One rainy day my grandmother had left to tend to the garden. I was playing with my toy car at a compound nearby. As I was playing, I heard the sound of a car stopping and its doors opening. I stopped playing and turned around to see two men coming towards me. One of the men asked me If I wanted a sweet, and as I was eating it the other man asked if I wanted to be driven around whilst I waited for my grandmother to return from the garden.
I agreed, thinking it would be a fun way to pass the time. I got into the car and the men drove me to a place I was not familiar with. The car stopped and one of the men led me into a nearby bush, saying that I should wait whilst he went to get tools to harvest green bananas. The strange thing is, I couldn’t see any banana plantation, and I ended up waiting for such a long time that I decided to leave. I was getting scared, so I ran away far away from the bush, across unfamiliar and foreign land. I was heavily sweating and lost for breath when I passed a man who looked very concerned. He asked me to slow down and began asking a lot of questions, but I only really remember him saying that he was taking me to the police as I was so exhausted.
A good Samaritan
After the man had asked me questions about who I was running from, he attempted to calm me down as I was in a state of shock. He asked me where I lived as I told him I wanted to be taken home, but he didn’t know the area. Instead, he insisted he should take me to the local police station. The man explained the situation to the police, and though I didn’t understand the language they were speaking, the expression on their faces told me enough. They called in another policeman who I would understand, and he asked how I had ended up at the ‘plantation’. I narrated the episode, explaining how the men told me they were getting tools to harvest bananas and I should wait for their return. What the police told me next was chilling. They informed me that the men who approached me at the compound would have tried to have killed me for money, and perhaps other religious rituals. They told me I narrowly avoided my death and my decision to escape saved me from an awful fate.
In Uganda, the topic of child sacrifice is more and more spoken about, as many children have sadly been victims to the act and those who survive are left with traumatising physical and psychological impacts. Local media and police reports depict the incidents, claiming that children are at increasing risk of being sacrificed through this gruesome act. Children disappear without a trace every year in Uganda, suffering mutilation of body parts, having the blood drained from them and other horrific acts. Child sacrifice is often performed to try to increase someone’s wealth as there are some superstitious beliefs that link the two together despite a lack of evidence or humanity in doing so.
Since the incident, the search for my parents began within the local area, to no avail. I was later referred to the district police, from there the eastern regional police, and eventually, I was transferred to the central police who are investigating my case.
S.A.L.V.E. International has a good reputation with law enforcement, especially the police department dealing with family affairs. They called S.A.L.V.E. as I was without a home to go to until my family could be found. Staff from S.A.L.V.E. came and picked me up from the police station and brought me to a place where am living happily with other children. I received clothing, treatment, healthy meals, and I have reconnected with my grandmother since I have not seen her for a long time and I know she will be worried about me.
I thank S.A.L.V.E. International for the compassion and support they have shown, and their staff who are friendly, patient and understanding. I am endlessly grateful for their help as I rebuild my life with their support.
*names are changed in line with our Child Protection Policy