When Matthew* came home that day, little did he realize that this was his last day going to school. His father had died of a severe malaria case. His father’s staying home for days had not bothered Matthew because he had done this several times. The news was broken to him by his paternal uncle who was brave enough to make him face the truth. Matthew had been highly inquisitive until the middle-aged man could not hold it any longer. Having taken him beside the thatched house, which was the family’s main house, Matthew’s uncle fought back his tears for the few minutes that it took him to narrate the sad story to this young lad. Matthew kept looking on and around the whole home trying to figure out through his young mind why so many people had gathered at their home. The burial took place and the village residents bid everyone farewell to get to their homes before it was totally dark.
Matthew’s mother, Mrs. Esther now a widow spent the whole night crying wildly, no one could comfort her. Matthew had made several attempts to meet his mother but in vain because no one would let him. Dinner was served to the remaining few residents and all slept.
The next morning, Matthew waited for someone to help him prepare for the school day and no one would. This went on for some days and then weeks because no one would any longer bother with his case.
Matthew decided to follow other village boys to the nearby quarry where all school dropouts could find refuge. The local council had tried to stop children in the school-going age from going to this dangerous quarry, but they could still sneak into it and carry on hard labour activities like digging deep holes and carrying large masses of stones to areas where the trucks could access them to get loaded. Matthew hoped to raise the money for his school fees.
Arrested and scared
On one fateful mid-morning, to Matthew and his other friends’ surprise, policemen rounded the whole place and called for all children to show up from the deep excavations or face harsh whipping. The older lads encouraged the boys to hide deeper in the holes but the police man’s voice grew angrier and intimidating. The boys started one by one to jump out of the holes to the surface. In the end, the boys received severe beatings though they had been promised not to.
All the boys were taken to the police station and locked together with adult inmates.
At this point, S.A.L.V.E International was notified through the street outreach personnel that some children had been referred to the Central police station in Jinja town. The team did whatever was possible to have the boy and the other fellows released since they hadn’t committed a crime. They had been doing child labour to survive.
Matthew received attention and care from this centre and was helped to go back home. The centre took other efforts to follow this boy up and when they got in contact with his mother, she narrated this whole story to the team who promised to give the necessary help to see that the boy re-joins school.
Back to school
After three months and three weeks, Matthew re-joined school, it was now a new year and he had to repeat the third grade that he was nearly completing by the time his father died. Matthew was okay with this and grateful that now he was once again in school.
Child labour is still stinging evil in many of our communities. Some parents think that it’s fine for their children to contribute to the family’s income. But children tend to forsake school once they taste money. They think the future can’t offer them anything more than back breaking work for little pay. I call upon all civil society organizations, religious leader and community leaders to discourage child labour and encourage and help all children to go and attend school.
Thanks to the efforts of S.A.L.V.E. International’s amazing supporters for resettling and helping many vulnerable children from the streets to go to school so as to have great futures.
*Matthew’s name has been changed in this public forum in line with our child protection policy.