Volunteering with S.A.L.V.E. International

My name is Anniek Grasdijk, I come from Holland and study Social Work. For the last three months, I have done my internship at S.A.L.V.E. International at the Drug Rehabilitation Centre. I would really like to share some of my experiences with you.

I am really happy that I got the opportunity to work with S.A.L.V.E. International. This is because from the beginning, I felt that I was really welcome. I also like the way S.A.L.V.E. works with street connected children.

One of my most valuable moments from the last three months was when I saw how a street connected child addicted to drugs could really change to a child who doesn’t need to take these drugs, and could begin to make plans for the future. The staff really support the children in this process and together they come up with a plan; what the child wants to be in the future, which kind of education fits with the child, what the child can do in their free time to keep busy.

Their Strength, Perseverance and Motivation to Change

Some of the children are very open to sharing their experiences from their time on the streets; some of these stories are difficult to hear. When I see how most of the children are doing, I see how hard they have worked to be where they are now. I am really impressed by their strength, perseverance and motivation to change.  They are really motivated and want to make something from their lives.

It is very hard to see so many children on the street in Jinja. For me it is difficult to understand why. I think it is really important for parents to take their responsibilities seriously, and care for their children. However, the government has to play a bigger part in this problem. That’s why I am very happy with the work organisations like S.A.L.V.E. International do. Children are being taken back to their homes, and counselling, education and rehabilitation are used to help them change their lives. For some children, this is really hard because they are used to the life on the street and like to make their own choices there. Some of them are too young to recognise by themselves what good choices are for their futures. So it is very good we talk with them about their futures and share with them stories from children who are back home now. Hopefully their minds can be changed.

It is beautiful to see how the children help each other

One of the children, Samuel*, told me about his story. He had been on the streets for around 4 years. He told me that he has been in prison for more of the half of his life. Samuel comes from a place in northern Uganda; someone brought him down to Jinja to work. It was not easy to live on the street. He told me in a certain moment, he was feeling that he wanted to change his life. He said “I don’t want the live on the street anymore, I don’t want to take drugs but I want to work on my future”. He had very many ideas about what he would like to be in the future, it was really nice that he was thinking so much about it. He was taking responsibility for his actions, and was really motivated to help other children.

So he joined the peer to peer education programme in schools, the S.A.L.V.E. Drop in Centre, and talked to children during Street Outreach. He used his own experiences to tell other street connected children about how they could make changes. This worked very well because Samuel really knows what it is like to live on the street and also how difficult it is to decide to accept help from people. He told the children about his experiences and how he came to be where he is now. I was really impressed by his perseverance and his motivation to help other street connected children. It is very beautiful to see how the children help each other and how they change during their time at SA.L.V.E.

I recognise that we can learn a lot from the children

In the beginning it was difficult for me to make contact with most of the children; this is because of the different languages we speak. We started to make contact with each other by playing cards, football and by making bracelets. When I started to work with street connected children, I did not know what to expect. In Holland, there are no street connected children, so it was a completely new experience for me. Now, after I have worked with the children, I really recognise that it is very important that the children first have to learn to trust in people again. This because a lot of people around the streets don’t treat them well. As well as this, I see that it is really important that the child is motivated to change his life.

When a child can trust you and tell you that they are motivated to change, it is the time to start treatment. Now I have worked with the children, I recognise that we can learn a lot from them. I admire the first step that they make; the choice to change their lives. In the drug rehab centre, the children also have to detox from their addiction to drugs. This all takes a lot of motivation and perseverance. It is really wonderful to see how they really care and help each other.

In the beginning, they also were really curious as they tried to make contact with me. Some children asked me, why can’t you stay in Uganda? I told them my family and friends are in Holland. One of them said, but now we are also your family, and that is how it felt when I was working with the children and colleagues from S.A.L.V.E. International, and especially the Drug Rehab Centre. As one big S.A.L.V.E. family, with people who have patience and who care for each other. Most of the children are kind and careful, this is not always what people think before they know a street connected child.

I know I will continue to be part of S.A.L.V.E. family even when I have gone home and will continue to be part of and support the work of S.A.L.V.E. from Holland.

*The child’s name has been changed in this public space for his protection.

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