By ATHUMANI HALIMA in Kampala, Uganda
Ahead of my S.4 exams I went through some tough life. I lived with my sister and her ex-lover. He was a pain in every way. He tried to force himself on me a couple of times, and always took advantage of days when my sister was away. Living in a two roomed house, it was hard to avoid him. His attempts failed every time, and he chose to punish me by not paying for electricity. So we were always in the dark even when our neighbours’ houses were lit. He didn’t even buy paraffin for those small lamps (tadoba). Never mind that I hated the emissions from that thing. I soldiered on and took advantage of the neighbour’s security lights to revise my books. I eventually convinced one of the female neighbours who lived alone to let me spend the nights in her room (bless you Sarah wherever you are).This eased a lot of pressure considering what I was going through. Tonight, as I walk home from the mosque after the Taraweh prayers around 9:30pm, I am reminded of that time, minus the sexual harassment. About 200 meters away, I see a little child’s frame bending over. I thought it was the neighbour’s kids playing outside.
But I also know that at this hour in our neighbourhood, and from behind that particular gate, a child wouldn’t be let out. I walk on, get to them and realise there are four children. Two little boys, say 3 and 6 years old, lazily playing. Their two older sisters, one of whom I recognize as Elizabeth, are sitting by the wall flower verandah, with their books open, marked papers on the ground, books and their school bags. Wait for it…using the security lights to read. They took me right back to that verandah in Kitintale.
With all the gates closed and being the only ones along the stretch, I asked them what they were doing and they said they had to do their homework. I asked why they weren’t doing it from home. Five of them live with just their dad in a two roomed house, behind the gated community. They sometimes swing by home for water whenever we are around and call me Hajati. But back to my question why they aren’t home at this hour. Elizabeth tells me, “Hajati, we don’t have light at home and dad is away.
“My heart sinks and my mind races. I’m thinking: they must at least have a paraffin powered lamp. If the reason they aren’t home is because they don’t, then I can quickly get home and get them some. But they respond and say they don’t have one. I ask them how they have always read and they tell me they use the torch on their father’s phone to read. I thank them for reading hard and ask them to pass a message to their dad. As I walk away from them, my mind is racing. Hopefully I can help them have a better experience than revising/reading their books under a neighbours’ security light.
Athumani Halima is an Ugandan journalist and Zambezi News correspondent in Kampala. If you can help these kids with any kind of support, please contact Halima on Facebook.