Standing in the middle of a massive pile of garbage surrounded by street kids, I am in awe. Chelsea and I are at the “corridor,” one part of Lira town where you are guaranteed to find street kids. The pile consists mostly of plastic bags, corn husks, and used liquor bottles, a great place to scavenge if you are a street kid. I watch as Chelsea simultaneously diagnoses injuries, tells kids that if they know what is good for them they will stop sniffing glue while we are there, congratulates the kids that are telling her about new endeavors at school, and informs the group that her or Uncle Morris would be back tomorrow to ensure the sick children got treatment. All the kids know Auntie Chelsea, some are new, some are old, and some have returned after finding other lives too difficult. As the sun began to set, these kids gathered around us with no place to sleep. Atin Afrika attempts to address this gap in the social system. This gap makes it very difficult for street kids to reintegrate back into society and reach their full potential.
These kids at the corridor are tough, Atin Afrika is not. Two days there and I was hooked. A very astute colleague of mine often points out when he sees people who know how to love. He says, “they are lucky, they have so much love to spread around.” That is what I see at Atin. In Morris and Chelsea and their wonderful helpers, Grace and Dennis, I see a team of people that is willing to continue to love all the children they can. When a child goes home to be resettled they look towards the door for the next fragile spirit they can hopefully help rekindle. The dedication to the kids at Atin is all encompassing. It is not a job, it is a life. And it is not always easy. Running Atin includes new children often running away, pushing back against either the structure and rules, or a lack of drugs they have used in the past to numb themselves. It includes seeing kids you worked so hard to rehabilitate back on the street, because their families cannot afford a book, pen, or three dollars in exam fees to send their child to school. It includes watching a kid, pulled back to the street by addiction, showing up at the gate high on glue and in tears, knowing it is wrong, knowing he can’t help himself, and knowing the only place he can turn is Atin.
It is not always tough, and there are certainly great rewards. But Northern Uganda is a tough place, and sometimes it is difficult to convey the challenges people face here to other people around the world. The children that we met on the garbage pile have few places to turn in Lira, and no one offers a place to stay overnight. If you can’t make it at home living in abject poverty, or are chased away by your community for one reason or another, there is nowhere to go. You look to the support of the other children in the same position as you and turn to theft and addiction in order to survive.
It is through the generous support of many people around the world that Atin is able to offer a reprieve for kids that are just as deserving as any other. The children show up hardened and defensive, and return home filled with empathy and a sense of responsibility. If you support Atin Afrika, it is one of the best ways you could be allocating any type of contribution. If you don’t, start, it is one of the best investments you will ever make.
Through all of these challenges the team at Atin faces, they do not flinch. A lot of people become involved in their communities; few grab their communities by the scruff of the neck and jostle them back to life. Atin is jostling. Lira is similar to many other Ugandan communities in that there is too much need and not enough adequate services. Chelsea and Morris have answered this by becoming Auntie and Uncle, and have given the kids who have nowhere else to turn a home full of laughter and learning.