Wamala Godfrey stands four and a half feet tall, a little stunted for a 16-year old but his confidence and exuberance reflect a high level of maturity and determination.With a protective arm around his sister’s shoulder, he introduces us to the family. “This is Edith, she’s 13 years, Matovu 9, and Alan 12,” he says, adding that they are all he has left.
Wamala is an orphan raising his younger siblings in the Luwero district in Uganda. “My father and mother died in 2004.” What he doesn’t say is that his parents died of AIDS-related diseases, leaving Wamala and his sibling among the 880,000 children who are orphaned as a result of AIDS in Uganda.
“When they died, we left home to live with our grandmother and the other children who live with her. Although she was loving, there were too many of us for her to feed and care for. She couldn’t cope.
I felt responsible for my family. I decided to move back home with my brothers and sisters. I now plant cassava, maize, potatoes and keep some pigs on our little land.The rain varies so we can’t depend only on farming. I have to make money to feed my family so I bake chapati bread and sell it at the market two kilometres away. I make a little money so I can buy kerosene for the lantern and items for the house like bowls or soap.”
Amref Health Africa supports vulnerable child-headed families like Wamala’s. The project educates orphans and other vulnerable children to realise their full potential and encourages community members, like “village orphan representatives” (VORs) to support them. This way, Amref Health Africa is helping the community to better cope with the impact of HIV/AIDS. The VORs routinely visit the families like Wamala’s to offer counseling and psychosocial support.
Although primary education is free, lunch and activity fees are still mandatory, which Amref Health Africa provides along with books and learning materials for Wamala’s siblings. Wamala himself is in his first year of secondary school, and Amref Health Africa supports him and encourages him to continue his studies.
Clean water is scarce and the children often contract water borne diseases like diarrhoea and dysentry. Amref Health Africa supported the family to construct a rain water harvesting system for a safe water supply to reduce these illnesses. Amref Health Africa also provided the family with insecticide treated mosquito nets and taught them how to correctly use them.
Wamala wants to expand his business to supplement the little income he earns. But he also dreams of taking up a formal career in the future. “When I finish school”, he says, full of aspiration, “I would like to become a policeman, or maybe a teacher. Anything that will help me put some food on the table and provide a better future for my family.”