The plight of a 12-year-old boy in Uganda, abandoned by his parents and left to raise his five brothers, has inspired one Western student to take meaningful action.
Fourth-year international relations student Inaara Savani learned about Musa Mukidi after New Vision reporter Tom Gwebayanga shared the young boy’s story, and Western’s associate vice-president (equity, diversity and inclusion) Opiyo Oloya subsequently wrote an editorial about it. Now, Savani is actively raising funds to help Mukidi and his siblings.
Mukidi, who comes from a remote village in Namasagali sub-county, Kamuli district, told Gwebayanga of his parents ‘endless fights,’ in which his father accused his mother of infidelity after she tested positive for HIV. Mukidi’s parents eventually parted ways, leaving him with his five younger siblings in a thatched hut to fend for themselves.
Details of Mukidi’s daily routine of fishing in the morning, selling his catch in the afternoon, and returning in the evening to cook, clean and care for his brothers shook Oloya deeply.
“I was really upset,” he said. “When I read the story, I wondered why the rest of the media in Uganda were not talking about this. Their response, and that from the authorities, was lacking.”
Oloya, who’s been writing for New Vision since 1996, penned his anger in an editorial for the outlet:
“When it comes to the welfare of children, no expense should be spared to ensure they have the resources to meet basic human rights — the right to food, shelter, clothing, education and human dignity are non-negotiable. Whatever measure of progress you use — increased gross domestic product, increased export, higher employment, et cetera—none of it matters at the end if children of the nation are abandoned to care for themselves.”
Yet, Oloya felt Musa and his brothers warranted more than words.
“My outrage was not good enough,” he said. “It was not going to translate into anything better for Musa unless we do something.”
As a teacher, Oloya’s first instinct was to get Musa and his brothers back in school. He donated funds to make that happen, while appealing to others for help.
Answering the call
Oloya’s article was a “call to action” for Savani, who has started a gofundme campaign to raise funds to help Musa and his brothers.
“It’s part of my culture, my society to support children,” said Savani, who arrived at Western four years ago from Uganda on an International President’s Entrance Scholarship. “Musa’s story is heart-breaking, and sadly very common. This story is about six kids, but between January and October 2021, there were 232 reported cases of child abandonment. Having witnessed thousands of children experience homelessness in Kampala, Dr. Oloya’s words reminded me of our roles as Ugandans and the international community to support those in need.”
Before coming to Canada, Savani and her friends often collected food from churches and mosques to feed hungry children living on the streets in Uganda’s capital.
“There were 10,000 children who didn’t have meals available every single day, either as an outcome of war, or through the stigma of being born with a disability, or from the effects of domestic violence,” she said.
Sustainable solutions, community approach
The issues related to child abandonment in Uganda are complex. Self-hate and discrimination associated with HIV and AIDS, and cases of domestic violence and suicide, are among the harsh realities putting many children at risk. The COVID-19 pandemic has added a further strain on resources, deepening cracks in family structures.
Savani is hopeful her fundraising campaign will help Musa and his brothers in the short-term, and other children and the broader communities of Uganda in the future.
“They need sustainable solutions that would include vocational schools, cows and lessons in farming because that is where most of the income is to be made.”
She also hopes to drive grassroots initiatives on solutions to curb the issues that lead to abandonment, such as marriage counselling and more robust litigation and mediation services.
And while contributing to the effort resonates with her Ugandan roots, her fundraising campaign also aligns with her future aspirations.
“This case is exactly what I want to do,” Savani said. “I want to make sure women, children and those experiencing either mental health or disability are treated fairly, and that policies are written from the perspective of the persons they impact.”
Oloya said Savani’s empathy and fundraising initiative “speaks to the values at Western and the voices and diversity we are trying to build on campus to make it a truly welcoming space for everybody.”
“When we think about being inclusive, and also about our place in the world, this is one area where we can respond,” he said. “Today we are talking about Musa and his five siblings, but we are also thinking about the Ukrainians, who are currently devastated by war, and many of them are refugees within and outside of their own country.
“It’s a signal to ourselves and the larger world that Western cares.”
To support Musa and his five siblings, visit Savani’s gofundme page.