Growing a Brighter Future for Children Living on the Streets of Uganda

S.A.L.V.E. International
Thursday, 7th May 2020

S.A.L.V.E. International, a UK and Ugandan charity, are using permaculture to bring street children back home, and teach them new skills to live happier and healthier lives.

S.A.L.V.E. International is a small education and social work charity supporting children living on the streets in Jinja, Uganda. We do this through trust building, counselling, care, family reunification and education.

S.A.L.V.E. was founded in 2008 by Helen Huthwaite, Nicola Sansom and Mike Asiya, as a UK-Ugandan collaboration. They found it impossible to ignore the number of children living on the streets – many of them coming there to work due to extreme poverty.

It was their belief that something more could and should be done. So S.A.L.V.E. began; giving children on the streets a Halfway Home, support to be able to resettle with their families, sustainable education and hope for the future.

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What has S.A.L.V.E. achieved so far?

In the past 11 years, we have resettled 345 street-connected children back with loving family members, whilst continuing to provide the counselling they need to thrive. We supported 128 of these children to receive formal education, as well as helping 141 families to set up small businesses to sustain themselves, impacting communities throughout Uganda.

Our Street Outreach offers essential support, medical and legal care for children living on the streets, giving them someone to turn to when they need it most. We especially focus our support on the hardest to reach children – those most people have given up on. We developed a unique drug rehabilitation programme for children who turn to drugs; most commonly mafuta (aeroplane fuel) to cope. This is a safe place for them to detox and develop skills and connections with the earth and one another, ensuring a more positive drug-free future.

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Permaculture at S.A.L.V.E.

Children living on the streets are at risk of human rights abuses because they are not living in a safe family home. However, these children are unlikely to leave the dangers of the streets for good unless their home situation is improved.

Two-thirds of the population in Uganda earn a living by subsistence farming, but as climate change reduces predictability in rainfall, their income becomes increasingly unstable. Few families have the start-up capital needed for adapting their farming techniques, nor the technical knowledge on how best to do so. Since many children run away due to lack of food security, we realised that supporting families to improve their farming practices was a key way to help break the cycle of poverty.

We own five hillside acres of land that we have developed as a learning Permaculture farm, demonstrating sustainable farming techniques to children, their families and the local community. We grow trees, flowers, fruits and vegetables, illustrating how to zone land, working with its natural flows. By choosing a sloped, depleted soil site, we show how you can enhance and make different uses of land with contours and a robust recycling system. We have even constructed two round classrooms out of recycled plastic bottles. Our site is solar powered and our water comes from our rainwater harvesting system. Alongside this, we have also planted over 5,000 fruit trees across 30 local communities, and started a social enterprise programme, making environmentally friendly cooking fuel from farming waste, combating deforestation.

Children who have lived on the streets face stigma in their communities, where they are seen as a burden, often linked with crime without evidence. Our Permaculture training allows them to return to their family with useful skills and ideas. It challenges negative viewpoints and helps them to feel of value to society. 

Our organisational ethos is of global family; that we are all interconnected and should share knowledge and skills. We believe developing the Permaculture skills of hundreds of street-connected children and their families has a ripple effect in the community, creating pockets of good practice across Uganda which thousands benefit from.

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Permaculture bringing families back together

Before Sarah’s husband passed away, the children had enough to eat and attended school. Her husband was the main breadwinner and so when he died, Sarah struggled to feed her family of eight. Her oldest son Michael ran away to the streets to try to earn some money.

S.A.L.V.E. social workers met Michael during a street walk and, after spending time building a trusting relationship, he moved to our Halfway Home. We then discovered his interest in learning from our Permaculture demonstration farm.

When he was ready, S.A.L.V.E. home traced Michael to his mother, Sarah. She explained that it was a lack of food that led Michael to the streets. Due to Michael’s interest in farming, the family’s vulnerability and the fact that Sarah had unused land, we selected them for our Permaculture Training Programme.

Enock, our Permaculture teacher, visited them to see the land and learn their needs. Sarah explained she struggled due to having little knowledge of farming and no tools. Enock mapped out the land with the family, buying the tools and seeds which were best suited to their soil and conditions. He also held training, assisted by Michael, with Sarah and other community members to explain Permaculture principles, which crops could work best, and how to farm the land environmentally efficiently for maximum results.

Sarah and Michael came for further training at our demonstration farm. She enjoyed learning about raised beds and learning alongside her son. She is happy that she can now feed her family and not worry about her children running away, with surplus crops being sold to support them all. 

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Where next?

We believe there should be ‘No Street Called Home’.

There are more than 600 children living on the streets of Jinja and a further 3,000 out-of-school children who depend on the streets to earn a living. We would like to help more of them, particularly homeless girls, who are often hidden from sight due to their vulnerability to abuse.

We want to grow our Permaculture skills training, so that more of the most vulnerable families can learn to sustain themselves and prevent their children from needing to turn to the streets in the first place.

S.A.L.V.E. International (https://www.salveinternational.org/salve-explained/permaculture/was one of the 20 finalists for the 2019 Permaculture Magazine Prize.

Useful links

Permaculture Magazine launches third year of prize

How the garden works in educating children

Bioremediation and regeneration in oil-damaged Ecuador

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