Stories from Uganda: Discovering treasures in the slums of Kampala

Today I visited the Kosovo slum in Kampala. It’s the poorest community I have ever seen and on the surface it seems like a hopeless place. However this afternoon I listened to the stories of some of the most inspiring people I have ever met and I discovered treasures in the slums of Kampala.

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In the coming days I’ll be sharing the stories of local people who are committed to creating positive change in their communities. Today I want to start with Pastor Deo M. Mwanje of Word of Life Community Church who runs the Treasured Kids School, kindergarten, community development and social enterprise projects in the middle of the Kosovo Slum.

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Meeting with Pastor Deo at Treasured Kids Primary School in the Kosovo slum in Kampala

Pastor Deo grew up as a street kid himself. His mother came to Uganda as a refugee during the first genocide in Rwanda and met Deo’s father at a bar where she worked. His parents were divorced when he was 9 years old and from the age of 10 Deo went to four different schools. He moved to a different school, between five and ten miles from his home, every year because he was unable to pay the debt incurred after one year of education. At the age of 14 he got a job with accommodation but after two years he remained unpaid and finally he was thrown out on the street. Deo discovered that he had to be tough to survive on the streets and ultimately ended up in prison. When he was released from prison he hit a low point in his life and became suicidal. The transformation of his life began when he met a missionary who took him under his wing. Pastor Deo talks movingly about how he found new faith and hope for the future. He trained as an evangelist, studied theology and ended up in the Kosovo slum, which was nicknamed after Kosovo in the Balkans because of the similar levels of violence experienced there in the 1990s. Pastor Deo started the church with just three people and it has grown ever since under his leadership.

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Pastor Deo with his daughter Amanda

In those days the site of the school was a garbage dump where street kids foraged through the rubbish looking for something to eat. He recalled his own experience on the streets and remembered, ‘When I was on the streets I was a troublemaker to everyone but I was a treasure to God’ He looked at the children in the dump and saw them as treasured human beings and had the vision to start a school for them. With support from Fields of Life, the Treasured Kids Primary School was established and since then it has grown and developed into a range of education and community projects. The school has educated many children from the slum to give them a better future including one of Uganda’s most successful singers Levixone Lala.

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I was particularly impressed with the SACCO project which is a community bank that seeks to eradicate poverty through developing a saving and investment culture.  It reminded me of a Credit Union in Northern Ireland. Members of the SACCO can secure low interest loans for small businesses and job creation. Pastor Deo explained that this was a model of empowerment and development for people living in the slums, and was more effective in changing the community than simply giving people charity aid.

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Pastor Deo’s next dream is to build a Technical School in the slum so that young people can  gain vocational skills and then start their own business with a loan from the SACCO.

I was inspired by Pastor Deo’s story.  He sees himself as a pastor to the slum rather than a pastor to the church. He prioritises the huge social needs in the local community. ‘We love God by loving people’ he says. ‘We serve God by serving people’. I was moved by his vision and commitment and his view of the poorest people in the poorest communities in one of the poorest countries in the world, as treasures.

Tomorrow I’ll share the stories of two remarkable young men I met in the Kosovo slum.

 

 

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