Photo courtesy of Watoto.
Nicole is found crying, starving and naked.
Her ribs protrude from her tiny body which is surrounded by scraps of rubbish. She lies on top of a trash heap, on a quiet Ugandan Street. The stench is thick.
She is the size of the hand that picks her up. The man swats the flies from her eyes and mouth with the flick of his left wrist. He then dusts her off, noticing her umbilical cord is still attached.
He fumbles for his motorbike keys, starts the engine. The red dirt swirls in the air. He removes his white t-shirt, padding it into his helmet, which now gently cradles her limp body. He tucks his shirt around her wrinkly limbs and skeletal torso. Her breath is laboured as she opens her mouth gasping for air.
He rides along the burnt orange roads of the capital city, Kampala, until he arrives at Watoto. He nurses Nicole’s one kilo body into the arms of a volunteer.
Nicole was premature and abandoned by her parents. She is the face of the millions of children across Africa who are abandoned at birth and saved by orphan care programs, like Watoto.
The program is a saviour for the suffering children of Uganda. It takes in the infants and children, giving medical attention, “food, love, affection, education and skills to succeed later in life”, to hopefully become “leaders of Uganda and the World” explains Annie Duguid, camp leader on the program’s website, www.watoto.com.
Good samaritans have a place to take the forsaken infants they find on the streets, but Watoto’s funding is not enough to save all of the abandoned babies as well as other children.
However, intervention is needed to prevent unnecessary infant deaths. “It is very costly to provide one on one attention, food and medical care to these tiny babies”, says Ms Duguid. She adds that her biggest challenge is funding ongoing operational costs so they can take in more babies.
Watoto relies on the financial support of sponsors such as St Lukes Grammar School from Sydney’s northern beaches. Since 2005, they have been raising money which supports the construction of Watoto homes, provides care, education and spiritual leadership for the children. Over the coming year, they plan to raise $30,000 to pay for materials and a local building team.
The unknown man, who lifted Nicole out of a rubbish bin three years ago, drives down the red dusty road every day on his way to work. The helmet which once carried Nicole to Watoto is fastened tight to his head. He looks down into the village as he rides past. He sees children laughing and playing. Their homes are brightly coloured and in clusters, just like the traditional African dwellings that came before them – close together, in groups of three. Carers walk hand in hand with toddlers through the bright green vegetable gardens.
Nicole sits in her family home, in the village which she shares with her Watoto brothers and sisters. She wraps her plastic doll in a cotton blanket, clutches it close to her chest and gently places it in the bassinette. The doll will never leave her. She kisses it on the forehead, and with a silent prayer, she hopes she has the life that every child deserves. – Jessica Amir