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Children vending on the streets amid school closure

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Sheila Nande, 10, is a Primary Four pupil, uncertain, just like other children, of when government will reopen school for lower primary school children to return to class.

A government plan released on February 11 indicates that P.1, 2 and three will resume classes on June 7 and study for eight weeks, until July 24, then take a break for unknown number of weeks.

For the moment, Nande and about 10 other children have the streets as their learning ground.

“Sometimes a customer takes the onions and throws the money while the car is moving. It is difficult to pick the money with moving cars and motorists from all directions. Sometimes you risk and run to pick it, other times you slide and fall in the trench as vehicles begin to move,” Nande narrates to Daily Monitor.

One would say she is more mature at her age than most children in the vendor group. She acts the leader, a sort of guide to the rest of the girls and boys vending on Kampala city streets.

Some passers-by brush them off for street children camouflaging to make a living in a crude manner but these are children whose parents watch from a distance as they sell.

It is 11 months since government closed schools to prevent the spread of coronavirus. But there are children who have never had a chance to study or revise their notes because they do not either know how to read or write on their own.

These children have never used any of the sophisticated gadgets for online learning like a few of their privileged colleagues are using to access classes online.

Eighth Street, Industrial Area in Kampala’s traffic laden city during pick hours, is where the children from Go-Down in Namuwongo, a Kampala suburb, keep safe with their mothers who ply their trade as vendors.

“Children in other neighbouring countries such as Kenya are studying but ours are at home. Why? Why can’t government allow our children to also go back to school? The future of our children is in education,” Ms Grace Acayo, Nande’s mother, tells Daily Monitor.

She adds: “I cannot leave my children at home all day long and come here to sell. The neighbours’ children like fighting. There are so many things in that area. I do not want my daughter to be spoilt. I believe that while she is here, I have time to monitor her behaviour and talk to her.”

Parents’ worries

Ms Acayo, a widow and mother of seven, looks dehydrated and pale. The daily struggle to get stock from Nakasero Market to vend in the railway space behind Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) yard has taken a toll on her life.

Behind a mobile money kiosk, she takes shelter from the scotching heat of the sun and fast moving dusty wind. She earns a living from the lively streets that bring people to buy her fruits and vegetables.

Ms Acayo’s mission, just like many other vendors, is not to get rich but give their children a future they hope for. “Whatever little money she gets (Nande) helps to supplement what I get. When school begins, she will go to school and not sell here. I want her to study and have a better life than me,” she says.

Nande might not know how to get to the world where there are computers and television or even a radio to listen to the government announcements for school reopening but she believes she can become somebody in future. She wants to become a doctor and relieve people of the physical pains of their lives.

Perhaps Nande will cross the bridge when she gets there but for now, she has to learn to woo customers to buy her basket of onions that costs Shs10,000.
These are children of mothers selling fruits and vegetables for a living on the streets of Kampala. They have lived on the streets every single day of the week since schools were closed on March 18, 2020. They have a bond so strong they share with each other their worries.

“Mummy is sick again. I have to go back home early,” Emmanuel Tumwebaze, a 12-year-old Primary Four boy, tells his friend Patricia Ndagire, 10, and in P.3. Ndagire is in a play mood but Tumwebaze looks disconnected from his environment. As he sells his boiled eggs in a transparent bucket held tightly on his left hand, he seems in deep thought like an adult. His dream is to become an engineer in future.

Charlotte Mahoro, 12, bids them goodbye and runs off to join her mother selling in the railway market. She had sold her basket of onions and is happy to give her mother the Shs10,000. The reward is playtime with other children in the market as she relaxes before the next sale.

Mahoro’s mother is chatting with a friend, Ms Naume Natukunda, who had come to meet her.

“What you teach a child at home is different from what they teach them at school. I have done my part but I did not go to school; how do I show my child in Primary Three what to write when I also do not know how to read and write?” Ms Medius Gumisiriza, 39, tells a group of women near her.

Impact of closure

“My boy, now a man with beards was in Senior One in 2020; he is asking me how he is going to go back to school and report to S.1 class again,” Ms Natukunda interjects as more women pour in their worries.

According to the February 11 school reopening plan by Ministry of Education, Senior One students will resume schooling on April 12 to study for 14 weeks and end on July 3.

“I do not want her to suffer like me. Her education will help me to get out of this life on the street,” says Ms Acayo who dropped out of school in Primary Four and was married off at 15 years of age.

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