Being from Uganda, and a recipient of FOM’s work when he was younger, Julius believes that helping children starts by helping those who care for them; their parents, grandparents, neighbors, and/or guardians. When the caretaker is empowered, the results show in his/her family.
In Uganda, as well as most African nations, there is a significant problem. Statistically speaking, 51% of children in Uganda are considered a vulnerable child or an orphan. This accounts for over 10 million children! A vulnerable child is defined as a child who is living in a situation that is exposing him/her to significant physical, mental, or emotional harm. An orphan is defined as a child who has lost one or both parents.
Life for vulnerable children and orphans is hard. They have all dealt with loss of some kind, whether due to illness, death, abandonment, or another traumatic event. When a child in Africa loses a caretaker, the cultural expectation is that their extended family or neighbors take them in. However, in a place where most families are struggling significantly, taking in another child means less resources and care for the entire household. In families without both parents, the stress on the family can be unbearable.
Julius knows about this stress. When Julius was twelve years old his mom died of HIV/AIDS. Since his father had passed the year before, he was left with the responsibility of taking care of his younger sister and brother. Within a short time, hardship forced them into eating from trash bins, sleeping on the streets, and doing hard labor in order to make enough money to survive. Julius struggled to get money, not only for food, but for school fees. It was hard, and he missed many classes and exams. While on the streets, he ran into an uncle who took them to his place. This seemingly good fortune tragically turned unfortunate, as his uncle sold their property, treated them like house slaves and left them with nothing. Soon, they went back on the streets to escape this unhealthy situation.
Begging does not suit a boy of fourteen, so Julius got a job as a houseboy/groundskeeper for two years. During this time, he used his salary to pay for his siblings’ school fees while he worked. Life seemed decent until one fateful night when the compound was attacked by robbers. Sadly, Julius’ boss was killed. This turn of events forced Julius and his siblings back on the street. He no longer had a salary that would cover his school fees and his former boss’s widow had threatened him. Those days were so difficult that his younger brother nearly died from the harsh weather and hunger.
Difficult days continued until the day Julius ran into one of his dad’s old friends. He told this man of their situation and this man invited them to his modest home. He was running an organization, treated them like his own kids and provided all their needs on a very small income. Julius says of this time, “This is where I experienced God’s love and care.” Because of their respect and obedience to him, they won a special place in this man’s heart.
FOM came to know Julius in 2006, when we began to work with a local organization called The AIDS Orphans Support Trust (TAOST). TAOST was helping Julius and his siblings with some of their basic needs. Julius spoke with Michelle (FOM’s Executive Director) during a visit to the community school. He told her his story and Michelle was touched. She began helping Julius and his siblings. Julius says, “Since then, Michelle and her family have created a big transformation in my life through supporting our education until I finished my Business Administration Course (Accounting Major) at University.”
In 2011, FOM hired Julius to work with women and men who want a better life for themselves and their children. This is something Julius' own parents would have wanted as well. Julius has gone from a boy struggling on the streets to a man with a passion for business and one who wants to help his own community. Julius is someone who understands what it means to overcome obstacles. He understands the value of education and has an incredible gift for teaching. Julius connects easily and readily with others and is someone we trust to run our Vocational Development program.
So, what does Julius’s work look like? How does he help FOM help his community? Next week, we will go into detail about Julius's role with Fount of Mercy...so come back for Part 2!