“My Children’s Future Looks Very Bad Right Now,” One Man’s Story of Survival in the Ghetto
At 24 years of age, Mwanje Martin’s future looks grim as he contends with the challenges of poverty and disillusionment, with no rays of hope on the horizon.
Born in Masaka district to peasant farmers, Martin in 2012 came to Kampala to seek greener pastures and live a life of more prosperity than his parents had. In hindsight, he wishes he had instead stayed in the village and saved himself the throes of ghetto living.
“Many of my friends back home call me, wanting to come to Kampala to look for money,” he says. “I tell them not to come because here we know no peace. We are suffering trying to survive but they don’t believe me. They say that If I can manage, then so can they.”
Martin dropped out of school in 2008 a few months before he was scheduled to sit for the Primary Leaving Education. His parents could not afford school fees for his siblings and him, which marked the end of education for them. It was then that he started doing odd jobs for survival.
At 18 years old, he found a home in Bwaise and has since taken a wife, fathered two children aged three and one. With no defined source of income, he makes money from random menial jobs and hawking foodstuffs.
“In the morning,I check on my friends one by one to see who might need some help. Some have chapati stalls so I help with making chapatis for them, then they pay me,” He says. “Other times, I walk around selling boiled maize, sometimes I sell apples. We get them from Mengo and sell them on the streets. Other times I sell grasshoppers during the rainy season.”
Like Martin, his wife did not attain education and does not possess any tradable skills at the moment. This and the fact that their children are still too young to be left without supervision renders her unable to contribute to the family financially.
“I would have wanted her work too but it is hard for her to leave home because she cannot leave the children alone. So they all look to me. The little money I make has to sustain us because I am the father, mother, uncle and Jajja. All the money I make is rushed home immediately so they can buy lunch. Even if I don’t eat or go naked, I am fine as long as my children have eaten.”
After failing to raise enough capital to start his own business, Martin relies on his friend’s businesses for survival.
“Now I would like to get enough capital to invest in apples because they are profitable,” he says. “Starting a business would depend on the amount of capital I get. I see so many possible avenues of investment but I would like something sustainable. Apples are profitable despite the challenges like this KCCA that is always harassing us. With chapatis, the market is too saturated so you end up making very many chapatis and they do not get bought.”
When asked about what kind of future he envisions for his children, Martin, with so much angst, says he doesn’t see a bright future for them.
“I feel stranded already, yet i haven’t started paying school fees. I can only imagine what it will be like when I start paying school fees. This is where you find cases of men who run away from their wives and children because the situation gets too tight. Unless I start a business where I can get some money every month for rent and school fees, their future looks bad right now.”
Martin has thought about seeking credit from a microfinance but has never gone to any due to the fact that he does not have any property that he could use as collateral.
“Before giving you any money, these people want to know how you will pay it back. I have nothing, they wouldn’t give it to me.”
Martin’s story is not unique to the plight of the many unemployed and unprivileged youths in Uganda who are scrapping everyday to survive. Without access to credit and skills training, his circumstances are bound to be carried on to his children, this spinning the vicious cycle of poverty.