We hear constantly about the dangers and evils of social media, amid calls for more regulation, censorship, etc. And yet social media also provide creative ways for people in genuine need to reach out across the globe. One story from Uganda highlights that potential— and its risks.
Matovu Mike Wakulira, originally from Rwanda, saw his parents slaughtered by militants in the genocide of 1994. As a child, he joined a group of refugees fleeing to Uganda. There, he lived on the street in Kampala for a few years until Joseph, an American expat shopkeeper, took him and another orphan into his home. From Joseph, a devout Christian, Mike learned an ethic of service. When Joseph was killed in an accident six years later, Mike strove to pass on what he had received. As he told Mind Matters News, he started Come Alive Charitable Ministries to help the community. Sensing that the greatest need was among orphans, he registered Come Alive Home in 2019 as a sub-ministry aimed at the “fellow children who had lost hope” due to starvation, impoverishment, disease, and the losses from civil war.
Why are there are so many orphans in Uganda?
Uganda, a landlocked African country (pop. 49 million) has a troubled history, as do some of its neighbors, like Rwanda. The country is a hub for refugees from other conflict-ridden countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Uganda suffered much from COVID and the subsequent lockdowns. So there are naturally many orphans.
Being an orphan in Uganda today is very dangerous. One risk is kidnapping for ritual child sacrifice. Another is kidnapping for illegal organ harvesting. The government of Uganda passed a law this year against organ harvesting but it is unclear what difference that will make, in light of the political situation.
Uganda’s per capita income is less than US$1000 annually. The country has had one president and one party in power since 1986 and the high, constant level of corruption is widely acknowledged. One report states bluntly, “Currently, the perception across Africa is that whistle-blowers are most likely to be prosecuted than the actual corrupt individuals.”
At any rate, Mike found a way to support a few orphans while earning funds by delivering water and collecting garbage for churches and households — until the two-year COVID lockdown destroyed his business. He and his fellow board member Margaret Winfred, found themselves with 40 orphans, ranging in age from 6 months to 16 years — and very few resources. A key problem is that Mike didn’t know anyone who had any financial resources.
Social media was the only hope
Mike did have one asset at that point: an internet connection. Sensing the power of social media, he reached out globally. In August 2023, he created a Facebook page, an Instagram account, and a LinkedIn account, to talk about the orphans, show pictures, and solicit funds from abroad. Meanwhile, he had to protect the orphans from kidnapping at night — and was wounded in the leg last year while doing so.
Launched on the ocean of social media, Mike was in for a rough ride. Yes, at first, things were easy enough; people with no personal connection to Uganda were naturally concerned for these children and wanted to help. So he started to get support and attracted the attention of, among others, one of the writers for Mind Matters News.
But it can be a fragile hope
The trouble is, the strength of social media is also its weakness. We don’t really know the people we interact with or the societies in which they live. We are connected only by mutual concerns. And, truth to tell, there are a number of fraudulent charities out there using the plight of displaced people in Uganda. Our writer felt he ought to warn people about that.
But then, studying the situation more, he realized that Mike’s orphans’ situation is all too real. He withdrew the accusation and resolved to bring in more donors for Come Alive Home by creating both a GiveSendGo page and a Knights of Columbus donation page. He also helped Mike move the orphanage from Logiri, where they struggled to pay the rent, to Mucwini, a less developed area in the northern part of the country. And he continues to share what was happening with his own contacts, including me.
The struggle for life continues for the orphans. In an e-mail interview, Mike stressed that they need more personal attention than they get. But that’s a challenge: “While the others help in cleaning and giving comfort to them, I face a lot of challenges which include sickness, food, clothing, education, rent because I can’t afford myself.” Another concern is that he cannot enrol all of the children in school. School in Uganda is not free. In addition to school fees, there are the expenses of uniforms, books, pencils, and such. But rent, water, and electricity must come first.
Yet, having come so far already, he is planning for the future. He would like to buy land for Come Alive Home, to end the constant outlay for rent and to enable self-sufficiency in food: “If we can purchase our own land on which we can grow our own food to stop the ‘hunger and no food problem,’ we can farm and rear animals and poultry, to provide foods, meat and eggs. Even we can sell some to earn more .” Ultimately, he plans to house 200 orphans, if things go well. He will probably find lots of applicants.
For now, death is always stalking
During a period when the water was shut off because CAH could not pay the bill, one of the boys disappeared while foraging for brackish water in the community. The water is now back on, thanks to donations, but Fred, 7, was found dead, missing his eyes and private parts. Those specific parts are commonly sought by those who practice ritual child sacrifice. There was no
money for a proper burial so his body was placed in a mass gravesite for poor people. If the conditions outlined in a 2011 BBC report still prevail, there is little hope of any serious investigation.
The other children can hope to grow up alive though there have been periods when they went without food for more than a week, surviving on water.
The remarkable part of this story is not that — even in the 21st century — there is such stark need. The remarkable part is the way a blind sort through hundreds of millions of social media users turned up people, not connected to Uganda in any way, who could reach out to help. Remember this when people tell you everything that is wrong with social media. Sometimes it is the only way to leapfrog over seemingly insurmountable local problems.
You may also wish to read: Nigerian teens create sci-fi with cracked smart phone. They love sci-fi and, well, if you are going to start, you have to start somewhere. Chinwuba Iyizoba: The teens’ project, Critics Company, has alerted people to the possibilities of digital media like YouTube to tutor themselves in skills that can fetch money or jobs or even help them start their own businesses.