Origin of Kampala’s Beggars

Beggars pose for a photo with their Danish rescuer Lisa

I hustle through shortcuts in Kamwokya slum, before I arrive at Kyebando-Kisalosalo, another slum and wetland.

Besides Passover Harvest Church in Kyebando is a huge, filthy trench filled with rotting garbage and stagnant water.

Across the trench is a cluster of rows of rooms, the kind low income earners rent. One of the rows, comprising nine rooms, is in an enclosure.

The compound is concrete, even as the place lacks any grass, it is fairly tidy; not so dusty. Washrooms are also inside the fence.

It is a Sunday and nearly every one is home. A man sits on the floor, at his door post, leaning forward on a bench littered with pupils’ report cards, he is recording names in a black book.

Another sits in a wheelchair close by, reading a newspaper.

Some women sit at their doorsteps cooking, as others are mopping, while others are doing laundry or cleaning utensils. They do all this while chatting and laughing.

Children are pretty noisy, playing and running about.

Apart from the children I have seen, everyone here is either disabled.

Many people, your inclusive have always wondered where Kampala’s beggars emanate.

During the day, they sit begging at the street corners in the city, they crawl from one building to another, but at night, only a few can be noticed sleeping on the streets.

Now, this community accommodates more over 100 adult beggars (40 families). They share 20 rooms (beside the nine in the enclosure, there are 11 others outside the fence).

“We are very many. Each room accommodates two families because we do not have enough space” said Moses Olar, the man in the wheelchair.

He is the secretary of the community.

According to their group’s chairman, Julius Ochieng, many of them came to Kampala during the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency in Northern Uganda after the rebels killed or abducted their family members.

“During the instability, our lives were at stake. The people who were taking care of us were being killed, so, we decided to come to Kampala where it is peaceful,” Ochieng said.

Upon arrival, they slept on the streets for some time until they finally got this home.

Those who came earlier eventually invited their relatives to join them and soon, they grew into this large community.

It is here that most disabled beggars stay. They flock the city daily to try to make ends meet.

It is quite a stretch for them to crawl to town so they take a commuter taxi from Kisalosalo to the city centre, paying between Shs 700 and Shs 1,000 per trip, and the same for the return journey.

Olar says on a good day, he makes between UgShs 3,000 and UgShs 5,000, from which he deducts his transport fare and spends the rest on food for his family.

“That money is not enough to cater for all our needs,” he says.

Thus, most of them take their children along to beg, so they can increase the family’s income.

Each adult pays a mandatory Shs 2,000 at the end of every month, which they pool to pay for services such as emptying their latrines and keeping the surroundings clean, among others.

How they got here

Ochieng says a woman he only knows as Lisa owns these houses. She offered the beggars accommodation and does not ask them for any money.

“That white woman came to the streets in 1995, got us out of there and brought us here. She gave us the rooms with beds and mattresses,” Ochieng says.

But although they do not pay for rent, they have to cater for their meals, well being, clothing, and their children’s education. This is the reason they give for continuing to beg.

“At first, we used to get food from the [United Nations], but they stopped. Sometimes, people around the community bring us some food and clothes, but this is not often,” Olar says.

At the entrance of the community  a signpost that reads: ‘Little Denmark Shelter, Property of the Lisa Care Foundation.’

Information from the foundation’s website, Lisa came to Uganda from Denmark in 1995 and established a school for the needy on the property that now houses the community. The school, however, collapsed, as the project’s coordinators became greedy.

Lisa then decided to start a clinic, which she later transformed into a shelter for disabled people abandoned on the streets. This, according to the website, is only one of her many projects to help the needy in Uganda.

This home is in relatively good condition, although, because it is in a wetland, the place often floods during the rainy season.

“When it rains, we cannot go to [the city] because there is water everywhere, even inside our rooms. We cannot crawl in the water and mud; so, it becomes difficult for us,” Olar says.

Ready to quit begging

The people are ready to quit begging, but their only fear is where to get money for their upkeep.

“If we get proper help, we can stop begging. We need certain necessities before we can let go,” Olar says.

Some say they own land at their ancestral homes, but have no money to develop it, yet they cannot work for it, because of their state. They claim that the government has not helped them either.

“The authorities keep rounding us up from the city, but they have not taken time to know what our problems are. They ought to help us,” says Olar.

Begging is now their way of life and changing it will require alternatives that guarantee some basic income.

Until such a substitute is found, the daily journey of these crippled men and women from across the trench in Kyebando-Kisalosalo to the city streets will continue for years to come.


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Journalist| Writer|Public Speaker|Mother|Wife|Communications Enthusiast| Albinism advocate

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