Daniel Plaut is a Program Associate at R4D, working on the Center for Education Innovations and other projects in the Global Education portfolio.
CEI partners learn about the Dwelling Places program model while receiving a tour of the premises.
Last week, as a part of the CEI Global Team Summit in Uganda, team members from India, Kenya, South Africa, Nigeria, Pakistan and the United States visited the headquarters of Dwelling Places, an NGO focused on getting Uganda’s street children back into school. The program started 11 years ago, and to date has rescued and rehabilitated over 900 children.
Warmly greeted by Mugenyi Lillian, our group of international partners was introduced to the organization’s team members as well as some of their wonderful students. It was hard not to be impressed with the complex and thoughtful nature of their model.
The 4 R’s
In order to help both “resident” (without homes) and “recurrent” (with a partial family life) street children, the organization caters their outreach in a way that is unique to each child’s story and background, seeking to understand their needs and offering them relevant services and guidance.
Kids that are rescued from the streets undergo a rehabilitation process that can last from 6 months to a year, hosted in Dwelling Place’s Transitional Rehabilitation Homes (TRH). They receive food and shelter, as well as medical, psychological and educational support, allowing them to integrate into the school system in a smooth manner. The children also attend remedial classes based on the Ugandan curriculum and within a year are expected to return to school. As many of them are very young and have spent a good portion of their lives on the street, they often lack some understanding of basic hygiene and social norms, which are also incorporated into the rehabilitation process.
Unique to the Dwelling Places model, and key to their success, is their approach towards reconciliation. As deliberate and comprehensive as the rehabilitation process is, Dwelling Places recognizes that children should not be institutionalized, and instead belong in a family setting. In an effort to find homes for their rescued children, Dwelling Places has developed an incredibly thorough process for identifying families, and determining whether or not reconciliation is appropriate. Often with the assistance of government records, but sometimes following leads as small as the local language or dance that children are familiar with, Dwelling Places’ social workers attempt to trace each individual child back to the where they belong.
Reconciliation with the family is not always the best solution, as some households can be abusive. In cases where reconciliation with parents is not an option, Dwelling Places also looks for blood relatives and foster parents. However, when resettlement is deemed possible by social workers, they work with the local community to ensure that the family receives adequate support. Furthermore, they help to empower adult family members with skills development and parenthood training to ensure that children are not forced back onto the street as beggars.
Overall, a large majority (89%) of children rescued by Dwelling places have been successfully resettled. These children continue to receive financial support from Dwelling Places to cover their school fees and are periodically visited by social workers, to ensure they continue to live in a stable and positive environment.
Each Child Counts
Having the opportunity to meet Lillian, her colleagues, and some of the children they help to reintegrate into family and school life was enlightening, to say the least. Members of our global team, which include former social workers, education researchers and teachers, were similarly impressed with the attention placed on each individual child. It seems obvious in hindsight, but the reality is that not enough education programs focus on each child, their learning and development, in a way that is substantive.
What the Dwelling Places model demonstrates is that simply placing children in classrooms and expecting them to adapt and learn with no further individual support is often not good enough. This is particularly true for those who come from low-income backgrounds and lack support from family members and the broader community. An integration process that includes academic and emotional remedial support can go a long way to help children be successful in their own development.