Uganda staff go the extra mile to safeguard children during lockdown

Members of staff at global anti-slavery charity Hope for Justice are going to great lengths to ensure the safety of children who have been freed from exploitation.

New measures have been introduced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce the risk of infection for children and staff at the charity’s Lighthouses – short-term care facilities for children who have been exploited, or who were at risk of exploitation.

In anticipation of a lockdown, a risk response plan was drawn up, at which point the team identified the risks associated with staff commuting to work.

A rota system was therefore implemented, allowing for six members of staff to reside at the Lighthouses at one time, to ensure that the charity’s projects could continue being delivered.

Florence Soyekwo, Hope for Justice’s Uganda Country Director, said: “We foresaw that there was an increased chance of staff becoming infected if they continued to commute to and from the Lighthouses on a daily basis, which would in turn place the children at greater risk.

“In a huge show of solidarity, social workers, wardens, teachers, guards, nurses, cooks and Lighthouse managers are all taking it in turns to carry out shift work at the Lighthouses.

“Many of these individuals are walking between five and 15 miles to get to and from their homes during the shift changeover days, rather than using public transport.

“We are so thankful to our staff who have sacrificially agreed to live in-house so that we can continue to provide these vital services.

“It is important at such a time as this that the children’s needs continue to be met, that they are cared for and protected from this virus.

“These children were already vulnerable before this crisis hit, and they are even more vulnerable now.”

Staff are keeping the children informed, helping them to understand the developing situation, holding counselling sessions, giving reassurance so that they feel safe, and continuing to provide the services they need.

The charity’s aim is always to reintegrate children back into family-based settings, and so its work throughout this time continues to focus on transitional care, preparing and equipping them for that process in the future.

One child asked a member of staff who had just arrived to take over a new shift: “Have you come back to take us home?”

Florence said: “Good staffing levels at the Lighthouses are vital during this global crisis to ensure that children receive quality trauma-informed care, are supported to build their confidence and reassured that one day they will get back home.”