Reverend Richard Rukundo is a Timothy mission partner, based in Uganda. He works for the Church of Uganda as children’s programmes coordinator and assistant provincial education coordinator. Richard has a strong passion for making sure children’s voices are heard by all in Uganda and a desire to make children’s rights a top priority.
Tell us more about your ministry?
My overriding desire is to see Christian witness among children. This includes equipping children’s workers, developing strategies for discipleship and mobilising the church and community for serious involvement with children’s issues.
In the church we have to bring the plight of children into the limelight because children in Uganda, and maybe the whole of east Africa, have been affected by many of the injustices happening around. It’s clear from reports in the media that there is child abuse and violation of children’s rights. War is happening all around us. We have a lot of refugee camps in northern Uganda and have all been affected by war for a long time. Children have been traumatised, we have seen child soldiers and girls who have been taken over by rebels. That’s a part of the church we minister to.
Tell me about your discipleship programme?
We have developed a discipleship programme called Children at Risk for churches and schools and organisations working with children. We also work with other faith-based organisations to see how we can help children come to churches and build their hope and also how the church can respond to some of the things children need.Children often come to church when they are hungry and have no food, so telling them ‘Jesus loves you’ may not meet all their needs. You may see a child who is not attentive, maybe a child who is hungry, and we, as teachers, may be able to find out what is wrong. But most of the teachers are volunteers so prior to our programme did not have the right training to counsel the children and spot when they are in need.
Our programme, now in its second year, helps take us to a position where we can meet the children at their point of need - so children find churches as places of hope.
Is the programme working?
Yes it is working very well. Children have been able to open up and there are stories where they have felt able to raise concerns – including things like sexual abuse, how they are being treated by their step mothers, and so on.
We are now talking about campaigns to put children’s right where they need to be. We want church and political leaders to put this issue at the top of their agenda, because when children’s issues come into the limelight, a lot of help will come forward.
In most churches and ministries children’s issues are not even on the main leadership agenda so our mission is how to push this up the leadership agenda.
What are some of the children’s problems?
A lot are desperate – maybe they are into drugs, alcohol; some have lost parents, some cannot afford to go to school, so often end up in desperate situations. Oftentimes the only place they can run to is church because it is a place that brings hope but if there is no-one who understands their plight there, then they feel church is not even a place to go.
But I am happy to say that leadership is beginning to wake up and saying yes there is something we need to do to help children.
Tell us about the training programme in schools that you’ve introduced?
The programme trains teachers as lay chaplains. After the training the chaplains know how to listen to children. We have a lot of boarding schools, a lot of children are hurting, maybe there are drugs or they feel desperation. The only time they have to worship is when a Reverend comes to the school once a week so having lay chaplains is very useful as they are there all the time. Thanks to the programme, head teachers are now also realising the need for counselling and allowing time for children to open up. There is more of an understanding that if children are behaving badly at school it may be because there are issues going on at home.
The programme we’ve devised, Children at Risk, is now in its second year and we have lots of stories about children whose lives have been transformed by opening up and talking to school chaplains. One girl had been staying with an uncle who has been sexually abusing her, and she was able to share about this as the discipleship material opened up a conversation about friendships and it came up that the uncle was not a good friend, and the story unfolded. The following week, the same girl brought her sister along who was undergoing another trauma.
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