Last week it came to my attention that a youth-focused Humanist organization in Uganda (yes, the Uganda of the “Kill The Gays” legislation) had been burglarized. I’d first heard of the fantastic work that HALEA engages in during after our conversation with Bill Cooke, director of transnational programs at the Center for Inquiry. I quickly inquired and connected with HALEA director Kato Mukasa and learned that HALEA is accepting donations via The International Humanist and Ethical Union.What follows is his plea for the youth centre of the Humanist Association for Leadership, Equity, and Accountability–a place that combats superstition and cultural dogmas to empower youth facing desperate circumstances.
The Humanist Association for Leadership, Equity and Accountability ( HALEA ) started in 2008 with 24 professionals. We were motivated to start up an organization that would gradually positively change attitudes, beliefs and behaviors which negatively impact on our people. HALEA has 132 paid-up members today and hundreds of teens regarded as unpaid-up members.
In 2009, we carried out an assessment survey/situation analysis, and the findings among others revealed that over 60% of teenagers did not complete school due to unwanted pregnancies, drug abuse and addiction, arranged and forced marriages as well as teens’ engagement in petty crimes that would [leave lots] of them killed.
It was our resolve to empower the young people to reason out issues that affect them, to be able to shun retrogressive and oppressive religious and cultural dogmas and practices that ruined their future. Over the years, the number of [teenage] drop outs has gradually fallen to about 20% in the Kampala Central Division, the geographical area of our operation. We have trained over 100 young mothers and empowered them with skills to survive on their own and we have enabled hundred[s] of young people to go to school, stay in school and complete secondary education with the help of partners such as HAMU, IHEU, and CFI and from HALEA’s individual membership contributions and donations. We have over 10 full time staff and 30 volunteers who are dedicated to serve our target group on a daily basis without hesitation but with a great zeal, courage and dedication.
For over 6 years, HALEA has empowered the youth through the establishment of a Youth Support Centre through which we have empowered young people, especially teens and young mothers, with communication skills, essay writing skills, computer application skills and music, dance and drama skills. We also organize teens and public debates through which young people and adults are enabled to discuss issues that affect them and hitherto had no platform to raise such issues. Our Open Talk Magazine has gradually become a darling of thousands of young people who are given a chance to have their opinions published and publicized.
We formed a teens’ edutainment club which has 116 members. The team is called ONE LIFE ENTERTAINMENT a name picked from the fact that as humanists (some of us with an atheist inclination) we believe that it is the one life we have that we must seriously take care of and do good to benefit the world. Our Edutainment club performs secular plays, music and dance that not only entertains but is educative especially because it challenges the retrogressive cultural and religious practices that promote the discrimination of women, girls, young mothers, LGBTI and the urban poor.
Through written materials and organized public dialogues and radio talk shows, HALEA has aggressively campaigned against discrimination of LGBTI and we have worked closely with the gay community through giving them empowerment trainings and advocating for their rights as a minority group among others. Our advocacy work has not always gone well with the large and conservative part of the community that is still tied by hatred perpetuated by cultural and religious dogmas that we have consistently challenged. It is therefore vital to note that whereas we have championed the rights of the marginalized and oppressed urban poor and minorities, we have also meet stiff resistance from those who are opposed to our approach to social issues affecting our people.
HATE ATTACK AND BURGLARY
In the night of the 26th of June this year, a group of about 4 men, driving a large Regiuos car, according to our security guard, [came] to HALEA offices at about midnight and attempted to force their way through the gate. They told the security officer that they were part of HALEA and when he stopped them from accessing HALEA offices, they resorted to defacing our sign post, [uprooting] it from the firm ground in which it had been strongly cemented, [dragging] it across the road and [dumping] it inside the fence of our opposite neighbors, the Law Development Centre. We reported this barbaric attack to police and we continued to try and establish the people behind the attack. A few days later, on the night of 7th July 2014, the attackers managed to find their way inside our premises and took away everything valuable that was found in HALEA’s office.
The first people to reach the office found our security officer unconscious lying at the upper/ behind part of the building. Our offices were wide open. Our checking has so far revealed that HALEA lost the following property: 6 computers, 2 laptops, 1 adapter/power regulator, 1 projector, 3 cameras, 3 guitars, 1 desk phone and 1 laser jet printer, teens costumes, internet modems, microphones, power extensions, a DVD player and a box of new CDs.
They also took cash worth 3,788,000 [Ugandan shillings, around $1,450] . I reported the case to police and the Reference number is SD 07/8/07/2014 the case being Burglary and Theft. We have no clear suspects and at the moment the Police team of investigators continues to do their work.
HALEA staff and members are devastated with this development, we have lost the important tools that enable us to operate and surely this is a great set back in the history of the organization. This has happened at a time when we had so many vital activities going on and many pending. Whereas our assets were labeled with HALEA marks, they were not insured because we could not afford the insurance costs.
EMERGENCY STEPS TAKEN
On that very day, the police did a search around Makerere Kivulu slum were we operate and some suspicious items were got but unfortunately they did not belong to HALEA.I called for a board members’ meeting that was also attended by a few other members and several staff and two old computers were donated to HALEA. Members resolved to continue working and to keep the offices open regardless of the challenges at hand. Indeed, we have continued to do our activities amidst so many challenges especially because we now lack the tools to effectively execute our duties.
We appeal to individuals and organizations who may come to assist us with donations to enable us resume work, we are calling for at least $7,000 to enable us obtain a few computers, a camera, guitars, and a printer. Your advice and assistance is welcome. Thanks for your contribution.
Regards: Kato Mukasa
Executive Director, HALEA Youth Support Centre
Stay tuned–we’ll be hearing from Kato in an upcoming episode of Ask An Atheist. In the meantime, boost the signal a little to help these hard-working, committed folks continue to be the feet of Humanism on the ground.