Tom is 17 and looking forward to his first family Christmas in five years, after leaving his orphanage and moving home with his dad, stepmother, grandmother and sisters.
He was 11-years-old when he entered the orphanage in Tororo, a rural community in Uganda. His family, who farm a small and remote plot of land, were facing an impossible choice after Tom fell seriously ill with an intestine problem. After emergency surgery they tried their best to nurse him back to health at home. But they were too poor to pay for his nursing, and so Tom remained bed-ridden and too ill to go to school.
“I felt confused, angry and alone.”
One day a relative came to the village and told Tom’s family that their only hope was to take him to the local orphanage. There he would have access to a nurse, medication and free schooling. “My family knew I wouldn’t go to the orphanage, so one day they told me we were going into town to see the doctor,” said Tom. “But to my surprise they took me to the orphanage instead – and then left me there. I felt confused, angry and alone. But I realise now they had no choice.”
Tom was always a shy boy, but speaking a different language to the other children in the orphanage made him even more withdrawn. He spent his first couple of months completely alone. Eventually he learnt to speak their language, and this coincided with his health gradually improving. He went on to spend five years living in the orphanage, but his family would visit whenever they could. Tom’s grandmother, Beatrice, 80, said: “It broke our hearts to put Tom in the orphanage, but it was also a relief to see him get the care he needed to live.”
Last year, our partner in Uganda, Child’s i Foundation, began working with Tom’s orphanage. The orphanage owner was keen to change direction – redirecting donations and efforts to reuniting children with families, and supporting vulnerable families in the local community to stay together. The orphanage could then become a community hub instead, providing healthcare services, day care, nutrition workshops, vocational training and after-school programmes for children.
“It’s important that a child grows up in a family, and we cannot wait to spend Christmas together.”
When we met Tom’s family, they told us they were desperate to bring him home, provided they received support from the orphanage as it transitioned into community hub. After a full assessment, Tom was slowly reintegrated into his family.
Until moving home he’d never met his four younger sisters, but today they look up to their only older brother – who has completely come out of his shell. Tom is confident, enjoys looking after his sisters and is thriving at school. His ambition is to become a broadcast journalist. “It’s important that a child grows up in a family, and we cannot wait to spend Christmas together.” said his dad, Andrew. Tom added: “Now I’m back home, I’ve found my smile again.”