In January I travelled to Uganda with Comic Relief to report on the work that needs to be done to improve the lives of the people there. This is my diary.
Read all of my diary entries from the beginning here.
Watch all of the films I made for Comic Relief here.
Friday 9th January 2009
I wonder whether the lovely people at Comic Relief knew exactly what they were doing when they compiled my filming schedule. They knew it was my first trip to the continent and Uganda would confront me with some shocking scenes. That's probably why they left Hajjara's story to the end.
We travel to a slum called Nsambya on the outskirts of the capital Kampala. The dirty, fine dust from the road covers you and permeates everything. There appear to be slightly "better off" families in the area. They have chickens, fences around their little properties and patches of ground on which to grow vegetables.
I thought maybe this wouldn't be so bad. I was wrong. Our vehicle parks up and the crew and I walk down to Hajjara's house. The stench is unbearable under the hot African sun. Flies cover everything. Beautiful, friendly little toddlers follow our every step wanting to touch the "Mzungu" - the white people. Welcoming waves and smiles greet us at every turn.
We are accompanied by a gentle soul called Ivan, a representative from a Comic Relief funded charity called NACWOLA. The organisation was set up to help improve the quality of life of women and their families living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda. Ivan introduces me to Hajjara. At 16 years old she has been robbed of her childhood. At 13 her mother died of Aids and her father left, leaving her to raise her five brothers and sisters. Three of the children are HIV+.
I'm shocked at her surroundings. Her tiny little room, that she makes as comfortable as she can, consists of a small bed and a dresser. A paraffin lamp sits on it but never burns; she can't afford the paraffin.
The youngest child Oruzia lies on the bed in silence but rolls around holding his stomach. He's had a fever and cough all week and now his belly aches. It's at this point that I find myself unable to hold back the tears. I try to be professional as Hajjara is standing right next to me, but it's hard. I step outside to compose myself and the crew
explain that this is the norm here.
It is absolutely heart breaking to see this situation first hand. I've watched the films on Comic Relief, and been moved by them. But seeing it with my own eyes is disturbing. Empty packets of the anti-retroviral drugs, to treat HIV, cover the ground like sick sweet wrappers.
I step inside again and Hajjara tells me her story. She remembers the day they buried her mother and how she returned to their little house and suddenly found herself absolutely alone. She realised she was now responsible for everything. She was 13 years old. Her brothers and sisters were just babies.
We flick through her treasured photo book. The worn images of her mother bring a smile to her face. I actually get a giggle out of her as she shows me baby pictures of herself.
If only I could wrap them all up and bring them home with me. Nacwola has been a saviour for Hajjara and her siblings. Although the Ugandan government freely gives out anti-retroviral drugs to those who register, unless you have a stomach full of food when you take them, you become violently ill and it is difficult to keep them down. The
Nacwola workers do their best to provide some food and ensure Hajjara and her siblings get their much needed medication. They also act as a counselling service. Talking and listening to Hajjara is sometimes all she wants.
Despite the terrible situation I found these young people in, what distressed me more than anything was the lack of hope. There was an emptiness in their eyes unlike anything I've ever seen before. They knew this was their lot and it would take a miracle to change it.
The only glimmer of hope in their lives seemed to be when the Nacwola people arrived. They were like substitute parents, bringing milk, bread and affection. Small amounts of money keep this organisation afloat and in turn give Hajjara and her family much needed support.
I asked her what she would like to do when she is older. Her reply was "I can't do anything because I cannot leave my brothers and sisters and cannot afford to go to school but I'd really like to be a hairdresser". I tell her anything is possible as I think back to my day with the coffee farmer Oliva. She was in a very similar situation at the same age and look what she's achieved. I pray that the same good fortune, with the help of Comic Relief, will be bestowed upon Hajjara.
A little money can really go a long way. Give what you can this Red Nose Day and you really will be changing lives for the better. Red Nose Day is on Friday 13th March.
* Read all of Christine's diary entries here
* See a gallery of pictures of Christine in Uganda
* Info on how to donate to Comic Relief
* View all our pages on Comic Relief, where you can play our doodle quiz, bid on the Comic Relief doodle book auction and watch all our Comic Relief videos.