|© UNICEF Uganda/2009/Hyun|
|Participants join a parade led by children through Moroto Town as part of the Leadership Forum for Children recently held in Uganda.|
By Chulho Hyun
KARAMOJA, Uganda, 2 April 2009 – Home to approximately 1 million people, or 3.5 per cent of Uganda’s population, the north-eastern subregion of Karamoja remains the poorest area of the country. Development efforts here continue to be hampered by persistent conflict and food insecurity.
In an effort to address some of these challenges, members of the Karamoja Parliamentary Group gathered with community elders and children in March to discuss what is at stake for the area’s children. This gathering – the Karamoja Leadership Forum for Children – was held in Moroto, the administrative heart of the region. It was the first meeting of its kind in the area.
Forum participants hailed from five districts and represented the political, official and cultural interests of Karamoja’s people – the majority of whom live in agrarian communities.
'Now is the time to make history'
The event was organized by the African Leadership Institute with support from UNICEF. The discussions often included individual testimonies that followed district-specific presentations on the situations of children. Speakers recounted the challenges posed by the lack of basic services in their regions.
Malnutrition was one of the most critical issues raised at the forum. A chronically food-insecure area, Karamoja has been acutely affected by successive years of drought, animal diseases, rising food prices and food insecurity, all of which has created an emerging child survival crisis.
About 1 out of 100 children under the age of five is severely malnourished. To address that problem, a month-long accelerated health campaign to reach all communities with life-saving child survival interventions was launched last October. UNICEF-supported activities included polio and measles immunizations, vitamin A supplementation, de-worming treatments, tetanus vaccinations, mosquito net distribution and referral services for acutely malnourished children.
At the forum, Head of UNICEF Operations in Uganda Keith McKenzie urged the participants to renew their commitment to children.
“You have a clear choice before you – between maintaining the status quo and fully embracing the chance to be remembered as the generation that made a difference for children,” Mr. McKenzie said. “Now is the time to make history.”
This commitment was further affirmed when the participants all gathered to sign the ‘First Call for Children’ declaration, outlining goals for improving primary education, child protection and other support in the region.
|© UNICEF Uganda/2009/Hyun|
|Participants in the Uganda forum sign the 'First Call for Children’ declaration.|
Following the signing of the declaration, session representatives presented it to the council known as the Grand Akriket of Karamoja Elders. The elders agreed to help disseminate the declaration to all of their villages.
The goal of the Karamoja Leadership Forum for Children was to mobilize support for community-generated solutions to development challenges in north-eastern Uganda. With the support of UNICEF and allied partners, they have already begun similar projects in nine other regions of the country.