Lisa Marie Albert, MS, MPH is a Research Associate at FHI 360 and a documentary photographer focusing on global health issues and human rights advocacy.

“I left my home because my father was beating me quite often. The father chased away my mother, so I had been staying with my step-mother…. Every time I went home I was beaten …. there were times that the step-mother would beat me with a mangling stick, used for making the local bread, a strong stick. And at times she would throw the pounding pistal [used to grain things] at me. She would even task me with the responsibility of washing her clothes. So I felt it better to come to the streets. So I started staying on the streets…” – Moses Lira,Uganda

Children in Uganda end up on the streets because of war and violence, abuse, neglect, loss of parental control, rebellion, poverty, and orphanhood. Uganda is slowly recovering from a 23-year rebel war and has also been hard hit by HIV and AIDS. UNICEF estimates that there were 2,500,000 orphans in Uganda in 2010. Many of these vulnerable orphans become children living on the streets, often exploited and abused with nowhere to turn for a safe home.  Any available estimates of street children are most likely grossly underestimated.  

Current programs that address the needs of children outside of family care include those provided by nongovernmental organizations or governments. These programs tend to address immediate needs such as providing food, education, health care, showers, and sometimes shelter, with the aim to resettle the children with their extended families. One challenge facing government programs is that they are typically police-enforced, which can foster distrust or fear in children. This distrust can lead children to go “underground,” hiding from the police and becoming even more isolated. In an evaluation done in Uganda, nearly half of the children settled through the police-enforced program ended up back on the streets. While there are some success stories,Uganda has a growing number of children living on the streets. 

I volunteered with Child Restoration Outreach because I wanted to provide an opportunity for these children to tell their personal accounts about how they came to be living on the streets. With the final goal of advocacy in mind, I designed and implemented a photography- and illustration-based workshop using a modified version of Photovoice, a community-based participatory research method. The children were very excited to take their first photographs and to share their personal stories. Several children told me that no one had ever bothered to ask them what happened in their life that forced them to live on the streets. 

These photos, illustrations, and stories were combined into posters. In October 2010, 12 posters were hung in 9 venues in Lira, Uganda. Alongside the posters. we provided very practical guidelines about how community members can help to prevent children from going to the streets and how citizens can change their mentality about street children. My hope is that the adults and stakeholders in Uganda will change their perspective from thinking of street children as troublemakers to thinking of them as vulnerable children, and then offer to assist or protect them in some way. This change needs to happen on a cultural level, in addition to a policy level.  There is a great need for continued research on the circumstances faced by hard-to-reach children, as well as evaluations of current programs with vulnerable children who are living outside of family care. In the meantime, my hope is that this exhibit will raise awareness of the struggles of children around the world and motivate people to action.

You can learn more about Lisa’s Photovoice project by visiting:

A note from the IYWG: Adolescents who are orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV and AIDS are a large and growing population with numerous unmet needs. While many programs and publicity efforts focus on young children, more than half of all orphans are in their teen years. Adolescents who are orphaned or vulnerable because of AIDS face particular challenges. Compared to non-orphans, they have less access to education and health care, show more indicators of psychosocial distress, and face greater degrees of child neglect, abandonment, and abuse.  Learn more about the sexual and reproductive health needs of orphans and vulnerable children by visiting our topic page.