Mukisa Derrick is a young man from Kampala, the capital of Uganda in the heart of Africa, with an amazing story.
Growing up, Derrick faced countless hardships, from having no food for days on end to being a homeless kid in the slums. However, he possesses a bottomless well of strength and resilience, and today he helps other children in the slums by providing food, shelter, medical care, and, most of all, hope.
I’ve had the good fortune to get to speak with Derrick on a regular basis over the past month or so, and I’m a better man for it.
From his humility and honesty to his friendliness and instantly apparent love for the homeless kids he took it upon himself to care for, Derrick is a true inspiration to me.
And, because his story and the work he does each and every day is so inspirational, I thought I’d share it with you by interviewing him here. (Disclosure: responses slightly edited, but only for grammar and syntax.)
Christian: Derrick, I’ve only known you for a short time now, but during this time, I can’t begin to describe how much your actions and your attitude have touched me personally. It really made me want to share your story on our blog, because I think it’ll be uplifting for so many more people if they could only just catch a glimpse of your day-to-day life and your backstory.
Could you give us a short summary of what happened in your younger years, like as a homeless kid in Kampala and then what took place when you were 16?
Derrick: I had such a horrible childhood, one any child should not have. It all started with my dad. My dad had a number of wives, and he was so violent. I watched my mom get beat up all the time, and I watched my mom try as hard as she could to take it. When the time came and she could not stand the violence any longer, she planned to escape. She escaped and fled to the capital city, leaving me behind. My mom left me because she could not take me with her. She was only able to go with my younger sister.
So, I was left behind, and when my dad came back home, I was really beat up. He accused me of allowing my mom to go without telling him. Two days later, a new wife was brought into the house. My stepmother was the worst nightmare I had. She denied me food, and she made me sleep out in the bush for the days my dad was not around. Each time I tried to talk to my daddy about this, I was even beat up more.
My village was so small, and I had never been exposed to any other village. My village was small to the extent that everyone knew each other and you could easily find a person just by mentioning their name. With my childish thoughts, I thought every village was just like ours. I thought that if I got myself to Kampala, Uganda’s capital, I would find my mom. Our village was not so connected to the outside world. We had only one small truck that would come to our village once a month to bring some products. One day, I told the truck driver about what was happening to me and asked him if he would take me to Kampala. He agreed, and on his next return, I was put in the back of the truck and brought to the city. It was my first time moving out of our village, but I was locked in a container in the truck, and I was not able to see anything along the way. We arrived in Kampala, and the truck driver dropped me off at a bus stop and drove off. It was my first time seeing very many people, very many cars, and very tall buildings. I kept asking strangers about my mom, and everyone ignored me. While I sat on the sidewalk crying, a boy came up to me and asked why I was crying, and I told him about what happened.
I asked to go with him, and he took me to the Kisenyi slum where I was introduced to his other homeless friends. I was taught survival skills, including looking for metal and plastic to recycle and looking for food from dump sites and garbage bins. That’s how my life turned around, and I became a homeless kid.
While I was on the streets, a lot of horrible things happened to me. Life was hard, and being homeless as a kid was the hardest thing that I faced in my life. We had no access to clean water, no access to food, and no access to medical care. The hardest time of the day was the cold nights and rainy days, because whenever it would rain, it would rain on us right on you. Being exposed to drugs was also a challenge. But, the hardest thing of all was finding food. Getting food meant going to garbage sites and eating from there.
One of the garbage sites I used to go to find some dumped food was next to a hotel. One day, as I was there, a stranger came to the site to dump off some garbage. She was a tourist from Sweden (who I now call my mom). She came close to me and asked me if I was hungry. My English was not so good at that time, but I could at least communicate. She bought me food and that was the start of a new chapter in my life. This tourist told me to come to the hotel whenever I needed food, and she asked me about my life. I shared with her about my life, and we became close and attached to each other. One day, she asked if she could come to the slum and meet my friends. She came, and I showed her around. She told me that she would like to have me back in school and she would like to adopt me. She got me off the streets, and I started staying at her hotel. She got me enrolled into a school, and, before she left to go back to Sweden after her three months in Uganda, she left me with a caretaker (her tour guide). I was put into a boarding school, and I would stay at the tour guide’s house on breaks. When I got to junior high school, she wanted me to move to Sweden, and go to school there. I tried to trace my family before leaving for Sweden but failed. She worked on my paperwork with the help of my carer, and in 2015 I moved to Sweden. I lived in Stockholm until I finished high school.
Christian: You lived in Sweden for 3 years, but you chose to go back to Kampala to help other kids like yourself. Was it difficult to transition back from Stockholm?
Derrick: During the time I was living in Sweden, my heart was always home in Africa. I asked my mom about moving back to Uganda. We both knew what other kids were going through and I always told my mom that I wanted to go back and help. At the end of 2018, I moved back as a volunteer with an NGO that was working to promote education in rural communities. Once in Uganda, I felt good being back home, and the first place I visited was the slum I grew up in. It was hard seeing some of my childhood friends still homeless and many that had lost their lives trying to steal for survival. From then on, I did not want to move back to Sweden. I wanted to stay home and try to help the kids.
Christian: You’ve now been back in Kampala for some time now, helping kids like yourself with shelter, food, and finding joy. How rewarding does that feel for you?
Derrick: Basically, seeing the transformation fills my heart with joy, especially the love I get from the community of Kisenyi slum. And it’s also so rewarding for me to be able to stay in the place where I belong, both Africa and Uganda. The positivity of the kids also brings me joy. So basically, my reward is the joy and happiness I get from being around my family.
Christian: I’ve had the honor and privilege of speaking with you over video chat while you were with the children, and everyone is always happy and smiling. It’s really an inspiration to see these kids so joyful even though they don’t have access to basic necessities, other than through your generosity. What do you think keeps them so positive and upbeat?
Derrick: The stories of transformations and having faith that things will be okay one day keeps the kids super positive. And I might also say drugs, because, once you are high, you forget what is happening and are simply happy. And the kids were happy when you talked to them because they feel safe and always happy seeing me around.
Christian: While I said everyone looked happy when I saw them, I don’t want to downplay how difficult life can be for these children. What sorts of problems do these kids face each day?
Derrick: There are a few main problems the kids face:
Community rejection – Other people look at these homeless kids as just drug users, thieves, and dangerous people. So many times, the kids have faced mob justice by people accusing them of being thieves, etc.
Drug abuse – Many kids are exposed to drugs and use drugs, with the most used drugs being glue and aviation fuel.
Medical care – Finding medical help is one of the biggest problems faced by the kids. In Uganda, everything, as far as medical care is concerned, must be paid for. And, due to the fact that homeless people and kids are neglected, it is hard for them to access free medical care when available.
Cold and rain – The nights sometimes get so cold and rainy and the kids have to be out in all the types of weather and seasons. This is why so many kids are on drugs now, because you could not honestly fall asleep sober on a cold night while resting your little broken body on concrete.
Sex trafficking – The homeless are always at risk of trafficking and many end up engaging in sex work.
Christian: I noticed in your video that it seemed to be young boys only. What is the situation with homeless girls? Do they have a separate camp?
Derrick: Homeless girls are usually more trusted than homeless boys, so the girls are always employed to work as house maids, help in local food stores, or they get involved in sex work and married at young ages. I would say girls are a bit more privileged than boys, and, at the same time, at the biggest risk.
Christian: Could you tell me your typical day with these children when you go to visit them? I know you bring food and then stay to do some activities, but what does that look like?
Derrick: We have centers in the slum where we do feedings from. When I get to the slum, we meet and gather around at one of the centers. We share stories, and I try to talk to the kids about drugs and play some games. I also try to give first aid, mostly cleaning and dressing wounds. In case one of the kids is sick, I try to help them access medical care. Then I provide meals. That’s what I basically do when I get into the slum.
Christian: Okay, so you do some truly amazing work with many homeless boys in Kampala, but you told me also that you have a permanent shelter for about 10-12 kids, as well. What’s the story there?
Derrick: At the shelter, there are ten kids that are staying there permanently. The idea of the shelter was to be a rehabilitation center and a transitional home. There is a chance of having some of the kids reunited with their families, so the idea of having this shelter was to have the kids stay here and get rehabilitation as we try to reunite them with their families.
Christian: You told me you make some of the money you need to support the children by selling a few little souvenirs made by the children through your mother in Sweden. Is this the majority of your funding?
Derrick: Most of the funds have been collected by my mom in Sweden. We basically have a small craft shop in Sweden that sells locally made crafts from Uganda. Most of these crafts were made by local women here in Uganda, and we send them to Sweden where they are sold to raise funds. I recently opened up a tour company, and we have been organizing safaris and trips to raise money, as well.
Christian: Also, I already asked you this before, but I’m sure readers will want to know: How can we help you? Can we donate money? Could we send you some supplies?
Derrick: I would honestly say we have been trying to sustain ourselves and have only been supported by close friends. If any one is interested in helping financially, they could send an email or message on Goodwall, or we could create a GoFundMe to support us because there is a lot we could do but funds limit us sometimes.
Christian: Derrick, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us. You are really a modern-day saint. In just the little time I’ve known you, you’ve become a hero and role model to me, and I am sure others who read your story will feel the same way!
(Side note: I know some of my responses and follow-up questions didn’t convey any sentiment or emotion to the question before, but I sent this interview all at once by email so as to give Derrick the time he needed to reply.)
Well, that’s it for our interview, but it’s far from over for Mukisa Derrick. If you want to chat with Derrick or learn more about the great work he’s doing, join Goodwall and send him a message!