Joanna Eliasson went in 2013 to Uganda to help as a volunteer in a baby home in Kampala.
– My first thought was to take time off from my own company in Sweden for 1 year and make a relief effort in Africa.
But one year instead became her new homeland, now she lives and works full time with STEPS since 2014. When Joanna came to Uganda and saw all the poverty and misery she felt very quickly that she wanted to continue doing what she could to help some of those vulnerable and poor children that were everywhere.
Joanna lived before in Kungsbacka in Sweden. She had her own company for interior design for 17 years and worked as a decorator and interior designer. She is also a trained kindergarten teacher and worked at day care centes and schools the first five years after her high school. She continued to study art and design and opened her interior design company. Joanna was also a social worker for teenage girls for 20 years and even a foster parent for 2 girls in her home.
Well in Uganda, Joanna started visiting slums and came in contact with a lot of children who survived and lived in the ghetto. Poverty and misery were infinitely large. Malnourished children, sick and hungry and without hope for the future Joanna decided to try to get sponsors from Sweden, so that at least some children could get help.
– The response was very positive, thanks to social media and when people knew I was here in place and even knew that the money went directly to the children, they became engaged and were able to follow the work that was updated with text and pictures of the children’s daily lives.
Joanna came in contact with both orphans and children who have been through very much tragic, despite their young age. Many went without food for several days and they lacked school fees so that they couldn’t go to school.
After volunteering in two different organizations with orphanages, Joanna saw another way to try to help these children.
– Many here in Uganda are running orphanages even though the children somewhere have a mother or a relative alive. When I more and more realized because of poverty, these desperately poor mothers left their children because they had no opportunity to take care of them. I saw how the community has built hundreds of orphanages even though the children were not always orphans.
Joanna started to find the mothers of the children who lived at the orphanage that Joanna helped.
– The work was tough in the beginning because I searched alone in the slums for relatives. Not knowing the language, and I found there was a fear from mothers for not being able to care for their children, so it was not easy in the beginning. When they realized that I wanted to continue to help their children and pay their schoolfees things started to happen. I found very poor single women. They were HIV infected and had no job. Others were prostitutes or had very poor underpaid jobs.
– And then to see the children and mothers were reunited was amazing!
Joanna has continued to help vulnerable children and their families to have a better living. She has helped many families to move out of the dangerous slum area so the children can grow up in a better environment.
Many of these extremely poor mothers have got new chances and job opportunities so they can become self-sufficient and able to provide food for their children.
Now STEPS is working to help more children for a better future. We are soon opening our new rehablitationcenter for street children and looking forward to help them out from the streetlife and to a better future. Orphans and street children are helped to be united with their families or relatives. They can now go to school and receive medical treatment and the care they need.
-I am so incredibly happy for every child who can be helped. Seeing a child get their first pair of shoes in his/ hers life or the joy when they will be able to start going to school is indescribable! It is a privilege to be in this place here in Uganda and share the joy with all these vulnerable children. Seeing hope be created and l see lives that have been changed, it is amazing! For every child who can get away from the street and have a brighter future with love, care, family and school is a step in the right direction. My heart is now here in Uganda and with all these children. I want to do my best to make a difference in their lives.