Anguzu: UCU social work graduate restoring sanity in Arua
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/09/anguzu-ucu-social-work-graduate-restoring-sanity-in-arua/
By Douglas Olum
Lying in my bed in the Kudrass Hotel in Arua City in the evening of Tuesday, August 4, a sharp female scream pierced through the walls. Even though I did not understand the Lugbara language the woman used, I could tell from the sharp cries that she was in trouble. I rushed to the hotel reception to inquire about the problem.
“I think they are robbing someone,” the young man at the reception said. “There are gangs around here who rob people daily.”
I retreated to my room with a reminder to be cautious wherever I would go around this northwestern Uganda city. Arua is one of the four regional cities created recently in Uganda. It is located 520 kilometers (323.113 miles) Northwest of Kampala, in the West Nile region of Uganda.
This incident also reinforced the message delivered hours before in a conversation with Morris Anguzu, a 2018 Uganda Christian University (UCU) Social Work and Social Administration graduate who works in this area. Amidst our discussion, he shared with me his experience of the previous night when he received a 2 a.m. emergency call from a motorcycle rider whose bike was robbed while he was rushing a patient to the Arua Regional Referral Hospital. As the Gombolola Internal Security Organisation (GISO) officer in River Oli Division since 2011, Anguzu’s role places him directly at the centre of handling a complex web of societal problems ranging from domestic violence, child neglect, drug abuse, theft and robberies.
Of the two divisions in Arua City, River Oli has the largest population with approximately 50,700 residents of the estimated 72,400 city population (Uganda Bureau of Statistics Population projection report, 2015-2020). About 80 percent are Muslims. Anguzu said the three greatest challenges in this community are low literacy rate, polygamy and lack of parental guidance. He said most parents spend time looking for money, thereby leaving their children exposed to bad peers who introduce them to stealing, abusing drugs and smuggling goods from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
During the day, the city centre is busy with pedestrians, motorists and cyclists transporting all tribes of goods in and out of the city, crisscrossing everywhere. Sweaty, bare-chest men are seen offloading goods from large trucks, which bring them from Kampala, and sometimes loading them in smaller trucks that buy them from local wholesalers. Along the corridors, walk paths and backstreets, women and children are seen hawking carrots, cassava, ginger, onions, pepper, among other vegetables. In the same areas, others also are seen serving cooked foods, porridge, tea and snacks to the lower class city dwellers and some visitors.
Taking a ride with Anguzu along Lemerijoa road, in the afternoon of Wednesday, August 5, we witnessed a large group of young and older boys, drinking, smoking and chewing the leafy drug called mairungi. Anguzu explained to me that Lemerijoa is regarded as the hub of the gangs that rob people in Arua city on daily basis, and that the gangs are feared by both the community and local council leaders because they threaten them every time an attempt is made to confront or stop them.
Determined to change the narrative, Anguzu is applying various social work skills he acquired from UCU during his studies to help restore peace and security in the city. These skills include counseling and community engagement.
He said UCU equipped him with unique skills that have greatly improved his work results. He holds meetings with parents of boys to figure how they might work together to get the children to drop their bad habits; and speaks with many of the boys in one-on-one meetings. Before the COVID-19 lockdown in Uganda, he was more actively engaging elders, religious and local council leaders to derive a sustainable, effective approach through which they could permanently address problems.
While Anguzu’s colleagues are barred from speaking to the media by the terms of their work, others provided praise.
Benard Ezama, a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) rider, said they have more hope in Anguzu than the Uganda Police because he does not demand money from them and normally quickly responds in case of an attack or robbery.
To Jane Aikoru, a shop operator in the city, the increased insecurity in Arua “cannot be solved by arresting and imprisoning the perpetrators because at some point they still return from jail and continue to wreck havoc on people.” Aikoru thinks that Anguzu is the only hope they have because he is unafraid of the boys and he sometimes helps people recover their stolen property from the gangs.
In June this year, and on his way to lunch, Anguzu saw a young boy snatch a phone from a woman and run away with it as the public merely watched. He chased after the 13-year-old boy and recovered the woman’s phone before taking the boy to police.
For many people, the engagement would stop there. No so for Anguzu. Hours later, he went back to police and had a talk with the boy. Together with the Arua Child and Family Protection police department, Anguzu arranged for a meeting with the boy’s family where they resolved to withdraw the case on condition that the boy start working to turn his life around. The family of the minor, whose name is withheld to protect his identity, said their son has since transformed. They say without the intervention of Anguzu, the boy would have a life on the streets. Anguzu says his vision is to make Arua an educated and self-sustaining society that fears God.
“As a born-again Christian I believe my job is a calling from God and I should serve our people wholeheartedly,” he said. “I face rejections from some members of the Muslim community who mistake me to be fighting their belief, especially their practice of polygamy, but I also am motivated further when people appreciate the things I do for them.”
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