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A Bumpy Ride to Mbarara, ‘Baby’ Shawn’s Washroom Woes & Why We Must Pay More Attention to Children’s Mental Health

A child. Photo by World Vision International
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 By Franko Olong

I rolled towards the edge of the bed, irritated. Thanks to the buzzing vibrating sound from my kabiriti phone. It was an incoming call. It was launching a counter attack on team sleep into her den impromptu.

Forcing my eyes to see through the darkness, I painfully saw 4:01 AM on the phone screen. And answering the call, I heard, “It’s time, wake up.” Shortly after the call, my alarm clock kicked in.

I maneuvered my way off the bed stretching out for the switch. The light registered presence. Time flew so fast before I had to move out of the house. It felt annoying, confusing and painful.

Off I woke up irritable and sensitive but the cold weather on the Bodaboda sobered me. My Boda guy kept focused on his ride saying nothing. Once in a while, he tap his head lamp and it brightens. I didn’t feel either that I should say anything after the ‘Good morning Sir.’ or do anything other than sit quietly. We unintendedly signed up for a mutism championship.

In a flash, I was at the bus terminal in Kampala City. Locally called Bus Park, it was saturated with a buzz. The roaring engines and uncoordinated words from brokers and conductors kept the buzz and confusion. “Ssebo, ogenda?” a guy covered in a thick jacket with a round head and belly asked. (Ssebo, wagenda is translated, ‘Sir, are you boarding?”

I nodded horizontally – no.

A wait of nearly an hour after the first bus departed, we also set off. The bus was half filled and I decked in the last seats with my colleague. Somehow I really wanted to take this particular bus but shortly I regretted why I did. I was excited because I would in a long time board a multi-axled bus. A thrill of excitement bubbled within me.

However, along the road I hated the whole idea of why I took that bus. Even though I had no other options, yeah I hated it.

First, the driver was so reckless. He drove us as though he was driving a bunch of non-living things and smuggled minerals. At one point when we comfortably settled in and sleep crept out of her den when suddenly a hellish chaotic sound rocked from the passengers. We hit a hump, I jumped up hitting my head on the bus roof. Bad way of waking up. On my second left was a baby snoring. Had it not been for his vigilant mother, he would have flown up then banged his tender self on the floor of the moving bus. I leave the rest to imagination. Devastating, it would be. The driver needed a psychiatric assessment for intoxication. We would need to rule out some emotional trauma too.

Secondly, the bus seemed ancient. It made a noise. One would think the bus would split the next minute. Thank God it was never split and we arrived at our destination.

At one specific stop along Mbarara road, we attended nature’s call. As I stood enduringly in the line flowing out, I felt a playful touch on my legs.

Looking at what could be the cause, there was a little boy. He wore a brown leather jacket, jeans and sneakers. His hair was well kempt and looked confident. He pressed on impatiently. I squeezed at the side allowing him to come in front of me. He raised his head and gave me a “thank you” smile. He looked pleased that someone felt him.

Off the bus rushing to the washrooms, the little boy whom I later learnt is called Shawn* came to me. I stopped to fasten my shoelace, while Shawn stopped moving. With my natural gravitation to children, noticing his body language, I asked his name. “Are you going to susu?” He asked. “Yes, I am going to susu,” I replied. We bonded and off to the washrooms.

A urinal for males. Photo by Franko Olong

As we made the last turn to the actual place, a line of passengers waiting to use the washrooms welcomed us. It dissolved shortly. Shawn and I entered. I noticed there was a problem. The urinals were so high for this youngster. I had to carry him up to the level of the urinal. I held him gently as he breathed hard, eliminating the urine.

“Are you ok?” I kept asking. “Are you done,” I asked. All I could hear was the pushing breath. He must have been dying.

At this point I thought of how non inclusive this specific washroom was to children. Other children were also storming but Shawn was lucky he found someone who helped him. And generally speaking, so many public places do not consider certain categories of people like the children, elderly and persons with disabilities. This can be a disaster. It’s distressing to the little minds.

It makes it seem being a child is a crime or a burden or unimportant. Small things make these children enjoy a good quality of life.  If they came into a washroom and found a urinal or toilet of their own size, this would encourage them more than distress them.

He’s been in a bus and here a urinal isn’t of his size. He can’t reach the toilet set. Next thing is panic, irritability, tantrums etc. What would happen there after, probably a spank or warning by his tired and equally distressed caregiver? A spell of distress would ensue.

Inclusivity in infrastructure and policies can improve children’s mental health, fitness and wellbeing. Support offered to them would facilitate health, fitness and wellness of the child. It would help generate a positive outlook of life and encourage positive response to others. This travels a long way enhancing creativity.

A shift in mindset concerning children is key to a healthy population. About one in 7 children suffer mental illnesses. This tends to carry on to adolescence and adulthood. Drastic changes start with small intentional steps at all levels: family, community, national and global. Great strides have been attained concerning children rights yet more needs to be done especially targeting their mental health, wellness and fitness.

Parents, educators and policy makers need to be empowered with child and adolescents mental health skills. Programs should be developed that help throw light on the connection of all these sectors to the children’s mental health, wellness and fitness. Yes, they connect.

A story is told of the greatest teachers and policy makers who ever lived in the gospel of St. Matthew 19:14,”…let the little children come to me.”

We see Jesus Christ here, fully recognising the need for the children to have equal presence in his sight. He laid his hands and blessed them.

Today, our civilization in the name of development and a rush for cash has kicked children out. They deserve inclusion in the planning and implementation of policies and programs even in infrastructural facilities.

Shawn later revealed to me he’s in primary two, blue is his best colour and he had travelled with his daddy. We got into the bus, I showed him my seat and he likewise. I hope one day I will meet him and remind him how I carried him to pee. Once upon a time, the adult was a child. So shall the story continue…

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