A group of six Ugandan street children from the capital Kampala have reached the grand finale of the hit UK television show Britain’s Got Talent – a further step in proving their lives are “changing for the good”.
The children of the Ghetto Kids troupe are aged six to 13. They have already wowed the Britain’s Got Talent judges and viewers with their energetic dance medley, colourful costumes and beaming smiles.
They were given a new start in life by the Inspire Ghetto Kids Foundation, set up in 2007 in the poor Kampala neighbourhood of Makindye by former school teacher Dauda Kavuma.
The 36-year-old – one of 30 children from six mothers – recalls how he had to hustle from a young age after the death of his father.
As a boy Kavuma said his first love was football but he was later encouraged by a friend to take up singing.
“Whenever I sang, I forgot my troubled past,” he told AFP news agency. His teachers, including the head of an Islamic school who paid his fees, helped set him on a path out of poverty.
“Most people thought street kids… have no value in society but I thought otherwise.
“I thought, what if I use music, dance and drama to transform the underprivileged in the ghettos,” he says. “My inspiration was my love for music and to pay back to the society that has supported me through my hard life.”
‘My life’s changing for good’
Kavuma’s foundation is based in a five-bedroom house in Makindye, where he takes in homeless, orphaned or disadvantaged children and provides shelter, food, clothes and an education.
The youngsters in his care, currently 30 of them aged from three to 18, have heart-wrenching stories – some born as a result of rape, others who lost their parents and had to fend for themselves.
“As much as I remember the hard life in the ghetto, at least now I have hope that my life is changing for good,” says 13-year-old Priscilla Kisakye, one of those competing in the British show.
Priscilla’s parents, both without jobs, found themselves unable to take care of their six children, and she was taken under Kavuma’s wing.
Now, Priscilla says she is treated by her schoolmates as a celebrity, although she thinks of herself as just a normal kid.
And rather than showbusiness, the softly-spoken youngster says her career goal is in law or politics – perhaps to become “the president of Uganda”.
The clip of several youngsters dancing on a dirt road opened a floodgate of opportunities for the group whose videos on YouTube have had millions of hits.
They went on to win several African and global awards, and have worked with international music stars such as American singer-songwriter Chris Brown and Nigerian Afrobeats star Wizkid.
In 2022, the crew took to the stage at the World Cup in Qatar, one of a number of live performances across the globe.
The Ghetto Kids earned a coveted “golden buzzer” on Britain’s Got Talent in April – which automatically sent them through to the semi-finals on Wednesday.
The winners will scoop a £250,000 cash prize.
Kavuma says the foundation relies on donations from well-wishers, earnings from Ghetto Kids videos on YouTube and TikTok as well as live concerts.
“My dream is to have a bigger home to accommodate and help as many children on the streets as possible,” he says.
The current compound is “too small”, he adds, watching the youngsters jostling for space as they play football, volleyball or simply run around with car tyres.
One of the boys, 13-year-old Madwanah Ssegirinya or “king” to his friends, says the foundation paid for surgery that helped him recover from a playtime injury, and his dream is to follow in Kavuma’s footsteps and build another orphanage.
“Above all, (Kavuma) mentored us to be good citizens,” Ssegirinya tells AFP. “He is a father and mother to all of us.”