Tuesday, 23 April 2013 07:10

ZAMBIA: Street Children Can Be Useful to Society


19 April 2013 - In the eyes of many, the sight of a street child sends shivers of heartless, wicked, uncultured, dangerous, brutal and potentially-harmful beings.

They are viewed as petty thieves, resilient and rebellious children, who should be avoided at all costs.

Many billboards in the central business district read 'do not give alms to street children', giving society every reason to dissociate themselves from this marginalised group of individuals.

Street children are thought of as people who do not deserve a second chance or indeed the benefit of doubt in life.

They are seen as 'someone else's responsibility', and for many in society, they are seen as children who despite provisions by the Government to provide free primary education, they are not willing to get an education.

In fact, a lot of people in society can attest to the fact that they have at least once in their lifetime had a negative encounter with street children.

Members of the public have suffered vices such as violence, verbal abuse, pick-pocketing, and in extreme cases rape, and assault.

However, there have been many Government-driven interventions aimed at finding a long lasting solution to some of the challenges affecting street children, some of whom have since matured into street adults.

Whether or not, some of these interventions have had an impact, although, the bare fact is that, the matter of street children is still a major source of concern in the Zambian society.

However, there are people in society who have a completely different perception of street children, and possible solutions to addressing the age-long challenges affecting street children and their impact on society.

One such is Carol McBrady, alias Ma'am Carol, as she is popularly known amongst the street children in Lusaka.

Ms McBrady, 53, an American , who holds a degree in social work, spent the greater part of her life working with children in vulnerable situations, such as children with disabilities, trouble teenagers, and she also taught in juvenile correction centres, as well as having worked in a paediatric counselling centre.

She first came to Zambia in 2001, and at her first encounter with the children living on the streets, her heart was filled with compassion at harsh conditions that these children were living under.

Ms McBrady has a different view about this group of people whom society has chosen to discard.

Having worked with difficult children in her home country, she feels that a little bit of love and compassion shown towards these children, go a long way in helping them reform and be integrated into society.

Ma'am Carol, who now runs the Salvation Home -a correctional facility for Street children, believes that combined efforts such as the conventional ways of managing street children, as well as some adopted practices from the Western world, would help the Zambian Government achieve an effective means and probably a lasting solution in addressing the needs of street children.

The whole concept of establishing what is today known as the Salvation Home located in Lusaka's Bonaventure area, is based on the Bible scripture in Isaiah 54, which talks about submission to God.

Prior to setting up this home for less advantaged children in society, Ma'am Carol, whilst still in America, had tried to send money through some individuals whom she trusted to utilise the monies to help, but to her disappointment, these individuals instead out of selfish motives chose to channel the monies for their personal gains.

"I sent money twice, and in both cases, it was people whom I knew, and thought I could trust. The first couple used the money to send his wife for further studies, while the second time I sent money, again through another person I knew, it was also misappropriated," she recalled.

"However, when I decided to send about US $2000, to a 17-year-old homeless boy I met on the streets of Lusaka, he used the money to purchase school requisites and returned to school," this made me realise that contrary to wide spread perceptions that these children do not want to get educated, there are so many who would like to continue with their education, and that somehow, life has just been unkind to them," she said.

Today, she has under her care over 112 children whose age group ranges from about four to 19 years.

The Salvation Home operates as a normal family set-up where the children are able to experience family life as opposed to operating it as a transit home or an orphanage.

Her main argument against set-ups such as orphanages and transit homes is that the children do not feel the individual love and attention that is offered in the family set-up.

Some interventions by both Government and some civil society organisations to move street children into orphanages may have failed because of the lack of family values, care and love for the children in these centers.

"Many times I have heard of children who have been to so many centres and orphanages, and they still return to the streets. Here at Salvation Home, I have children who have been tossed to three or four centres and orphanages, and they still went back to the streets,' she said.

The part of the correctional and rehabilitation programme that Salvation Home offers is to ensure that the children are taught how to live with others in a family set-up, which she said makes it easier for the children to be integrated into society.

The Salvation Home, which currently accommodates 23 children, with a bed capacity of 22, operates as both a treatment and rehabilitation centre where children in need of counselling, treatment for the sick and injured children, and specialized c trauma counseling for sexually abused children are all offered at the home.

The children are not criminals as most people like to believe. In fact, they themselves have in most cases been victims of negative vices such as sexual abuse.

If the cycle of problems affecting street children is not addressed, and broken, then society will end up with street children and youths they should fear.

Besides the Salvation Home, Ma'am Carol also runs a similar set up on a farmland in Bunda-Bunda area of Chongwe District, where she has gardening, poultry, and horticultural activities.

Some of her partners who support her works include the Southern Sun Hotel, who offers material support as well as job opportunities for unskilled labour for some of the street youths, who are old enough to work.

Other partners include the diplomatic spouses association, Action for Children Zambia based in the USA, O'Hagan's, Mint, Landmark constructions, and some donations from family and friends in her home country.

Some of the challenges affecting the smooth running of the operations of both the farm house and the Salvation Home include inadequate resources to meet the needs of the many street children.

Although, partnerships with some organisations, Salvation Home has recorded many success stories of children who have grown up and fitted very well into the same society that once look at them spitefully.

"We have one young lady who after counselling her and taking her through our reformation programmes, accepted to go back to school and we helped her find employment at Pilatus, and today she is a sales lady at Pilatus. Another one of our youth is now working as a chef at Southern Sun Hotel," she said.

There may be cases of street children involved in a lot of vices, while others have ended up on the streets because somehow, like in every society, life may have been very unkind to them due to no fault of their own.

Like the old adage says: 'do not judge me if you have not walked half the journey I have been through.'

It is, therefore, imperative that before exercising any judgment on some of the children who live on the streets, it is worth contemplating what a simple gesture such as love can do for them.

Source: The Times of Zambia

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