Sr. Philippa Chakabveyo runs a Project for Street Children in Kabwe, Zambia. Here she explains the aims of the project and how it is helping vulnerable children. “The Project for the Street children started on 17th April 2008. It is located in Kabwe, which is about 165 km from Lusaka. This Project provides services to vulnerable street children, particularly the girl child between the ages of 6 years to 15 years.
The aim of the project is to:-
- Remove children from the street and send them to school
- Rehabilitate them back into their families
- Visit the children’s homes to empower the families through education and support programmes
Most of the children found on the Street come from Makululu which is one of the poorest residential areas in Kabwe. Three quarters of the people who live there are unemployed. They may find an odd job to do here and there but it does not often guarantee continuity and payment on time. The other children come from Lukanga, Poleni and Kangomba.
The first group of seven children were taught under a thatched shelter. Since then different groups of five or seven children have come and moved on to basic schools. To date there are 35 children who have been removed from the street and are actually in various schools. Seven of these are doing secondary level education in different schools and three of them qualified to go to grade 10 this year with very good grades. Among the 35 there are also two boys in school at Shitima Basic School - one in grade 6 and the other in grade 2. I spend four to five months teaching the children how to read and write and also do simple Mathematics. When they are ready I take them to Shitima Basic School for an aptitude test. Those who qualify are taken and allocated appropriate school grades according to their level of performance. The others who do not qualify I continue to teach until they are ready to go for the test again. There is a very good working relationship with Shitima School run by the Brothers of the Sacred Heart.
The girl child on the street faces many challenges and abuses at a very tender age. These abuses are of different kinds. Below are some of the examples of the abuses that the children I work with have experienced at one time or another.
NEGLECT - being deprived of food, supervision and safety, attachment to and affection from adults and medical care.
SEXUAL ABUSE - a girl child is very vulnerable on the street as they are often sexually abused by the older boys who are also on the street and other male adults who give them as little as K5000 (approx. 1 US$) or nothing.
PEER ABUSE - in some instances of child abuse, the alleged abuser may be another child. These can range from verbal abuse to emotional abuse. This often happens when the bigger boys want young girls to give in to their demand for sex with them.
I visit the children on the street and in places where the girl child is likely to be found and talk to them to find out why they are on the streets and not in school or at home. I also encourage the children to go back home by accompanying them to their homes. After visiting their parents/guardians and establishing the reasons as to why they run away from home I discuss those issues with them. When the children are ready they start to learn how to read and write in a classroom that has been set up for them. This classroom is specifically given for the use of the street children by the Zambian Region. The children are taught three times a week. On alternative days, I make a follow-up by visiting their homes to make sure these children have not gone back to the streets. Some of the children are reluctant to take me to their homes because their parents might not even know that they live on the street or that would mean an end to their street life where they get a bit of money for food.
Some of the reasons we have discovered why the children are on the street are:
- Lack of money to go to school
- Lack of adequate food at home
- Lack of adult supervision and affection
- Peer pressure especially after having been exposed to street life where they beg for money to buy food.
- Lack of good entertainment that builds good conduct.
- Some children are sexually abuse by an adult male relative in the home and so they run away.
On alternative days when I am not teaching the children, I visit their homes and talk to their parents/guardians encouraging them to take good care of their children/dependants. I also talk to them about the government child protection policy and child’s rights especially rights to education, supervision and safety, and to love and care.
Most of the guardians of these children have no means of earning an income. So I encourage them to start a small scare business such as selling at the market instead of just sitting at home. Three of the women who responded to such advice are doing well selling at the market.
Some of the challenges that I have face are that some of the children who start school go back to the street because they are used to it. This can be very frustrating especially when I have spent so much time trying to get them out of the street.
There is also a huge breakdown in family and societal values that protected the child. Most of the children from these areas I have mentioned are happy when they are away from home because they are not loved and cared for and experience so much harassment in some of their homes.
Some of the hopes I have for the Project are:
- To get the house where the children can meet for more programmes reinforced by putting burglar bars for security.
- When the Project is registered to form a board to help run it.
- To improve the networking with other stake holders
- By removing a child from the street we are preventing many children from going to prison and some of these will be our future leaders.”