Imagine if the children of your neighbors got fed up with their situations at home one day and started walking the streets of Littleton, begging, eating out of trash bins, and sniffing glue. Then, strangers started picking them up, using them and abusing them sexually, then discarding them. We would never tolerate that, would we? And, yet, we tolerate it going on in the developing countries of the world.
According to Friends International, the street children phenomenon is increasing rapidly worldwide. They report that, in 2001, the United Nations estimated that the street children population (3 to 18 years of age) worldwide was 150 million, with the number rising daily. Approximately 40% of these children are homeless and the other 60% work the streets to support their families. Some sources estimate that this number will increase to 800 million by the year 2020.
How do we help these children? We support the organizations that help them effectively: Support the orphans and vulnerable children programs of UNICEF or Church World Service (CWS), walk in your local Foothills CROP Walk (which raises money for CWS programs), sponsor a child through World Vision or donate to organizations that focus specifically on street children, such as Undugu Society in Kenya or SOS Childrens Villages in Kenya, El Hogar in Honduras, or Mkombozi in Tanzania. Contributions to rescue, care for, and educate street children will also be welcomed by The Christian Ministries to the Destitute, P.O. Box 3758-20100, Nakuru, Kenya.
We can make a difference for these children from our homes in Littleton. Read on to know more. Or, just stop now and do something for these children, if you agree with my new friendWahu Kaara, candidate for president of Kenya, who said, "The existence of street children in the world is the greatest sin of our time."
More About Street Children
Here is a story of two different developing countries on two different continents, and one tragic reality: In these places, thousands of vulnerable children migrate to the streets in the large cities to work and live. They are the street children. Their daily reality is a living hell of poverty, neglect, abuse, violence and hopelessness.
For a class at The Women’s College at The University of Denver I set out to compare the street children and their plight in Honduras with the street children and their plight in Kenya because I had been to Honduras and I was going to Kenya. We had viewed the film The Rose Seller in class, which was about street children in Latin America, and it had touched my heart. But, my awareness of these children had begun years before.
In 1999, my family and I had traveled from Littleton to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, to help build houses for victims of domestic abuse. This was right after Hurricane Mitch had caused such devastation there. Before we left the airport to go out to work, our guides warned us that the street children would come and surround us outside the airport and beg. They told us not to give the children anything because it was not good for them; they should not be encouraged to make begging their daily work. Children did surround us and beg, in a big crowd. It was difficult not to give to them, but we didn’t. It was the first experience I ever had with street children.
Recently, I learned that factors that push these children onto the streets include natural disasters, such as Hurricane Mitch; economic crisis, poverty, migration, and abuse (often by family members). The risks they face include poor health, hygiene, and nutrition, substance abuse (it is estimated that up to 90 percent of the street children sniff glue), and sexual abuse, including prostitution and sexually transmitted disease (often life threatening), and physical violence, including murders by police, which have been under investigation (Friends International, 2007).
Friends International also describes the conditions that have caused the increase in street children in Honduras. "During the 1980s, Honduras was surrounded by the turmoil in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala and became a haven for Somoza’s National Guardsmen (known as Contras). The Contra War ended in 1990. Since then, Honduras’ problems have been largely economic. In November 1998, international aid and relief workers poured into Central America to help with the recovery from the devastation left by Hurricane Mitch. Honduras was the hardest hit by Mitch’s rampage. The three days of rain that followed Mitch caused landslides and floods that buried towns and destroyed over 100 bridges throughout the country. When the Río Choluteca flooded, it devastated Tegucigalpa, the capital, sweeping things downriver and leaving behind an ocean of mud. By 2000, the environmental practices that exacerbated the flooding, such as clear cutting, monoculture farming and rapid urban expansion, continued. During the last year the country’s police forces have been (and are still) involved in a scandal involving the murders of thousands of children and teenagers by death squads linked to the police" (Friends International, 2007).
So, what is being done to help these children?
One organization helping the street children in Honduras is El Hogar, which has schools for younger children and the Micah Project for young men. This is how they describe their project for young men, "The Micah Project is a non-profit organization in Tegucigalpa, Honduras which currently supports 24 young men. These courageous guys, all of whom spent anguished childhoods on the streets or in impoverished homes, are now learning to become Christian leaders through discipleship, formal education, and opportunities to serve others who are in need. Our goal is to support these young men as they learn to "act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God" (Micah 6:8). As you meet these special young men and learn about what they have accomplished through the support of the Micah Project, we believe that you will be blessed by the way God has moved in their lives and in the lives of the many people" (Micahcentral, 2007).
To another continent and another time: In February 2007, my husband Peter and I flew into Nairobi, Kenya, to evaluate water projects for communities in areas outside the city. I returned from Kenya in February 2007 after a two-week visit. There I went to an orphanage in the city of Nakuru. As I stood in the door of one of the classrooms, the director of the orphanage brought a young man, a teenager, to me. She said, "This is Zadok. He will give you his testimony."
Zadok was taken off guard, but pulled himself together enough to tell this strange white lady some of what had happened in his life. He said he had been a child of the streets in Nakuru but had been saved and now lived in the orphanage where he was housed, clothed, and fed, and was being educated.
I asked Zadok what it had been like to be on the streets. He answered that it was horrible, very horrible. He said he had slept on verandas, ate out of trash bins, and that he had been beaten up often by the larger children of the streets. I asked him if he had sniffed glue. No, he answered, he only smoked. It was the only comfort.
"In the Bible, Zadok was the priest who annointed David," he said. I knew then that this young man had not only found a home, food, and schooling; he had found out that he was a valuable human being, one who had pride in his name.
This was my second encounter with a street child. Then, on the streets of Nairobi, I saw two boys, one lying senseless on the sidewalk, the other sitting in the gutter watching over him, both under 10 years old, I think.
"In 2002 the East African Standard reported an estimated 250 thousand children living on the streets in urban areas (primarily Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and Nakuru); this figure was a conservative estimate. These children often were involved in theft, drug trafficking, assault, trespassing, and property damage. Street children faced harassment as well as physical and sexual abuse from police and within the juvenile justice system" (gvnet.com, 2007).
So, what is being done in Kenya to help them these children?
Kenya, like most African countries, depends on private groups to help these needy children. One group in Nairobi, the Undugu Society founded in 1973, cannot take in all of the children in need, so it is organizing the children to help themselves, said John Mshindi, a social worker with the group (Tomlinson, 2006).
"We bring the children into groups of 25 to form an organization," he said as one group of boys played soccer behind him. "They have leaders and develop rules and regulations to govern them."
The groups identify the problems they face and help come up with solutions. The Undugu Society provides food and helps out, but insists that the children be sober to attend the meetings (Tomlinson, 2006).
Our guide and interpreter in Kenya, a CWS staff social worker named Mary Obiero told me that CWS takes a similar approach with its Orphans and Vulnerable Children Program. They empower the children to make a life for themselves by placing them in groups, like families, with one head of household. That head of household is able to get a loan from CWS to create a business that will support his or her "family". Mary gave me literature from the Mkombozi Centre for Street Children in Tanzania, which is doing good work in that country.
Mkombozi tackles the complex issues surrounding child vulnerability within communities. They write that their work involves researching and addressing root causes, enabling communities to value and protect vulnerable children; offering education and work opportunities to each individual child, capturing their innate potential; strengthening family based care of street children and HIV orphans; offering a safe space, love, food and medical care for street children at a residential center; working with street children to break cycles of dysfunction; building their skills to solve problems, manage conflict and live with others; and catalyzing a popular movement to prioritize children and young people (Mkombozi, 2004).
Another organization that is helping is SOS Children’s Villages in Kenya, which established its project in Nairobi as long ago as 1973. Since then the work to help the town’s street children has expanded considerably. Recently a program called "Give a Child a Good Start" was launched in partnership with Unilever. Its aim was to feed the homeless, and recently a "street breakfast" was organized which was attended by over 400 children. This successful SOS Unilever partnership has developed further to help with the refurbishment of a children’s hostel in Ngara, one of the Nairobi’s poorest districts.
According to SOS, "The rescue and rehabilitation of street children is not easy. The very nature of their desperate existence has played a significant role in shaping their characters. They tend to be strongly independent. They wouldn’t survive on the streets if they weren’t. Resocializing these young people can be a tough task. Attempts to lead them too rapidly into a new environment which involves social constraints and different patterns of behavior can lead to failure. They find a return to the streets more attractive than a difficult integration into a society that is foreign to them.
"A tolerant step by step approach is essential. And gradually, as the children are relieved of the day to day pressures of managing their own survival, they become increasingly keen to learn and take part in social activities."
Campbell Duncan. "Police ‘dispose’ of Honduran street kids," The Guardian, Friday 30 June 2000.
http://www.friends-international.org/aboutkids.html, accessed 3/7/07 http://www.gvnet.com/streetchildren/Kenya.htm , accessed 3/7/07
http://www.micahcentral.org/support.html , accessed 3/9/07
http://www.sos-childrensvillages.org , accessed 3/9/07
http://street-children.org.uk/kenya.htm , accessed 3/7/07
http://www.undugukenya.org , accessed 3/9/07
McGirk Jan. "Honduras Investigates Murder of 1,300 Street Children Honduras, The Independent, Sept. 4, 2002.
Mkombosi Annual Report, 2004.
Tomlinson Chris. "New approach to helping Kenya’s street children," Mail & Guardian Online, March 7, 2007.