Working for Justice – Homes for Street Children
There’s no place like home. Growing up, most of us took being able to “go home” for granted. Home was a place of family and warmth, a safe place from which we went to school, went to work and eventually left so that we could set up our own home and begin the cycle again. As we grew older and, especially in these recessionary times we have become more aware of how precarious the hold that we or our children have onthe place we call home. We are especially aware of how this uncertainty can be caused by the unjust actions and greed of others.
Many Africans in Ireland are people who have unjustly lost or been forced out of their homes. Here they seek a new safe place in which they can resume the normal cycle of life – making a new home from which their children can go to school, grow up and build their lives just as we did and just as we hope our own children can do.
Street Children in Africa
Many children around the world do not have a safe home. While exact figures for street children in Africa are unknown, it is certain that they number in the millions. The traditional African extended family system simply cannot cope with the rapid growth of urban populations, poverty and the effects of the HIV/Aids pandemic. According to the United Nations, children, because of their vulnerability, “need special safeguards and care.” In reality the world of street children is far removed from the rights and protections espoused in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The opposite is true, millions of children are being exploited, abused and denied of even the most basic human rights: to food, shelter, education and health.
|A street child is: “Any girl or boy for whom the street has become her or his habitual abode and/or source of livelihood, and who is inadequately protected, supervised or directed by responsible adults”|
Focus on Zambia
In Zambia, many parents are dying due to HIV/Aids. As a result thirty per cent of children under the age of fifteen are orphans. On any given day in the urban centres of Zambia somewhere in the region of 100,000 children between the ages of five to eighteen either wake up on, or go to work in the streets. Often seen as a threat they are shunned, beaten and sometimes even killed. Because they are too young to have developed work skills they have no choice but to engage in the most menial of tasks such as picking firewood, carrying loads, tending to animals, street vending, begging, scavenging in dumps and prostitution. They hang around bus-parks, markets and bars trying to eke out a living. Because of poverty and the lack of access even to the most basic education these children are locked in a cycle of deprivation that few can break out of without some sort of external supportive intervention.
What the Church Says
The church’s approach to the pastoral care of street children is to focus on their re-incorporation into society and above all into a family environment or home where they can be cared for, educated and so be prepared for their responsibilities as adults.
“The first right of children is that of being born and educated in a welcoming and secure family environment where their physical, psychological and spiritual growth is guaranteed, their potential is developed and where the awareness of personal dignity becomes the base for relating to others and for confronting the future.” Monsignor Silvano Tomasi, Vatican Representative at the Ordinary Session on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 2007
The Twafwane Project
In Kitwe, Zambia, the teaching of the Church is being translated into practical action. Fr Anthony Kelly SMA is in charge of the Twafwane project that aims to complete 64 homes for street children, vulnerable widows and their children by June 2013. The project began in 2006 after a consultation with young people living on the streets in Kitwe. Part of this involved asking them to collectively represent their saddest and happiest times in drawings. First they produced a sketch depicting the burial of parents and then the drawing here showing a home scene of a family gathered outside their house. The project, as much as possible, tries to re-create this home scene.
Twafwane aims to give street children and vulnerable families the chance to own their home, a safe place from which they can build and live a normal life.
By December 2012 forty-two houses will be completed. Each has 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, shower, toilet and a sitting room. So far 24 homes have running water and sanitation. This is the most expensive part of the build. The pump, stands and water tanks cost €15,000 and bore-holes €5,000 each. Blocks for the walls are made on-site and other building materials are purchased locally.
Those who will ultimately live in the houses help with labouring, mixing cement, carrying bricks and water and digging the septic tanks. This is their contribution to the cost of their homes. Orphans, and families like those in the photograph here, are now actually involved in the building of the homes that will give them a secure and much safer alternative to street life. They will definitely have a roof over their heads but whether or not their houses will have running water and proper sanitation, like those completed earlier, depends on additional funds being found. The last phase of 22 houses is now underway and depending on resources the 2013 completion date looks feasible.
There are 3 builders at the site. They were trained at the beginning of the project in 2006 and oversee the work of the street children and widows who will live there. Each household contributes €8 per month in order to create a revolving fund for future projects which they will initiate themselves. This fund will help provide a Police Post for their security, a Community Hall and a Play Area for the children.
The former street-children and widows of the new Twafwane Community have a brighter future and plans for a better life. This has been made possible through a combination of their own labour and the generosity of many donors including those from Clonbur, Cong and Cornamona Parishes.
The work of the Twafwane Project is truly the work of the Church. It has been made possible through the cooperation of many good people.
Want to help? Contact the Development Office, African Missions, Blackrock Road, Cork.
This information was first published in the African Missionary Magazine No.20 Autumn/Winter 2012