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Homeless Youth -
From the Cold Streets to Caring Arms

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John Chibadura

As Abeja wrote in "Anger at an Unfair World," it is close to impossible to walk around cities here in southern Africa without being approached by a begging child. Dressed in torn up, old clothes, barefoot, and looking up to you with those big, desperate eyes, it is so hard not to hand them the few cents it would take for them to leave you and be on their way. I've watched some kids as they approach other defenseless passers-by: First, they choose their target... maybe a tourist, or someone who made the mistake of looking their way and making eye contact, or maybe just a businessperson or person who look easy enough.

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for larger view
two beggar girls in Harare
Then they approach, often in pairs, and surround the person, walking on both sides and speeding up their pace as needed. They put on the most pathetic, sorrowful faces they can muster up and look up at the target with their saddest eyes holding the bowl of change in the person's path.

If they don't get money at first, they remain persistent. Walking blocks and crossing streets with the person, speaking softly about how their mother has no job or home, how they are hungry and haven't eaten in days.
A blind beggar and his son

If they happen to walk by an adult beggar, sitting on the street, they point out their 'mother' or their 'blind father' who also needs help. Within minutes, the frustrated passer-by gives in and hands them a few dollars because it's the only thing they can do to make the kids go away, to ease the guilt they feel about the life these kids are forced to live.

The kids run away across the street, joking, congratulating each other, scoping their next target. As I watch it happen to others on the street, I wonder how these kids learned to be such hustlers at such a young age? The ones that are barely in their teens are among the best. There must be something other than simply giving them some spare change that can be done to help them.

That's why the Thuthuka project began here in Bulawayo in 1995. Thuthuka is the only project of its kind in the city and has been working to help address the growing problem of street kids here. What do you think street kids need most?

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Poor but still smiling
First, there are the obvious necessities like food and shelter. Thuthuka provides a Contact Center in the heart of Bulawayo where children that live in the streets can come to take a shower, receive first aid, or eat a hot meal. However, that's merely a step up from giving them spare change. Do providing these things really help the youth living on the street? Does having a shower or eating a hot meal change their situation? Thuthuka attempts to address the many levels of the problem behind children living on the streets. They go beyond the initial necessities and offer support and outreach to the youth as well. They treat each youth as an individual and try to establish a relationship of trust with each. This is often a difficult goal at first, since most of the kids conditioned to live on the streets are wary of trusting strangers, especially adults. Day after day, volunteers from Thuthuka will return to the streets, offering their support and friendship. Once the trust is established the youth usually choose to visit Thuthuka on their own.


At the Contact Center, they can receive training and counseling services like math and English tutoring, computer training, life skills, artistic and recreational activities, vocational training, and religious counseling. Thuthuka also provides a live-in training center outside Bulawayo for long-term street children. This is a place to rehabilitate and socialize long-term street children. It is a halfway house where youth can live after getting off the streets and before getting a placement in a vocational training center or employment. They try to equip the children to get off the streets, whether that means moving back home, living in a group home or institution, or on their own. Thuthuka is also planning to start a short-term group home for ex-street youth. Here, the youth will be trained to live independently and will be supervised by house parents.

Yeah! Finally, an approach to actually helping the problem of youth living on the streets!

One of Thuthuka's main emphases is to help understand and work through the initial conditions that lead children to ending up on the streets. This is a difficult task, and not only involves a considerable amount of time to build trust, but often involves counseling families, too... Just last week, volunteers from Thuthuka accompanied 2 children back to their families in a small village north of Harare. The boys had been found living on the streets in Bulawayo over 3 years ago, and after years of counseling and training at Thuthuka, had agreed to go back and attempt reconciliation with their families. Each case is different from the next, so it is hard to say what the outcome will be, but in many cases the families are willing to work through the differences of the past. Thuthuka offers follow up support for the child and the family during the difficult reconciliation.

So, at least here in Bulawayo, youths that end up on the street have a chance to receive job training, and possibly even go back to living with their families and back to school. But is this enough to stop the problem? What can be done to stop other kids from ending up on the streets too?

By working with the youth that end up in the streets as well as their families, Thuthuka is continuing to learn a great deal about the conditions that lead children to ending up on the street. Economic factors are the main reasons that children drop out of school, so Thuthuka is attempting to offer financial support to the poorest children in schools. This support will go towards buying books and uniforms for the child as an incentive to keep the student in school rather than begging on the streets.

For more information contact Thuthuka:

Andrew Sexton or Kilton Moyo
Thuthuka Directors
Scripture Union
R.Mugabe Way and 13th Ave
Famona, Bulawayo

Thuthuka also realizes that educating the general public is an important step in solving the problem. They are in the process of preparing billboards and pamphlets that are geared towards changing people's attitudes towards begging children. The billboards illustrate that giving spare change to begging children is not helping to solve but to perpetuate the problem. They encourage people to talk to the children, to send them to the Contact Center instead of just tossing them some money and walking away. In this way, Thuthuka is staying true to its name, which means 'to rise up,' by urging society as a whole to rise up and create an environment of change so that children are no longer forced to living and begging on the streets.


Kevin - The Bumpy Road from Training to Freedom
Monica - The DP Foundation: Two Ladies who Make a Difference
Abeja - Rural Traditions and European Legacies
Monica - From Harare to Harvard: A Zimbabwean Student Comes to the United States
Making A Difference - What Rights Are Most Important to You?

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