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From the Cold Streets to Caring Arms
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.
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?
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.
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