My personal experience of street children in Uganda
Seven years ago, my Ugandan family in Kampala took in their home 2 boys from Katwe, whom I was sponsoring at the time. I thought they would fare better in a more structured environment. Well, I have to admit that those 2 boys, at the time aged 8 and 11, tested my family to the limit, including myself when I was visiting.
Children who are used to a very un-structured way of life, where they do as they please all day, without any adult guidance, find it very hard to adapt to an environment where discipline is required. I have huge admiration and respect for anyone trying to help these children, very deserving of being helped of course. From my own experience and observation, I know that unlimited patience is required from the carers.
I also know from our own journey with my two boys, that constant coaching is very necessary, and also fostering the certainty in them that, no matter how many times they misbehave, they will not be dropped and returned to where they came from. What we found worked well too, was to put our trust in them, which fostered in them a sense of responsability. We also gave them a feeling that they had some control in their lives, by letting them make decisions for themselves, concerning some aspects of their lives. We even took the risk of allowing the younger boy to take a sabbatical from school as he was so tired of being picked on by other pupils and teachers. He sounded very dejected by school life and could not see the benefit of learning. But a few months after this break, he built a new appetite for learning and happily returned to school, without much prompting from the family. We must bear in mind that the relinquishing of freedom they experienced on the streets is a huge loss to them, and they very naturally need an adaptation period before being able to settle down.
I think not one single institution or governmental body should bear the sole responsibility of helping street children. Provision of capacity building activities and education must of course be part of the way forward in rehabilitating those children. But I know that what is equally important is for the ones who are now silently condemning street children, to look at them differently, and encourage them in every way possible to see themselves in a better light, to help them believe in themselves and their intrinsic worthiness and capacity to become productive human beings, either through vocational training or education, or simply by sharing with them encouraging and positive words, even through casual street encounters. In truth, it will take the effort of the whole nation to reclaim its wayward children.
And the last, very crucial ingredient in meeting with success is infinite patience and … unconditional love. My two boys, seven years on, are totally transformed. There are still episodes where more coaching is needed, but overall, they are now very decent and happy young people. Such similar success can be met with all street children if we look at them as ‘our’ children, and care about their welfare as such!
Teacher & Writer of Metaphysics.
Visit my blog http://www.notice2quit.wordpress.com/
Feature Editor of the Promota Africa magazine