On International Day for Street Children, four Global Youth Ambassadors tell how they are helping underprivileged children feel safe and access education.
Muhumuza Kenneth (Finland)
For the last 10 years, I have been working with street children, providing care and teaching them life skills alongside basic education.
My passion for vulnerable children’s education developed when I started university in Uganda and started living with my aunt, who had found two street children living with her.
Since I was training as a teacher, I spent time teaching these children basic literacy that would help improve their education. At home, we also spent time playing together, which brought them happiness, smiles to their faces and the feeling of being known and loved.
The lives of these children started changing dramatically when they started schooling and their academic performance was impressive. These children were excited about pursuing their dreams, a chance at new opportunities and achieving their goals in life.
This experience made me realise that all “displaced” children - due to various reasons ranging from domestic violence, homelessness, unemployment, natural disasters, civil unrest, parental illness or death, and family disintegration - require special considerations to be helped to achieve their goals in life.
The need to help many more street children achieve an education motivated us to start Feed My Lamb Kabarole, an organisation which aims to create a healthy and independent generation of transformed street children.
In the beginning in the slums of Naguru, Kampala, you could find us under a tree for a classroom, shaded from the elements of sun and rain. Teaching children took place using the ground and tree limbs for the chalkboards of lessons.
St Nicholas World Development Group started supporting Feed My Lamb in the Naguru slums of Kampala over 10 years ago, helping our most vulnerable orphaned and street children.
Now we are providing community support for our orphaned and street children through our beautiful, recently well-built primary school - Feed My Lamb Community School in the western district of Uganda, Kabarole.
Children currently attend our Vocational Education Programme which offers hairdressing, tailoring and a wide range of agricultural activities. We will soon expand to include carpentry, bread-making, adult literacy and community counselling.
These street children now have the chance to develop life skills, pursue goals and to have a better future by providing them the opportunity to engage in education and service skills training.
So, why should you and I care for street children’s wellbeing and education? The answer is clear - every society needs children because they are our hope and future.
Therefore, every child deserves education and life opportunities. As a society, we cannot fully develop, choosing ignorance and blindness and be content when the most marginalised children and their futures are at risk.
You and I have an opportunity and privilege to create lasting positive change by helping street children attain a quality education so that they contribute to the socio-economic development of their communities and the world.
As Koffi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations said: “There is no issue more unifying, more urgent or more universal than the welfare of our children. There is no issue more important.”
For that reason, the orphaned and street children are our children and it is critical that they are not forgotten.
Sayeda Nazmun Nahar (Bangladesh)
I used to work as a street educator for almost three years. I really enjoyed working with underprivileged children. My colleagues and I would try to earn their trust by being their friends so that we could coax them off the streets and show them a better future.
I want street children to understand that education is their right not a privilege. I have met lots of street children who have been forced to leave their schools in order to support their families.
I even found a group of children who had no family and were living on the streets not knowing who their parents are. These children have not been shown love or compassion and have had little exposure to literacy or education.
This is why it is very easy to exploit them and use them for illegal work such as gambling, terrorism and mugging. Every child has a right to quality education.
Their education must be a way of showing them a new path to fulfil their potential and build their own positive future.
Nematullah Ahangosh (Afghanistan)
Mohammad Ali is a 10-year-old boy. He used to work on the streets but now he is working in a tailoring shop. Before joining Dupree Library’s Literacy Course he was only interested watching violent movies, not cartoons.
Why? Mohammad has been growing up in a war-torn country surrounded by news of conflict and fighting. He has even watched violent movies throughout his childhood, memorising the names of his favourite characters. He rarely watched cartoons and movies that didn’t have any violence.
Mohammad and his classmates are now watching educational cartoons every Monday as part of their curriculum in the Dupree Library in Kabul. Despite Mohammad continuing to ask me several times to watch fighting movies instead, I never would.
Today I saw a change in Mohammad and his classmates as they watched The Smurfs' The Lost Village. The cartoon is all about kindness, courage and teamwork -and yet Mohammad followed The Smurfs’ adventures carefully, even admitting that he enjoyed it in the end. He asked me to bring more cartoons like The Smurfs in the future!
It is so important to try to search for nonviolent alternatives, implementing them both in our own lives, but especially in the lives of the next generation. It can seem impossible at times, especially with so much violence and conflict around, but we can succeed.
We at Dupree Library only trialled planting the seeds of nonviolence for three weeks with Mohammad and his classmates but the results speak for themselves.
Mohammad now says: “No more fighting movies, only cartoons containing helping each other and fun scenes.”
Street children remain a serious conundrum - they are considered a nuisance because they disturb the peace and cause havoc in communities.
Sampha Hassan Kamara (Sierra Leone)
Sierra Leone has experienced a series of tumultuous events. Ebola ravaged over 4000 households and thousands of people lost their lives - those hardest hit were parents and grandparents, leaving children and babies uncared for.
Then in October 2017 there were landslides and floods, which were a result of negative environmental practices and government negligence. It was another terrible blow in our country’s history.
Amidst all of these, street children continue to be the most affected - partly due to a lack of attention to their situation but also because they remain a serious conundrum.
For example, many end up walking destructive paths such as engaging in gangsterism, thieving, pickpocketing and smoking because of their situation. They are considered a nuisance because they disturb the peace and cause havoc in communities.
Many of these kids are abused, without proper legal protection, or locked up in the correctional services leading to undue delays and not receiving the proper help.
In Sierra Leone, there are very few rehabilitation centres where these street children could rekindle their potential. They have no place to sleep and their only homes are the market stalls.
To enhance their survival skills, they either have to engage in illegal and sometimes violent activities or perform unskilled labour. A street child’s situation is both cruel and glaringly obvious.
The only centre that provides rehabilitation services for street children is Don Bosco Fambul in Freetown, where they are welcomed and then sent back to their families. But this is the exception rather than commonplace.
There are national and international laws which have been agreed and signed, such as the Child Rights Act of 2007 and the Convention on the Right of the Child . However, these have yet to ameliorate the lives of street children in Sierra Leone. We are in the 21st century! Governments must act and it must be now.