We have now registered over 70 children through our Street Drop in Centre in just two short weeks of operation. It just goes to show that the number of children living on the streets despite S.A.L.V.E. and other organisations best efforts is remaining ridiculously high and if anything getting larger not smaller!
The effects of incredibly high inflation leading to rising food/ transport/ medical/ schooling costs, a very large number of young people (with over half the country’s population being 15 or younger), a lack of jobs and opportunities leading to high rates of youth unemployment (83%) just shows you how it’s a systemic problem we are facing here.
Another major challenge we face in our work is how many of the children living on the streets have become addicted to sniffing glue AKA paraffin AKA aeroplane fuel. Seeing children as young as 8 unable to talk or walk properly after sniffing fumes from an old water or alcohol bottle with a rag stuffed in it can be heart breaking. We have a rule they aren’t allowed to enter our drop in centre with these bottles and spend a lot of time trying to educate them as to the dangers of drug taking through a series of short classes and using a lot of pictorial resources, but you will still smell the fumes on their breath as you talk to them.
The effects of sniffing glue can be seen in the fact the children can’t concentrate properly, will act in socially inappropriate ways (i.e. leaning in too close to speak to you), will forget things they are told and become fixated on small things. With repeated drug abuse you can see the children become violent over small things, see them physically deteriorate where you can see their ribs show and they develop problems in breathing properly.
When asked why they are taking glue and spending some of their precious money on it, the children tell us it’s because even when it’s raining and cold it keeps you warm and makes you feel full when you are hungry. There is also a big factor of peer influence as the children often move around as a group for safety on the streets and what one child does the others often copy.
Not every child we meet takes drugs, but a lot of them do at least try it when they are living on the streets. Some of the children in the S.A.L.V.E. rehabilitation centre did at some point also sniff drugs in this way – so we do know it is possible for them to give up. But it takes a lot of determination and can create big problems for children later on in terms of their ability to concentrate and remember in their studies. And unfortunately missing being able to take drugs can be one of the reasons that lead to some of the children that we try to rehabilitate running back to the streets again.
Two boys leaving the streets!
On Tuesday we went home tracing with a boy we’d identified through the work of the drop in centre – David. His mother (his father had died when he was younger) lives with his younger brother in an area called Soweto, which is one of the slums surrounding Jinja where people live in extreme poverty.
We were welcomed into the family’s home with open arms. Alfred had a long conversation with the mother in which she confirmed much of what David had told us: that David had left home because she was not able to afford school fees (though she also added that there was an element of peer pressure), but that he had been able to reach P2 before he left. As the discussion went on it became apparent that while both she and David very much wanted him to return home, she would be unable to support him through education. Not only was the family very poor, but she was ill so unable to work at the moment. With this in mind we discussed the possibility of David coming to live in the SALVE home, undertake our rehabilitation program, and go back to school. Whilst his mother was sad to think that he would not be living with her, she agreed that this might be the best way of ensuring that he did not return to the street. SALVE works hard to ensure that the children stay in touch with their families, and that the families feel involved in SALVE’s work, so there were be plenty of opportunities for David to visit his mother, and his mother to visit the SALVE home.
So, we agreed to come back to the mother in a few weeks to finalise the official aspects of taking a child into the SALVE family, and left Soweto with David. It’s been great to David settle into life in the SALVE home so quickly (helped by the fact that he knew Asuman from the street), but this work is only possible with the help of our amazing supporters and sponsors back in the UK.
What about the older children on the streets?
One of the things we are increasingly aware of at S.A.L.V.E. is the fact we need to be offering more to some of the older children who are living on the streets and who can’t go back into the traditional school system. Initiatives like our fab new carpentry project is part of this – and vocational training opportunities is an area we will definately be focussing on as we move fowards as an organisation, helping the children to get practical skills they can use to sustain themselves.
On Thursday Paul, an older boy who has been living on the streets, was also taken for home tracing. Paul had been saying for a long time that he was tired of street life and that he very serious about going home for a fresh start. Paul is 20 years old and told us that he had been living on the street for 10 years and hadn’t seen his family for 3 years. He led us to his grandmother’s home in Mayuge, around an hour from Jinja. His grandmother told us that she was very happy to see him, though she wanted to hear from Paul that he was going to change his behaviour, she said that there had been problems with him in the past and that Paul had once stole money from the family. Paul said that he had changed and his grandmother said that she would give him another chance to live with her again.
As with anyone leaving the streets, the change will be enormous and the adjustment to a different life will be a big challenge for him, particularly given how long he was spent living on the street. S.A.L.V.E. will keep in contact with Paul’s grandmother to see how Paul is doing and we wish him all the best with his new start.
Other news this week …
We have also been going to visit our children’s schools for more parent teacher days, the carpentry trainees made their first stool, and we’ve practicing to make recycled paper ready to begin a new project in Kakira … Check out some of the pictures on facebook!