Street life in Lusaka

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In Lusaka (Zambia) like in many other African capitals, there are children roaming the streets, left alone to face trouble and dangers. They tend to group in bands of 10 to 20 of them, to protect each other, even though often it means exploitation of the young ones by the older.

Edward Kambole, a social worker with Mthunzi, a Koinonia community initiative to assist street children, explains: “There are two types of street children. The “street connectors” who come regularly to the streets but they somehow in the background have a home, maybe they come to get some money or do some work, collecting and later selling metal scraps, begging and they either keep the money for their survival or do this because they are sent by their parents. Then there are the “street residents” most of whom come from different regions and some even from different countries. These are the one who spend their entire life in the streets. We try to assist both types, sometime advising them to go to other rehabilitation centers. Yet some of them are addicted to street life, and they keep changing centers thus end up going back to the streets”.

It is late evening, with a light rain. We, a group of social workers from Mthunzi, walk in an alley parallel to Cairo Road, the main road in Lusaka. With us there is also Mr. Filippo Scamacca, the Ambassador of Italy to Zambia, who has asked the Mthunzi staff to introduce him to this sad reality. It's very unusual to see an ambassador in shorts negotiating the pools of water in a back alley of Lusaka city center at night.  Rachel, also a social worker, points to a group of children lurking from behind an abandoned kiosk, “Children often come to the street because of the death of one parent or both. When this happens and kids feel they have nowhere to seek assistance they start spending some time in the street, and at the end become a way of life. But a lot of kids are found in streets because of group influence, they come to stay with their friends for a few hours, and little by little they become hooked to street life”.

The children look miserable. Some of them appear to be high on cheap drugs. The smell of glue and gasoline is all over.  Some of them are not children any longer. Kambole adds “Prostitution and irresponsible sex are ever present dangers. Often these girls who are still minors bear children who are condemned to street life.” The Ambassador asks what happens when a street girls is about to give birth. Kambole says that he has often witnessed that the father and the whole group put all their money together and take her to a hospital. Survival in the street depends on cooperation. This is the first lesson learned by those joining street life.

Mthunzi is planning to have a rescue room in Lusaka city center. A place where children can find assistance when an emergency arises. A two hour walk has confirmed that the need is there.

Submitted by: Njiri Banda

 

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