Part two of Andy McCullough's blog post about his recent visit to East Africa. Andy is Railway Children's Safeguarding and Policy director.
Read part one here.
After Kitale, I travelled south to Mwanza in Tanzania and went on an early street walk with the Railway Children team. Everywhere we went we came across groups of children, under sacking or bits of cardboard, curled up together looking like little piles of rags. Most were sleeping and the youngest must have been around five.
We arrived at the Kivuko school, where children from the streets can get informal teaching and support. It was already busy with children – many sitting and drawing. We chatted to a five-year-old boy who was drawing the van that had taken him to his grandmother’s funeral. Minutes after the ceremony he had been grabbed by a man who took him to the streets of Mwanza and told him he was better off there as the house was full of witchcraft.
Another boy was drawing his house. It was falling down and he spoke about his dream of having a house with a roof one day. One boy talked to us about his parents and the violence he witnessed at home. In one fight his parents had been using swords when he had been caught in the middle and lost an eye. It was a noisy, lively classroom – but also with space for the children to sit and talk calmly when they needed to.
Bringing the school to the pupils
The children ran outside to welcome the mobile education truck and got stuck in playing the games on brightly coloured boards either side of it. One depicted several scenes for the children to discuss and a couple of six-year-old boys were looking at it. Pointing to an image of an adult man talking to police one suggested that he was a crook while the other wondered if he was reporting sexual abuse – both give an idea of the experiences of these children.
Later I joined our teams to visit the Upendo Youth Association, a scheme that brings older street children, aged between 15 and 23, together every week. They commit to meeting every Thursday and a support worker leads activities aimed at helping them learn about themselves. When I arrived they formed a circle to take part in that day’s session. They were all asked who the most important person in their lives was, with most of them immediately saying their parents were.
Then a box was passed round and they were told to look inside, but say nothing. There was a mirror inside the box. It sparked an animated conversation about how they were the most important person in their own lives and quickly led into the second exercise. This time a 2000-shilling note was passed round and each boy was asked what he would do with it. Then they scrunched it up, trod on it, covered it in mud and discussed how it still had the same value, no matter what it had been through.
Moving on and making progress
From there we went on to meet some of the young people who have worked through the Youth Association model and are now running their own businesses with Railway Children’s support.
Arriving at the rubbish dump, surrounded by scavenging birds, we found several young men hunting out plastic and filling huge bags with it ready to sell for recycling.
One of them told me about how far he’d come – from being on the streets and getting in to trouble with the police to being seen as a business person and an asset to the community. He spoke so proudly of now having a bed, a room and even a radio of his own – all things he never thought he would have. This group has been working with us for two years and to see the progress made in that time is both humbling and inspiring.
With your help we can reach more children like those Andy met at our projects in East Africa. We can keep them safe, give them the opportunity to access education and basic healthcare, and work with their families to get them back home.