One survey of 200 street children in Tanzania found that extreme poverty was a reason every one of them was on the street. They broke into further details, citing no food at home and needing a job to earn money as the number one and two reasons. More than half of the children also said that problems at home with parents separating or divorcing and bad relationships with their family directly lead to their leaving. Only a small percentage (4%) were on the streets because there is no one at home to take care of them.
This is a very real reality in Dodoma. I can’t walk through the fruit and vegetable market without at least 3-4 kids asking to carry my basket in an attempt to earn a tip. It isn’t uncommon for young kids to be seen leading older blind family members through town, asking for money. To not notice the young kids who wander around town on their own would mean you aren’t noticing much about your surroundings.
One thing I have learned since being here is that while, to my western eyes, this seems like a huge tragedy, for many of these children, this is the best option they can find. In a country where many families can’t afford to send their children to the free government schools because uniforms are too expensive and many people who work full time earn less in a month than I do in a week, home life is just hard. As you can imagine, this hardness affects people in different ways. I absolutely see extremely poor families who would do anything they possibly can for their children, even moving in with other family members who all live in a house so small they almost have to sleep on top of one another.
Unfortunately, there are people who act as hard as the life they lead. For the street children who run away from bad home lives, they may face severe punishments or heavy workloads at home. There may be violence in the home, either to themselves to amongst their parents. For these children who are so desperate to get away from home, the hard life of the streets is the best option. How low do you have to be at home for a cement step in an alley to look like a comfortable bed?
Fortunately, there are wonderful organizations in Dodoma who are there to support these children. A couple of months ago, I wrote about the Shukurani Children’s Center which is run by a NGO called Kisidet. We as a staff at CAMS visited their Children’s Center to watch them perform for us. Yesterday, the staff at CAMS took another trip, to another center, to show our support for the work they are doing.
Safina is a Christian organization that works primarily with street kids. This weekend, they held an official opening for their new houses just outside Dodoma. The building of these houses came at the perfect time for them. They have been renting a space in the city and spent a lot of time, effort, and money fixing it up to make it functional. Once they finished, their landlord decided it was worth a lot more now that it was nice, so they were told to either pay more rent or leave. Safina is a nonprofit, so they couldn’t afford more rent. Around the same time this was happening, the director was contacted by someone she had never heard of before. This person wanted to donate money to build a house for them. Building a house was something they had never considered and at the time, had no use for. Yeah, it would be great to be able to afford a house, but where would they build it? The director ignored the email for the time being.
Then, a few weeks later, another person from a different part of the world contacted Safina with an offer of land outside town. You can probably guess the rest of the story. Money and resources continued to fall into place when they were needed. Now, Safina has two beautiful houses, a basketball court, and playground in a fenced area outside Dodoma. Here, there is room for many children to stay in a safe place and lots of room for them to play.
There are lots of great things about Safina! The children are fantastic. The people who are running it are generous with their time and talents. The shining star of Safina, however, is the program. Not only is there a refuge for street kids and orphans in their new buildings, but they continue to look for a space in town so they can work with the children there. They bring resources to the dump and the bus stand where street kids tend to spend their time. Their programming is not about removing children from their homes, but instead they strive to provide them a safe space while they work out what they need to do. Sometimes, this means living at the home full time, but more often than not, it means working with families and schools to ensure they are safe, educated, and connected with their families. The goal is to ensure they have a sense of who they are and where they come from.
It was a privilege to be able to attend their opening ceremony. All of the children were there, along with the volunteers who work with them and who run the program. The assistant mayor of Dodoma was also there as the mayor is in Dar es Salaam at a mayor’s meeting for all of Africa, not only Tanzania. Apparently, one of the things on their agenda is trying to figure out how to help the street children in Africa, so it was fitting that it was happening this weekend. There were missionaries from several organizations as well as the staff from CAMS.
We listened to several speeches, which were translated both into Kiswahili and English. The highlights for me were the performances by the children. The Safina choir sang a song welcoming us and one at the end of the ceremony. They also had their kindergarten class sing a couple of songs they had learned. Safina works closely with Shukurani, sharing resources and in some cases, children. The kids from the Shukurani Center came and performed more acrobatics and traditional dances. They wowed the crowd again. I still maintain that there are several young people who would beat any Olympic at a floor routine! The key was passed from the official representative from whichever department in Dodoma works with building houses to the head of Safina, who was up from Dar. She then passed it on to the head of Safina in Tanzania and the people who live and work at the new houses.
We were given some time to wander through one of the houses while they prepared a traditional lunch, then lunch was served. We ate rice two ways, chicken, Tanzanian cabbage, and one slice of cucumber each. The plates were FULL of food, and it was all tasty. After lunch and some down time with some of the kids, we loaded back onto the CAMS bus and returned to town.
I’m still trying to figure out how with sunscreen and sitting under a tent I still managed to leave looking like a tomato, but the redness was worth it for such a great day. Yes, I took several pictured! I hope you enjoy them!
Someone asked me if the kids looked happy. I'll let you decide for yourselves!
It is also time for me to thank some people, without whom this past month would have been impossible! This was a fantastic month, so a HUGE thank you goes out to Bill and Doris Lucas, Pat and Connie Keller, Shannon Tippit, and Andrea Covert (X2) as well as the Bargain Box and Christ Church Mission Committee!