In Rwanda, some children find living life on the street as the only option. Driven by family troubles of violence, poverty and the loss of parents, they are forced to take refuge on the streets. For a moment they find this the best option for relieving their troubled situations, but the street has much more to offer these vulnerable children when it comes to moulding their lives.
Whether in Kigali city or rural Rwanda, street children are one of city marks that need to be brought to book. A 2006 report by Ministry of Gender and Family Development (MIGEPROF) recorded an estimated 1.2 million children who were orphaned and vulnerable. Of these an estimated 7,000 are street children of which 3,000 live in Kigali city alone.
For this reason various associations are formed to help the plight of these children by sheltering, feeding and providing medication and education as they equip them to face life more positively.
In Kibungo District, Eastern Province, the numerous street children compelled the establishment of the Streets Ahead Children’s Centre Association (SACCA). Over the past six years since its inception in August 2003, children have been protected, over 400 reintegrated back to their families while others are trained in life skills and are prevented from going back to the streets.
According to William Nyiridandi, SACCA Director, poverty and irresponsible parenting are the reason for the street children fiasco.
“Poor families are not able to look after their children. So they send them to beg and sell firewood and this make children get tempted to stay on the streets,” Nyiridandi ssaid.
He further cited that business people are partly responsible for encouraging children to stay on the streets.
“They give them small jobs, little money and loads to carry, after tasting this they do not want to go back to their homes,” he said.
Beaten down, street children learn to adapt to tough life conditions. They eventually become alert, quick, cunning and drug addicts as they scavenge for food in rubbish dumps in small towns.
When life gets tough they would rather stick to the streets than face the shame of returning back to their homes in the village.
To curb this, SACCA has advocated and dedicated their time and limited resources towards helping the street children living in Kayonza and Kabarondo.
Three centres, 2 in Kayonza for boys and one Kabarondo for girls are currently working with approximately 200 children between the ages of 6-18 years.
Of these 100 are accommodated as they figure out how to prevent children from going to streets and as they reunite them with their families.
The three centres are manned by 31 diverse trained and professional staff who empower children in different fields that include; education, life skills, protection, individual support and counseling.
They also provide HIV/Aids education, food, shelter, health care, recreational activities as they put emphasis on promoting and developing good relations with the community and existing family or extended family members.
Nyiridandi said this is possible because they are deeply embedded in the communities within which they work.
“We work alongside community representatives, ordinary community members and police to develop realistic solutions to community problems.
The aim of this is to respond quickly and effectively to the wide range of social welfare problems, through providing innovative community-based solutions in partnership with the community and its beneficiaries,” said Nyiridandi.
As a result SACCA has developed the Community Based Prevention of Separation (CBPS) projects.
These currently operate in three sectors which are Mwurire, Kitazigurwa and Ruramira. Different activities and projects were set up to solve problems that may lead to children’s separation with their families to live on the streets.
The activities in progress involve follow-ups where SACCA staff in charge of prevention visit the sites and evaluate the progress of the income projects established in the sectors.
This approach mechanism has seen a number of children get reintegrated into their families where possible; others have been prepared for permanent jobs; and the majority of the boys living in the centres are enrolled in primary, secondary and vocational training schemes.
Jill Walker, a worker with SACCA said that inspite of their efforts many families are shunning their children.
“Some children have families who could help them, but don’t. All children have good things about them and they need the basics of life like food, shelter and education,” Walker said.
According to Walker, the rejection and denial faced by children during the reintegration is what SACCA focuses on readdressing.
As a first step, they are organizing a Half Marathon that will be held in Kayonza on Sunday September 27th 2009. It will start at 8.00 a.m and the route will take runners half way to Kabarondo and back.
Walker said, “The aims of the marathon are to raise awareness of the plight of street children, make the wider community aware of their responsibility towards these children, raise funds for future work with these children and also give the children some exercise and something to work towards.”
The half marathon’s slogan—‘Rwanda’s Future Is Its Children’, ties in very well with the national policy of treating all children as if they are your own. Seventy runners are slated to participate, majority being 40 SACCA children, while other runners are staff, re-integrated children and friends of SACCA.
“For preparation children have been running twice a week, before school, and have already completed a 17km run. The atmosphere at the end of 17km was fantastic, all the children were very proud of their achievement and very happy,” she said.
“Despite of the many costs involved in arranging the event, we have already generated some significant contributions towards the event and we are hopeful that the local community, local government and the business world will support the event,” said Walker.
To reintegrate children into families, Walker said the program may or may not be successful. There are some children who were reintegrated and are either in the families or living independently while others were reintegrated but go back to the centre or to the street.
These are some stories that give showcase example of each category.
Eddy Kalisa, 23 – successfully reintegrated
Kalisa came to SACCA in 2003 and was successfully reintegrated to his family in 2007. He had been trained to print T-shirts. He returns to the centre whenever there is work for him to do. Otherwise he no longer requires or receives any support from SACCA.
Hassan Hakizimana, 15 – reintegrated with difficulties
Hakizimana came to SACCA in 2003 and was reintegrated to his family in 2007. Unfortunately his mother was HIV positive.
The centre contributed to the family living costs when Hakizimana moved back to the family. Despite the help his mother was unable to look after him properly so Hakizimana returned to live full time in the centre.
He started primary school in P3 but unfortunately decided to return to the street later in the year. SACCA still maintains contact with him as they are aware that his father lives in Uganda and are hopeful that at some time they will be able to reunite father and son. At the moment Hakizimana wishes to stay on the streets.
Jean Claude Nyonzima, 18 – not reintegrated
Nyonzima joined SACCA in 2003 and has lived there ever since. He completed his Primary School studies and is now in vocational training, learning to be a mechanic.
Nyonzima was not reintegrated as his parents died in the 1994 Genocide and there are no traces to any of his extended family. Despite appearing to have no family Nyonzima is a very happy and settled young man.
Sulaiman Nsengiyumva , 15 – medical problems
Nsengiyumva joined SACCA in 2004 in a critical condition. Members of the community thought that he was dying as he had been unconscious for several hours.
Later it was discovered that Nsengiyunva had been taking drugs. After a couple of months he seemed better but was obviously not well. He was taken to the hospital and after some time, he was diagnosed with epilepsy.
With medication and the company of other children Nsengiyumva’s health has improved. It was found out that his parents came to Rwanda from Uganda but have died. It was difficult to reintegrate him with his extended family as he could not speak and was unable to wash himself.
However, as he improves, he now speaks, washes himself and is generally happy. The centre hopes that they will at later be able to reintegrate Nsengiyumva.
They said that if this happens they will need to follow up his case carefully and ensure that he continues to receive and take his medication.
Even though he is unable to attend school, he receives education at the centre with other boys.