Streetkid charities battle for funding

A scuffle with one of his peers in Harare’s central business district earned 14-year-old Tafadzwa Zhou a fracture of his left arm.

Tafadzwa Zhou, 14, at the Centre.
Tafadzwa Zhou, 14, at the Centre.

With a sling to help ease the pain and facilitate the healing process, Tafadzwa struggles to perform the usual chores such as bathing and washing of his tattered clothes at the House of Smiles, a centre run by CESVI, an Italian-based humanitarian NGO working with street children in Zimbabwe.

This is Tafadzwa’s second home – a far cry from his usual base: the Ximex Mall in central Harare, a business centre whose tenants were recently evicted. He spoke of several other ‘bases’ which he now calls home since he ran away from his ‘not so homely home’.

“Along Mukuvisi river,” he said, cementing findings by The Zimbabwean that many street children, including street fathers, routinely seek refuge in areas adjacent to Mukuvisi river.

With minimal protection from his peers, limited and sometimes no supervision or guidance from responsible adults, Zhou said his arm had healed by the grace of God and that he was looking forward to having the plaster removed at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals next week.

He narrated the challenges faced by children on the streets in accessing health facilities: “They wanted money upfront for the ex- ray and I did not have it,” he said, elaborating the long winding process that he had to go through at the government run hospital to get treatment. “I got help through the House of Smiles programme and they (doctors) put a plaster on my broken arm,” he said.

Economic hardships in the country over the past decade or so had forced many parents to migrate to other countries in search of greener pastures, with children being left in the custody of relatives who ill-treated them. This pushed many children onto the streets – and those trying to help them are battling for resources.

Streets Ahead folded recently following withdrawal of funding by one of its main donors. “It became clear that the impact of our future funding in Zimbabwe was going to be very limited. Therefore, we have sadly decided to suspend the partnership with Streets Ahead and close our programme in the country for the foreseeable future,” says a statement on their website from Street Child Africa.

Many street children visit CESVI’s drop in centre for children in vulnerable and difficult circumstances situated at the corner of Livingstone Avenue and 6th street in Harare. It caters for at least 35 children daily who come on a voluntary basis to bath, eat, do their laundry and get psychosocial support, counselling and basic education offered by voluntary counsellors and teachers. Organisations such as Childline, Girl Child Network, Medecins San Frontieres, Oasis Zimbabwe and Musasa Project are all involved with the centre in one way or another.

CESVI Child Protection Officer, Enias Maramba, said the children came to the centre to rest from street life during the day. “Lack of proper parenting and poverty pushes these children to the streets because 90 percent of them attribute their presence on the streets to orphan-hood, neglect and poverty,” he said. “Working in partnership with the social welfare ministry, our organisation identifies, documents, traces and reunifies street children with their families, following the stipulated procedures.

“We do not have funding to assist with any health-related programming, yet the majority of these children cannot afford to go to hospital. Neither are they willing to seek medical assistance,” he said. “Doctor Kwaramba from Sunningdale in Harare offered his services for free and we appeal for more assistance and aid to assist in interventions towards their plight,” he added.

Zimbabwe has some 1,6 million vulnerable children – mainly due to HIV/AIDS related causes. An official working with children living on the streets who spoke on condition of anonymity revealed that the life expectancy of street children was compromised because they did not have access to health care and services.

“Indra from Southerton, Gracious from Rusape and Tendai from Chivhu all died in the last three months because their health had deteriorated drastically,” she said. “Hospitals demand money upfront before they can attend to the health needs of street children. Society discriminates and despises street children and because of that tag, they end up shunning health centres for fear of victimisation.”

Most girls on the streets are quickly forced into prostitution and suffer the diseases that come from that. Shamiso Dete*, a 12-year-old girl living on the streets of Harare said “The boys bring me anything that I need in exchange for sexual favours. All I have to do is to service the boys but most of them do not use protection,” she said. “They will be drunk and I they also bring substances to make me high.”

Charity Machiredza of Volunteers for Vulnerable Children said findings by her organisation revealed that some parents were pushing children onto the streets. The smaller street children, aged between five and eight, begged to supplement their families’ income.

“There are others who come from the rural areas intending to look for employment but we have others that beg and go home,” she said, revealing such cases came mostly from Epworth and Chitungwiza. When street children are reunited with their families, there is need for follow up to ascertain whether the interventions were successful or not. “The extended family is slowly vanishing with people focusing on immediate family members, this is why we have a lot of children on the streets,” said Machiredza.

Winidzai Rwaendepi, a Child Protection Officer at CESVI, said more needs to be done to capacitate organisations working for the unification and reintegration of street children with their families.

“Donations should not be given to the children because it sustains them on the street. It is not mercy. We are further destroying their future,” she said. “Sometimes, the children run away from homes and care centres because they are used to eating pizzas and fancy food that they get on the streets,” she said.

Tonderai Zulu, 26, who lived on the streets for over 10 years, now lives in Epworth. Although life on the streets was tough, he said he found it easier to relate to fellow street children because of the spirit of brotherhood that existed among them.

“My aunt would always find fault in everything that I did and I felt lonely and isolated. My friends from the street are family now and this is why we stick together no matter what,” he said.

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