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The streets are a dirty place to call home. With nowhere to wash themselves or their clothes, hygiene is one of the many problems that street children face. Cuts and scrapes can easily become infected, and drinking dirty water is a major health risk.
Most street children cannot afford to go and see a doctor or go to the hospital, and so easily treatable diseases like tetanus can, and do, kill.
For far too many street girls, prostitution is the only way they can earn even a pitiful income with which to buy food. Needless to say, this leaves them extremely vulnerable to exploitation, STDs, unwanted pregnancies - and the emotional and physical trauma is very hard to overcome.
Many young boys too are targets for sexual predators (in countries where homosexuality is outlawed or very much a taboo).
Sexual violence, abuse by adults, beatings and robberies by other street children are a daily occurrence on the streets. It’s something that street children have to accept and live with as they cannot go to the police and cannot afford to go to hospital.
Street children are often seen as being a nuisance by local residents and businesses. Although though they should enjoy some protection by the law, in reality they can be beaten and abused with almost total impunity.
Life on the streets is so harsh and unforgiving that it is no surprise that many street children turn to drugs or home-made alcohol as a means of helping to numb the trauma and escape from the reality of their situation.
Glue sniffing and street alcohol are dangerous to children’s health, and addictions to them can lead down a spiralling path of crime and substance misuse.
Whilst you might hope that the police would be there to protect vulnerable children, in reality they’re sometimes part of the problem, not the solution for many street children. Many street children turn to petty crime, begging or prostitution in order to feed themselves. The drug use and anti-social behaviour mean that local residents, businesses don’t want street children in their neighbourhood.
Many police officers don't understand or implement child protection laws properly and use violence against street children because that's how they have traditionally treated them. We're working alongside police forces and training them how to treat street children with compassion and in accordance with local and international laws.
Disease, bad hygiene and violence all combine to give street children a much reduced average life expectancy, and that life is an incredibly harsh one. Most street children have had little or no schooling and are illiterate. They have no skills or qualifications they can utilise to get a job and a route away from life on the streets.
Before their lives have properly begun, their fate has been sealed. That’s why it’s so important to get help to them as quickly as possible.
It’s not just literacy and academic skills that most street children have never acquired. Many lack the basic communication and social skills that we take for granted that children naturally learn at home or in school/nursery. Many street children have been abandoned or neglected from a very early age and they have had no-one to nurture their development.
Our research in Kenya showed that three-quarters of street children showed communication or learning difficulties. Most are not due to conditions at birth like cerebral palsy, but because they’ve never learned how to interact properly with other people, to trust them, to listen and show empathy towards them. Without those essential ‘soft skills’, reintegrating into mainstream schools and wider society is almost impossible.
Ultimately, we believe that families, extended families and local communities are best placed to take care of their children.
Where it's deemed safe and in the best interests of the child, reunification with their family or rehoming them with extended family is the focus of our work.
We don't believe that institutional care environments (like orphanages) are the best and most sustainable long-term places for children to grow up in.
Without addressing the reasons why the child ran away or was thrown out of their home in the first place, it's highly likely that they'd soon end up being back on the streets.
We work with families to address the underlying problems (often related to extreme poverty) so they are in a better position to provide for their children and keep them in school.
This takes time, and sometimes street children are better off in a temporary shelter or school in the short-run.
Your support enables street children like Henry here to have a safe and clean place to stay, away from the dangers of the streets. These temporary shelters and Drop-in Centres are safe havens for vulnerable children. Here the kids can get a proper meal, a health check-up and sometimes a warm and dry bed for the night.
These aren't long-term solutions but they're a vital short-term intervention and a first step towards transforming street children's lives.
Most street children have missed out on years of school attendance, if they ever went at all. Reintegrating them into mainstream schools isn't a viable option for many street children, at least in the short-term.
Our informal education projects help them catch up on their basic literacy and numeracy skills, but also teach them 'soft skills' like self-expression, patience, self-discipline and sharing - which are social skills that children would normally pick up in a nurturing home environment.
The discipline and routines of mainstream schools are often too much for street children who have lived very chaotic and traumatic lives. That's why our informal education projects are a vital stepping stone.
Extreme poverty is often the underlying reason why most street children ran away from home or were kicked out. So giving children and/or their families the skills and opportunity to earn a decent income is the key to a long term and sustainable route off the streets.
We help give older street children the vocational skills that enable them to live independently, or provide the parents of younger children the skills and means to earn an income which will enabe them to keep their kids well fed and in school. As well as offering vocational skills training, we also provide small loans to set up their own shop or small business.