Since 1991, Africa has celebrated the Day of the African Child in June, an occasion to report and reflect on the condition of children living in the continent.
The date was chosen in memory of the massacre that took place on 16 June 1976 in Soweto, South Africa. Thousands of schoolchildren took to the streets to demand their right to be taught in their own language. The government ordered to shoot them dowm It was the apartheid years.
Sant'Egidio in Malawi wanted to celebrate the anniversary focusing on the plight of street children that the Community visits, supports and takes care of all year round.
Meetings with the friends of Sant'Egidio are very happy moments for these girls and boys who live a difficult life. The comfort of a meal, but above all the family atmosphere, make these occasions special. Each child is known by name and a solution is sought for each one to bring him or her off the street.
We have asked a few questions to Dyna Tembo, who is responsible for the street children's service in Malawi:
How did you start taking care of the street children?
We have seen tremendous need in these children and no one to take care of them. Society labels them as thieves and considers them only as a nuisance, a waste. Thus people forget that the kids have painful stories to tell and need to be listened to. We have started to meet them and listen to them. We want to be a "chance" for change they are looking for.
Why does a child end up living on the street?
A recent study has shown that in Malawi, 98 % of street children have at least one parent or relative. Only 2% are orphans. The main causes that lead children to live on the streets are poverty, dilapidated and overcrowded housing. Also emotional and physical neglect on the part of families, who are often very poor and deprived themselves.
What do these children suffer most?
These children live in extreme poverty and they lack all the basic necessities: food, clothes, personal hygiene, but most of all I can say that they suffer from a lack of love. Some of them have never received love even from their parents or other close relatives.
What are the major dangers for street children?
Abuse is the main risk. They live on the street, begging or doing odd jobs, often afraid of being arrested by the police for vagrancy. Girls in particular are at risk of being sexually abused.
Can you tell us a success story?
We have had quite a few stories of redemption. However, I was particularly struck by the story of a 15-year-old boy. He had dropped out of school, we enrolled him in a vocational training course. He managed to finish the course, became a bricklayer and is now employed by a construction company.
What are Sant'Egidio's next plans to help street children?
Sant'Egidio's next project is to build a house, the construction is well under way and we hope to finish it in the next few months. A home where the children can live with our help, a place to save them from the precariousness and daily abuse they suffer on the street and at the same time to reintegrate them into school. Thus we give them an opportunity for education and a better future.
This house may also be an important step in encouraging a process of reintegration of the children as the ultimate goal for some of them is to rejoin their families. We hope that we will soon be able to welcome some of the girls.