Zimbabwe: NGO Embarks on Project to Rehabilitate Street Children

Zimbabwe: NGO Embarks on Project to Rehabilitate Street Children
The Herald (Harare)

17 April 2008
Posted to the web 17 April 2008


A Local non-governmental organisation, Oasis Zimbabwe, has embarked on a programme to support Government’s efforts to rehabilitate street children and orphans.

In an interview yesterday, the organisation’s funding officer Miss Tinashe Sande said a rehabilitation centre had been established for the disadvantaged children in Kambuzuma. "We have set up a centre in Kambuzuma where we will equip the children with skills such as tailoring, carpentry, computers and agriculture as part of our social

responsibility and support of Government’s efforts to improve the lives of the street children and orphans," Miss Sande said. She said her organisation also conducts family reunification programmes. Oasis Zimbabwe has also set up the Tanaka project for former street girls aged between 14 and 18 years. The project is aimed at offering temporary residence for the girls to undergo psychological support while imparting them with self-help skills. Oasis Zimbabwe has partnered churches in setting up pre-school centres for orphans and vulnerable children.

"We have set up a model pre-school in Kambuzuma supporting other pre-schools in 12 high density and peri-urban areas where we train pre-school teachers free of charge," Miss Sande said. The organisation appeals to well wishers to donate in cash or kind towards the promotion of its noble projects.


One way street – to despair: life for Zimbabwe’s street kids

One way street – to despair: life for Zimbabwe’s street kids

A Street Kid in Harare - photo credit Robin Hammond
A Street Kid in Harare

Mandla sleeps under a cardboard box and survives by scavenging for food from the city’s many overflowing and evil-smelling rubbish bins. He has only been on the streets for a few weeks but has learnt quickly, as needs must in this dangerous and disease-ridden environment. There is no one else to turn to for help. His few surviving relatives do not even know where he is. On the streets the law of the jungle operates – literally the survival of the fittest. Frequently it is only rapid reflexes and a swift pair of feet that keep the inhabitants of this shadowy world out of really serious trouble. Mandla Mpofu (*) is one of Bulawayo’s burgeoning number of street kids. He is just eleven years old though from his tough and wiry frame most would assume he was older. Mandla never knew his father and his mother died in 2003, aged just below the national average life expectancy of 34 years. Statistically it is likely that she died of some AIDS-related disease or malnutrition, or a combination of both, though Mandla is too young to know and it hardly seems to matter now anyway. Such a tragic loss of life in early adulthood is now so common in Zimbabwe as to occasion no surprise at all.

In practical terms for Mandla and his two younger siblings it meant that they were transferred to the care of an uncle, Themba Mpofu (*). Or more accurately, as there are no “uncles” in the local culture but only “baba omncane” (which means literally “the younger to my father”) the children were still under the care of a “parent”. But life in their adoptive family proved to be even more harsh than it had been with their widowed and destitute mother. Within a family expanded to twice its natural size through the adoption of various orphaned children there was less food for all. Moreover Mandla and his siblings found themselves discriminated against in the bigger family where preference in the food distribution was given to the biological children of Themba Mpofu. Though this practice is culturally taboo (“kuyazila”), it is becoming noticeably more common in Zimbabwean society today.

The final straw for Mandla was the strict discipline that his substitute parent imposed upon the whole household. Since discipline was an altogether alien concept to the young Mandla he soon rebelled, joining a former school friend on the streets of the city. It meant an end to his own hardly-begun primary school education as well as the measure of security enjoyed under Themba Mpofu’s roof.

Our reporter who caught up with Mandla on the pavement outside a take-away restaurant, found him naturally suspicious of all strangers and unwilling to talk. But an assuring smile helped to overcome some of the reticence, and once the lad felt confident that his interviewer had nothing to do with either the police or his unwanted relatives, he became quite talkative.

How does he survive on the streets? By prowling the rubbish bins in the city centre, Mandla replies. And, giving the term “streetwise” a new dimension, the eleven year old explains that he finds “more, better and fresh pickings” in the bins outside the small restaurants than the big takeaways, like Chicken Inn. Of the latter he says, “I can see more customers going to these places, but I don’t know where they put their leftovers. Their bins are always tidy.” Ruefully he suggests that the larger restaurants and hotels deliberately keep their rubbish bins clean and empty in order to discourage street kids like himself, some of whom harass their clients with their constant begging. Lodges in the city centre lock the bins inside their premises for the same reason.

Mandla prefers scavenging around the tourist lodges some distance out from the central business district. He scales some of their durawalls on a daily basis in search of a few scraps of food, and feels less threatened by the police who do not patrol so frequently in these areas.

“Cops accuse us of loitering and violence,” he explains, “so it safer to prowl for food at the lodges than near the banks and hotels.”

Mandla points out the difference, from his perspective, between the regular ZRP (Zimbabwe Republic Police) and the municipal police or “omakokoba”.

“Omakokoba are worse than the ZRP”, he says, “because they move in packs and do not wear uniforms. They take you by surprise and chase after you for long distances.”

It emerges that for the street kids life in the city is one continuous cat and mouse game with the police. To spot the “omakokoba” they look out for the Bulawayo City Council trucks with their easy-to-identify white and black number plates. Some plain clothes municipal details can be identified by the walkie-talkies they use with their long aerials. The street-wise youths have also learned that for them it is safer to hunt for food during the night when the ZRP are more concerned with criminals and prostitutes. For this reason they tend to venture out opportunistically by night and spend many of the daylight hours sleeping under cardboard boxes in the remoter back alleys of the urban sprawl.

Despite the huge disadvantages of his early life, Mandla is not without hope for the future. As unlikely as it might be, he has his eyes set on getting a driver’s licence and an old vehicle and setting up as an emergency taxi driver. He concedes the obstacles are formidable – first getting a birth certificate, then a national identity card, to say nothing of the cost of the driving lessons – but with all the confidence of an eleven year old who has already seen more of life than most youngsters twice his age, Mandla declares that he will achieve his ambition. Who would be so cruel as to deny him his dream?

In any event he is savvy enough to know that, if ever he is to succeed, he will also have to shed the image of a street kid altogether by replacing his ragged, stinking pair of trousers and threadbare T-shirt.

“If I can go through the first month on the job, I will spruce up, rent a room and bath more often”, he says.

Most of the other street children to whom Mandla introduced our reporter guardedly at the crowded Renkeni bus terminus, were less sanguine about the prospect of ever obtaining any legitimate, paid employment locally. These children sleep in the open air at Renkeni, their only shelter from the elements (and predatory adults) being the battered cardboard boxes strewn across the area. Would they ever be able to earn a decent living so as to move off the streets? Not one of the six interviewed held out any such hope.

Their views coincided rather with the prevailing view among a cross section of older children, still in formal education, who were randomly selected for interview first at Filabusi Secondary School in Insiza District and subsequently at Bulawayo’s Founders High School. Nine out of ten of those interviewed held out no prospect of ever finding gainful employment in Zimbabwe. Quite open
ly they said that on completion of their studies they would cross into South Africa, forging the Limpopo River if necessary, in order to find jobs. Their ambition was to emulate the hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans in the diaspora who are remitting real money (as compared with the valueless local currency) in order to build beautiful homes in such up-market suburbs as Bulawayo’s Selbourne Park And when might they be able to return to their home country to enjoy the fruits of their labours? Our interviewer was not so unkind – or politically naïve – as to ask the question.

Mandla’s ambition therefore had proved to be exceptional among those of his own age group, whether still attending school or not. Perhaps this resilient eleven-year old has the strength of character to persevere. Or rather, perhaps he has the survival skills and good luck to survive on the streets long enough to be able to put his dream to the test, one day. If so surely all will agree that he deserves every success that comes his way. But this in no way mitigates our harsh indictment of the callous government responsible for the desperate plight of thousands of other street kids in towns and cities across the nation. The fact is that this delinquent government bears full responsibility for producing a generation of school leavers who despair of ever obtaining either a decent further education or gainful employment within the country of their birth. It is a stark tragedy that most of our young people regard their homeland today as a prison house from which to escape at the first opportunity.

(*) All the given names are fictitious though the characters are real

Zimbabwe: Voices from a basket case


Zimbabwe: Voices from a basket case

Amanda Attwood

"At Chicken Inn, two street kids were begging food from a fat woman. The woman scowled and drew her food closer, shouting at the security guard to "come and do your job!" The guard, who looked hungry himself, used his baton on one of the urchins, but they suddenly returned with four others. He stood there helplessly as they swarmed all over the woman’s table. She stood up, clutching chicken pieces to her bosom and shouting obscenities at the departing figures. Surprisingly, she continued to eat, ignoring the guard’s suggestion to move to a safer table indoors. But then a whole pack of street kids surrounded her, grabbing everything, including the piece she was holding to her mouth."

Zimbabwe: Cont, Street Kids Join Forces

Zimbabwe: Cont, Street Kids Join Forces
Zimbabwe Standard (Harare)

18 November 2007
Posted to the web 18 November 2007

STUNG by the lack of support for homeless children, three of the country’s leading arts personalities have gone onto the streets in search of stage actors.

A group of street kids — now known as Young Blood — taken off Bulawayo’s wide streets could soon be making waves on the stage scene, if an ambitious project comes to fruition.

Cont Mhlanga, the founder and special projects director of Amakhosi Cultural Centre, has teamed up with prolific actress Sarah Mpofu and another Bulawayo based actor, Mitchell Dzimwasha to turn children living rough on the streets into full-time thespians.

Mhlanga said of the project recently: "When this project was initiated these kids used to receive food and clothing from us, but this time around we have decided to take their responsibility levels a bit higher."

After two months of thorough acting workshops, the street kids finally staged their first performance two weeks ago.

They acted at a function organised for HIV and Aids infected children, on ARVs at Mpilo Opportunistic Infections Unit.

Mpofu told Standardplus: "The street kids staged a piece that was a reflection of their lives. One might wonder why street kids had to go and tell stories about their lives at such a function. The main purpose of their performance was to expose the kids to the world of art and also to teach them to be responsible in life. They were paid like all professionals."

Tomorrow, Young Blood will perform in front of a bigger crowd at Amakhosi. Mhlanga said: "The play they are working on will work as forum theatre since we are planning to invite people from different governmental and non-governmental institutions that look after kids for a short discussion concerning children around Zimbabwe."

The project intends to provoke a discussion with the government and other civic community groups on how to reduce cases of children leaving home to roam the streets, and how best to look after or rehabilitate those housed in institutions.

Besides performing on stage, the street children do piece jobs during weekends to raise money for their daily needs. To add to their career options, the children are now attending workshops on how to play musical instruments.

Dzimwasha said: "The kids project is set to reach greater heights, but our main challenge at the moment is funding. A comfortable, domestic atmosphere has to be created where these young people live. We need money to make that possible. We are appealing to well-wishers for funding to make all this possible for our future stars."

Zimbabwe: Children Need Everyone’s Protection

Zimbabwe: Children Need Everyone’s Protection
The Herald (Harare)

1 November 2007
Posted to the web 1 November 2007

Jotham Dhemba

"MWANA ijira rinofukwa navanhu vose" is an old Shona adage which when literally translated means "a child is a blanket that is shared by all", in effect meaning a child is everyone’s responsibility.

This saying is consistent with the provisions of the Children’s Act, Chapter 5:06 — formerly the Children’s Protection and Adoption Act — that emphasises the need to respect the right of children to experience family life, to be protected from abuse and the right to an identity, among other rights.

In the not too distant past, orphans and other vulnerable children were guaranteed social security protection within the extended family and community and did not require alternative methods of care. However, it is now well established that modernisation and industrialisation have gradually weakened the capacity of these traditional support systems to protect children in difficult circumstances.

One of the most tragic consequences of the HIV and Aids pandemic is the burgeoning population of orphans and other vulnerable children, signalling an impending crisis that we cannot just wish away. The plight of orphans, street children, children with disabilities, abandoned babies, young offenders and other vulnerable children has received wide coverage in both the print and electronic media, but we still give very low priority to their protection and welfare.

Admittedly, Zimbabwe is in the midst of economic hardships and there may be an overwhelming temptation to say no to the above caption. However, the inevitable reality is that we can only ignore the plight of OVC at our own peril.

Problems faced by orphans and OVC

Problems faced by orphans and other vulnerable children cover a litany of social problems. They are prone to serious financial difficulties, malnutrition, neglect, ill-treatment, physical and sexual abuse, stigmatisation and discrimination. It is also well documented that there is a widespread lack of birth certificates among orphans, leading to their denial of access to basic social services such as education, health and employment when they reach adulthood. Without birth certificates, orphans and other vulnerable children are denied their right to inheritance and other basic benefits guaranteed in the Constitution.

It is also very clear that as the population of OVC continues to increase, this will inevitably strain Zimbabwe’s already tight financial situation as alternative care has to be found for them.

Understandably, we are currently preoccupied with our own survival and implementing economic measures to turn around the economy. We, however, must not forget that the purpose of any economy should be to promote and sustain life, in particular human life. Experience from the Esap era clearly shows that whenever there are economic challenges, it is the livelihoods of children that is most threatened. Children are a very important resource and addressing their plight is not just necessary for sustainable human development but it is also a moral imperative.

The extent of the problem

There is rapid growth in the number of orphaned children in Zimbabwe, and it is estimated that by 2010, more than one third of the children may have lost parents as a result of HIV and Aids. Others put this figure at one in every five children, which is indeed cause for concern. It is also estimated that there are currently over 1 million orphans in Zimbabwe and even more worrying, if current trends are anything to go by, are estimates suggesting that this rapid growth will not level off until 2030?

Also horrifying, are trends showing an increasing incidence of child-headed households, where older children have to look after their siblings. Furthermore, the phenomenal increase in the number of children’s homes is evidence of the incapacity of nuclear and extended families to care for OVC.

There are now more than 80 residential care facilities for children in Zimbabwe and more are coming on stream in response to the crisis. This is in spite of research evidence showing the detrimental effects of institutional care on child development, such as growth retardation, developmental delay and attachment disorder. Is it also not lamentable that our unsung heroes and heroines (grandparents), who are also in need of care, have re-assumed the responsibility of caring for orphaned grandchildren?

The worsening phenomenon of street children in urban areas is also symptomatic of a worsening problem and a malfunctioning child welfare system. It should be evident to all concerned about the problem of child welfare, that there are many more "invisible" children who are not accounted for in official statistics.

It is quite evident from the foregoing that a growing number of children in Zimbabwe will need protection and that the time for complacency is over.

Interventions to the problem of orphans and OVC

The Department of Social Welfare, in the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare has the statutory responsibility for the care and protection of all children, particularly OVC.

The main instrument used in the care and protection of children is the Children’s Act administered by the Department of Social Welfare. It provides for, among other things, the protection, welfare and establishment, registration and supervision of institutions as places of safety for children in difficult circumstances.

Government also came up with the Zimbabwe Orphan Care Policy and National Plan of Action for OVC aimed at, among other things, reducing the number of children living outside the family environment and to address the problem of birth certificates and child welfare committees, victim friendly courts have also been set up to address issues of physical and sexual abuse of children.

Also in recognition of the centrality of the family in caring for children, Government and other voluntary organisations are also promoting family and community strengthening programmes for the care of orphans and OVC. There are, however, problems of inadequate funding making it extremely difficult to sustain such programmes.

Institutional care is also an option that is widely used in caring for OVC and in an attempt to minimise its detrimental effects on the growth and development of children, a number of children’s homes have now adopted the family units system (a recreation of the natural family).

Adoption and fostering are also some of the strategies that have been used to address the problem. However, there are reports of the under-utilisation of adoption as an option in Zimbabwe, owing to cultural beliefs that discourage the bringing in of strangers into one’s family.

With regard to street children, one approach that is often used is that of rounding them up and placing them in holding centres, or training/rehabilitation institutions. However, the most critical lesson from previous round ups is that placing children in institutions or banishing them to rural areas does not constitute a long-term solution. They simply return to the streets even more hardened and vicious.

While all these initiatives are indeed laudable, it is evident that the problem of OVC is intractable as current interventions are of limited effectiveness.

Suggestions for strengthening child welfare system

l There is urgent need to adequately resource the Department of Social Welfare. This department is practically under siege as a result of perennial under-funding and mass exodus of qualified and experienced social workers in the face of growing social problems of OVC. These factors have compromised its capacity to co-ordinate, supervise
and implement child welfare programmes and service delivery in general.

l There is need to change attitude towards adoption and fostering. Adoption is a legal process through which custody of a child is permanently awarded to adoptive parents in terms of the Children’s Act. Adoption is necessary where a child has no natural parents to look after him/her, for example children born out of wedlock and those that are neglected and abandoned.

Adoption is, however, not appropriate where a child has a family or significant others who can help provide care. Prospective adopters need to apply at their nearest social welfare offices for assessment of their suitability as adoptive parents. It is also important to know that adoptions are free.

l There is need for institutional care/placement in children’s homes. Admittedly, institutional care will continue to be the only option for a growing number of OVC. It is therefore important for Government and other organisations to give more support to children’s homes to enable them to provide quality care. It is, however, imperative that standards of care consistent with the provisions of the Children’s Act are enforced in residential care.

l There is need to report all cases of child abuse. Reports can be made to the nearest office of the Department of Social Welfare; the Victim Friendly Unit of the Police or any child-centred organisation. It should also be noted that in terms of the Children’s Act, it is an offence for a parent to neglect or fail to provide for the basic needs of his/her children.

l There is need for the Registrar General’s Office to assist orphans obtain birth certificates. It is incomprehensible that orphans are made to suffer a double tragedy as they face problems in obtaining birth certificates. To avoid making matters worse for them, it important that the RG’s Office assist in this regard, especially for children in the care of the Department of Social Welfare.

l The writer is with the University of Zimbabwe School of Social Work.

Zimbabwe Police In Roundup Of Harare Street Children And Vendors

Zimbabwe Police In Roundup Of Harare Street Children And Vendors

12 September 2007

Police in the Zimbabweean capital of Harare have been rounding up street children and vendors in an operation including beatings of those detained, sources said.

Unlicensed vendors have been slapped with fines of Z$40,000 US$0.15) while police have confiscated their goods, the sources said, noting that previous occasions when such crackdowns have been in progress goods were auctioned. But the lack of such auctions has lead observers to conclude that police are keeping the goods.

Sources with children’s rights organisations said they have not been able to determine where police have taken the street children that have been rounded up.

Harare city authorities estimate that at least 12,000 people now live on the streets.

Former University of Zimbabwe lecturer Michael Bourdillion, who has studied street children, declared that "when there are children on the streets who do not have adequate food and shelter, government is clearly failing in its responsibility." 

Analysts say deepening poverty is swelling the ranks of the thousands made homeless and jobless in 2005 by the government’s campaign of forced evictions and home demolitions which it dubbed Operation Murambatsvina, or "Drive Out Trash." 

Elfas Zadzagomo, chief executive officer of New Hope Foundation, a children’s rights group, told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that he is concerned by what he has been witnessing on the streets of Harare.

Harare Street Life

Harare Street Life

The capital is home to thousands of street people, many of them children – the victims of poverty and harsh government policies.

By Josephine Gwara in Harare (AR No. 115, 5-June-07)

Chipo Sithole turns 16 towards the end of this year. Her birthday will mark the end of her career as a beggar and, very likely, the beginning of a new life as a prostitute.

“I cannot continue begging because of my age,” she explained. “What normally happens is that girls of my age graduate from begging to prostitution.”

Chipo lives on the streets of Harare, sleeping in an open-air market. She is among more than 12,000 street people in the Zimbabwe capital, according to City of Harare estimates. Deepening poverty and the effects of Operation Murambatsvina (clear out the rubbish) continue to haunt Zimbabwe two years after Robert Mugabe’s government bulldozed the dwellings of the urban poor in a military-style operation condemned worldwide.

The situation is similar in other urban centres. People have run away from the settlements they were forced into after the destruction of their homes in the cities, where districts that voted overwhelmingly for the opposition were razed to the ground.

Thousands are also fleeing their drought-stricken rural homes where government has restricted the distribution of relief aid by non-governmental organisations.

The ripple effects of Operation Murambatsvina are there for all to see. Those who had no rural homes to go to were forced into camps, where the government refused NGOs the right to provide tents and food. Those who’ve escaped accuse government agencies of ill-treating them, distributing donor food on partisan lines and denying them access to government-built houses.

The youngest amongst them – street kids – hustle motorists, offering to guard their cars for a fee. They form a class of their own and have well-defined territories, which they fiercely guard. Many have lost one or both parents, mainly as a result of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which claims 3,000 people in Zimbabwe weekly.

The youngest street kids sleep anywhere they can find space, while many of the older ones head for the suburb of Mbare, where they stay the night at the local bus terminus, pretending to be travellers waiting to resume their journey the following day.

One of the latter is Fungisai Murape, a victim of Operation Murambatsvina. She shows receipts, which she guards like treasured possessions, for the rent she paid for a two-roomed cabin where she lived before it was destroyed by a bulldozer.

“I have nowhere to go,” she said. “When I was evicted I moved from one relative to the next but as you know due to the economic hardships, there is a breakdown of extended families.

“Some were honest enough to tell me that it was impossible to live with them. There is a shortage of accommodation in Harare and where it is available, I can’t afford it. So I have resigned myself to living in the street.”

The street kids endure freezing cold nights in the sleeping areas they refer to as “bases”. Chipo Sithole shares hers in Mbare with six other children, whose ages range between seven and ten years.

She offers them protection, for a fee. The children surrender their begging earnings to her, and she buys the food they eat at night, which depends on the amounts made that day.

She is not looking forward to becoming a prostitute. However, the only other choice, she says, is to continue exploiting her young charges, who need her protection, mostly from sexual abuse by older street kids and adults.

“It is even tougher for the younger ones, both boys and girls, because they also have to deal with rape from fellow street kids and then also these older men. Some of the kids are picked up while begging at street corners by men in cars and others are raped where we sleep,” she said.

“But because we have no rights in this country, when we go and report to the police, they chase us away and don’t take our cases seriously. They first ask where the child lives and when she says on the streets, they sneer at us and tell us not to bother them because we are from the streets.”

Asked where “her kids” came from, she said four were orphans and the others ran away from abusive stepparents.

The government has failed to deal with the issue of street people and all their interventions have failed. Some street people have been rounded up more than five times, but they still find their way back on to the streets of Harare.

Josephine Gwara is the pseudonym of an IWPR contributor in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe: A Night With Streetkids

Zimbabwe: A Night With Streetkids
The Herald (Harare)

April 21, 2007

Brenna Chigonga

Born into a world that had already turned its back on him 23 years ago, Taurai has had to do without his parents’ love in the dusty streets of Harare.

In a country where life expectancy is now around 37 years, for Taurai the 23 years that he spent on the streets are worth a lifetime.
Africa 2007

Some youths of his age have graduated from university, some have married while others have made names for themselves in soccer, music or other disciplines but for Taurai, the 23 years have been nothing but long, strife-torn days.

He has spent every night of his 23 years sleeping under a stench-filled trench located between Braeside and the National Railways of Zimbabwe depot.

And his immediate family members are fellow street kids, motorists whose cars he guards and washes as well as touts who sometimes hire him at the Fourth Street terminus.

To them, his name is "Mhondoro", a name derived from the Shona people’s ancestral spirit mediums known for their bravery and prowess in war.

But just how do these streetkids manage a jungle life in a place like Harare, a place where the slogan is "one man for himself"?

With the goal of finding out what really transpires in their lives, I decided to spend a night with some street kids this week and discovered there was more to street life than meets the eye.

I paid a visit to one nightspot where most of the streetkids frequent — Amai George Bottle Store — located along Mbuya Nehanda Street.

It is one of their major meeting places and since I was disguised in some torn black pair of trousers, black old T-shirt and slippers, it did not take long before I had befriended Taurai aka Mhondoro who was quick to ask for a cigarette.

We talked for a while before he asked me this difficult question: "Ko muri gunduru rekupi sekuru, handisati ndambokuwona muma pozisheni (how come I don’t know you, where do you sleep, I know almost every streetkid around here)."

I took a huge sigh before I said a word but I was quick to admit that I was new in the capital.

"Mabigy, ndanga ndichigunduruka pakonet kuChitungwiza (I was based at Makoni Shopping Centre in Chitungwiza), I said in a rough voice, disguised to suggest drunkenness.

Like the streets, streetkids are always on the streets everyday, marshalling cars into parking bays and at night, they splash their cash — buying glue, mbanje and other toxic drugs as well as spoiling their street girls.

Amai George’s place was packed that night and few streetkids could be seen buying their beer from the counter, most of them had sneaked in with their opaque beer.

We then visited Fourth-Street terminus where Taurai said he wanted us to get "something" from some fellow streetkids.

"Tiri kuda kunotenga kahide, topper two thaza (Let’s go and buy kachasu, can you provide $2 000 to buy two bottles)," he said as we were approaching the terminus. By that time it was around 10pm and the streets of Harare were slowly turning quiet. You could only hear the noise of vehicles and a few groups of people whom I suppose were coming from their workplaces.

Along the way, Taurai had narrated how rough life is on the streets.

The street, Taurai says, is a jungle where only the tough characters survive. At times, the bins and other food dumping outlets, which Taurai prefers calling mapoto (pots), are dry and one has to be content with what is there.

But then, why do some streetkids engage in criminal activities? I asked Mhondoro.

"Hupenyu hwegunduru ndehwe kuhustler sekuru. Kana zvichiita kuti ubate ngunzu kuti udye musi iwowo ndoyacho, but wongochenjerawo ngonjo chete (The life of a streetkid is all about hustling my friend, if it means you have to steal that day to survive, that’s it. Just make sure you don’t get caught)," he said.

Taurai bought his bottle of kachasu and I thought he had befriended me enough to share his bottle with me but that was not the case. He never bothered to offer me — not even a sip.

"Tapinda mumahigher levels manje sekuru, ngatichinotsvaga mari, tinogona kuwana shura. Hande kumasalad (I am feeling high now, let’s go and look for money at Club Synergy, you never know, we might strike gold)," Taurai said, speaking at the top of his voice. You could tell he was now on top of the world and this time, he was getting more talkative than when we first met.

As we went past a beer outlet pub along Samora Machel, scores of streetkids were roaming around the bottle store.

Patrons are not allowed to have their beer in the bar and have to drink from their cars.

According to Taurai, streetkids cash in on the patrons. They buy the beer on commission and in some instances guard their cars.

He added that they are in some cases watchdogs for illegal foreign currency dealers in some of Harare’s malls and nightclubs which are being frequented by foreign currency dealers.

Whenever there is a police raid, they alert the dealers who have to make a quick escape — but not before they have paid them handsomely.

At Club Synergy, I thought Taurai would pay for our entry, only to see him greeting his fellow streetkids before seating down right at the entrance: "Gen’a gen’a, ari sei marunnings, pane basa here nhasi? Makamanga here mukati? (How has been your day? Is there any business tonight?) He asked one pale-looking guy before sitting down.

I then opted to pay for our entry into the bar but the bouncer at the door almost denied us entry accusing us of being criminals: "Mauya kuzosechaka, kungoshaya chikwama chete nhasi ndinokuitai rough, makajaidzwa magunduru. (You have come to steal, If we happen to lose any wallets tonight, you are in for it)," the bouncer said.

Taurai was surprised when I produced a bundle of new $10 000 notes. I bought him beer but to my surprise, he never thanked me. Instead, he made a mockery of me.

"Hoo makutidyisa dzeakenika, madziya sekuru (You are a homosexual, I can see by the way you are spending your money)," he said.

Although I tried to deny the allegations, I could not convince Taurai who was already asking me why I was doing that.

He later told me that some streetkids, both young and the old, were being sexually abused by some rich guys in return of cash and food.

When I checked the time I realised that it was well after midnight.

I discreetly excused myself and rushed out of the bar. Along the way, I realised streetkids had invaded each and every blind spot — street corners, doorsteps, roadsides with the majority sleeping along the footbridge that cuts across through Julius Nyerere.

Artist keen to make a difference with kids

Andrea Puszkar of Halifax spent five months in Zimbabwe on a Crossroads Canada program, working to get children off the streets and back into homes with their families or neighbours. An accomplished potter, Andrea is now executive director at St. George’s YouthNet. (Joel Jacobson)


Artist keen to make a difference with kids

By Joel Jacobson BRIGHT SPOT

THE EYES, face and smile have the warmth and compassion of an artist, and of a woman interested in making a difference.

That’s what Andrea Puszkar is all about.

The Halifax resident is a potter with a fine-arts degree from NSCAD University.

She is also the executive director of St. George’s YouthNet, a program offering hot lunches and after-school programs to inner-city children.

Eighteen months ago, Andrea left work to spend five months in Zimbabwe as a volunteer youth worker, helping street kids as young as four and five reunite with their families or join families that would accept them.

"I would have stayed longer but didn’t have the resources," she says.

Andrea was born in Regina, Sask., 32 years ago. She studied art in British Columbia but after realizing that would only give her a two-year diploma she decided to come east where she could earn a bachelor’s degree.

She says volunteering got her in the job market. "People need jobs, and the jobs are out there," she reasons. "I volunteered and that got me going.

"When I got my fine-arts degree, I immediately volunteered at Visual Arts Nova Scotia and, within two weeks, and with luck, was offered a paying position, filling in for someone getting married."

That opened the door to a job at the 4C’s Foundation, a private group dedicated to supporting community art projects for youth in Halifax Regional Municipality. She also opened the Turnstile Pottery Co-operative with eight other people, running classes for the public as well as having a place to create her own art.

Andrea has always had a need to roam. She’s seen much of North America, travelling, at most, a month at a time. In 2005, after six years with 4C’s, she needed to go again.

"I didn’t just want a holiday," she says. "I wanted to spend time somewhere where I could be involved in a community. I’d never lived in another country but, at an international fair at Saint Mary’s University, found information about Canadian Crossroads International."

Crossroads is an international non-profit organization supported by the Canadian International Development Agency, other government and non-government funders, and individual donors. Its goal is to create a more equitable and sustainable world through learning, solidarity and collective action.

"My skills were suited to Zimbabwe but I was naturally nervous because of the political situation. I was assured I’d be safe so I left my position at 4C’s and went there in September 2005."

She brings out dozens of photos of Zimbabwean children, faces glowing when their pictures are taken.

"My job was to build a database of street children and help relocate them into homes. These were kids, five to 14 years of age, living on the streets (of Mutare, a large city near the Mozambique border in eastern Zimbabwe)."

Andrea says she was shocked at the treatment of children, thought by many to be "lower class," and alarmed at the way women were treated, although, she says, it seemed to be culturally acceptable.

She helped run an after-school program for children who had gone back to homes. "We kept them off the streets, away from begging after school, something they had always done all the time. It worked. Out of 40 kids we placed, we only saw one go back to the streets."

Andrea returned to Halifax last April. She quickly found a job at YouthNet, keeping youth engaged in an after-school program.

Each day, 20 or more children rush to YouthNet for lunch that is provided voluntarily by people of the parish and community. At 3 p.m., another, mostly different group of 20 youngsters storms the facility moments after school lets out at St. Patrick’s-Alexandra School next door. Two paid staff and many volunteers run the program.

"We offer a snack, talk about their day, play some basketball, and offer various activities daily, like cooking, art, skipping, music, African dance, circus skills such as juggling, and even leadership programs," says Andrea.

She compares the children in Mutare with those at YouthNet. "They are really totally different. The Zimbabwe kids don’t have loving families. They embraced everything we offered them. They were excited to have any attention and I adored them," she says, her eyes glowing. "They picked up on that."

Here, she says, the children want to do activities but don’t show the same affection "because they get it at home and school."

The Zimbabwe experience helped Andrea develop relationships "with people you would not normally associate with. Growing comes with that. And here, youth from the community develop friendships with our volunteers, many from local universities, and it changes the mindsets. Both sides show growth."

While she acknowledges she was always kind and caring, she’s seen changes in her attitudes.

"It made me more aware of global issues, specifically in Africa and Zimbabwe. I continue to support, financially as best I can, organizations that work with street kids."