Zambian Street Children

Zambian children Street Child in Lusaka

We all know that there are many many poor children in Africa, and that HIV/Aids is a major problem for these children and their families. But did you know just how bad life can be for some of these children is?

Take Zambia for example. Here are a few statistics:

  • over 30% of all children under the age of 15 are orphans, mainly AIDS orphans
  • 80% of the people in rural areas live below the poverty line
  • half a million young children are living on the streets, with no one to look after them

SOS Children is determined to reduce the hardships of life being suffered by the young of Zambia. In 1999 the charity opened its first community for orphaned children in Lusaka, the capital. Today, nearly 200 boys and girls live together in families in this community. The charity brings them up in a loving and caring environment – so different from the threatening world from which they have been rescued.

But the number of children needing help and support is just so great that SOS Children has also recently established an outreach project aimed specifically at helping the thousands of children that are still condemned to scratching a living from the town’s streets. This project has involved the charity setting up a Social Centre and a Medical Centre.

The Social Centre encourages street children – often as young as six years old – to ‘drop in’. They are provided with food, and information on HIV/Aids, hygiene, health services, education and training. Currently some 800 children are being helped in this way each year.

The Medical Centre gives a full range of health services to about 2000 people every month, and welcomes the many street children that appear at its door. It also helps families already being supported by the Social Centre. The main diseases treated are respiratory infections, malaria and stomach disorders. Voluntary HIV/Aids testing is also available.

In addition to helping the children directly, the Social Centre is currently providing support to families where children might otherwise become street children. There are over a hundred of these families in the poorest communities and they generally have no mothers and fathers, (often from HIV/Aids), so that responsibility for child care rests with older children (perhaps themselves as young as eight) or grandparents – or nobody. So far the project has helped over 300 children to return to school, and vocational training is also being provided to older children.

Although SOS has helped to improve the lives of many Zambian children, the number we have reached so far is still only a tiny fraction of the thousands who need our services. Here is a longer case study of one child and her family who we supported through the years to independence

Keeping Children off the Streets: a child headed family

Zambia Child headed Family This story is about the inspiring courage, tenacity and resolve of Brenda who against all odds has taken upon herself to give new meaning, expression and hope to the lives of her three double orphaned niece and nephews.

Brenda, born on 5th December 1986, is the last born and only surviving child in a family of six. Both parents are dead. The father passed away in 1991 and the mother in August 2003. Brenda’s troubles started immediately after the death of her father when she found herself out of school in Grade three because her mother could not pay school fees and buy other school requisites. Leaving school pushed her into small domestic piece-work of drawing water and washing clothes to provide a little income toward her mother’s efforts of buying food. Despite there being land to cultivate crops, they were unable to do so because they never managed to get enough money for seeds or tools. Despite cutting down the cost of living through withdrawing from school, the family still only had erratic meals and in the end Brenda’s elder sister took her into their home in Kalingalinga where the sister lived with her husband. Brenda had hardly settled down in the “new home” when the sister and brother in law got sick and bed ridden from TB (a common complication of HIV/Aids) and swollen legs. It meant that she, being the eldest in the family, had to nurse them and find food for the family. But she had no means of buying food, paying school fees for the two nephews and rent for the one-roomed house. She herself was forced to lodge with a friend in the neighbourhood.

She tried piece works but the strategy could not raise enough money to meet the household needs- food, school fees, medicine, transport to ferry the sick to clinics in the night, etc. With time, the financial crisis deepened and her roommate introduced her to another alternative survival strategy: offering sexual services in nightclubs and hotels in exchange of money. With the little proceedings from this trade, she managed to look after the family till the death of the sister and brother in law. The mother never knew what was happening all along.

She and the then orphaned two nephews joined the mother in Kabanana. It was in Kabanana where the family got enrolled under SOS family strengthening programme. The three orphaned niece and nephews were integrated and re-integrated into school while she was enrolled at Dzithandizeni Trades School to learn tailoring. She hardly went to school for a week when she started having problems with the chest, profuse sweating and legs aching. She went to the SOS clinic where she was referred to Matero clinic for X-ray. She was later diagnosed with TB and put on TB treatment straight away. She collected the treatment at Bwafwano Home Based Care. However, the problem persisted and she opted to go for voluntary testing and counselling at Kalingalinga clinic where she was diagnosed HIV/AIDS positive. She was subsequently put on ARVs.

Whilst she was sick, the mother passed away in August 2003. Fortunately, she and the three children now under her care were able to survive on the food rations from SOS. Later on, they received maize seeds and fertilizer which helped them grow their own food. “With the maize we harvest from in the 2003/4 farming season, we were able to feed ourselves up to mid November. We were also given maize seeds and fertilizer this farming season and we hope to have a bigger harvest as we received more inputs than last year and that my health is super now”.

The SOS educational scholarship ensured that the children continued in school. “Ba SOS anipereka every month ku Kalingalinga kukatenga mankhwala” (“SOS takes me to Kalingalinga clinic to collect the medicine”). Since she was unable to complete her tailoring course, she hopes to continue with the course next year.  Despite her health status and the guardian role she has to perform, Brenda is particularly happy that all the major worries have been resolved with SOS intervention at a time when the old ways of parental dependant life conditioning could have taken on new and frightening form. “All the life trifles that used to worry me, now are seen in a new light”.

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