03 April 2014

home street home.

This coming 12 April, children all over the world will be celebrating a day that, frankly, should never have to be celebrated: the International Day for Street Children. As Michael mentioned in his post on what we do with our weekends, we regularly visit a temporary home for street children, known as Jipe Moyo (Take Heart), which is located not far from our language school in Musoma, Tanzania.

Source: Jipe Moyo 

Most weekends, Michael and I are honored to play and laugh with about 25 children, who currently call Jipe Moyo their home. From listening to their normal childhood dreams of wanting to become engineers and nurses to watching them play, it's heartbreaking to imagine the life they had not too long ago, without the care of anyone but themselves.

How do children end up in this situation? 

Unfortunately, there are endless avenues that bring children to the street. Many are escaping physical or sexual abuse at home, usually at the hands of a family member or a neighbor. Some children are led to believe that they will be able to create a better life for themselves on the streets, on their own, than in the poor household in which they are being raised. Here, in northeastern Tanzania, many young girls are running away from the threat of marriage at a young age or from female circumcision. (I am planning on a separate blog post on female circumcision, also known as female genital mutilation. It is a common practice performed on young adolescent girls for non-medical reasons. Female circumcision often leaves women physically and emotionally scarred for the rest of their lives.)

Once children are on the street, many quickly realize the difficulty of their new life. They do odd jobs and beg to scrape together enough money to buy food. They are incredibly vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. With time, many of the adolescent girls become pregnant. They fall prey to drug and alcohol addictions. They lose crucial years of their education. The worst part is the complete loss of their childhood. With a life on the streets, they are forced to grow up too fast.

That's why we love Jipe Moyo. At this home, the staff works tirelessly to persuade children to join them in order to obtain a better life. They give them a safe place to live and send them to school. They provide them with private tutors to catch up on the years of education they have missed. Their counselors help them to talk through their experiences on the street and what led them there in the first place. Most importantly, through home visits, they work to re-integrate the children back into their families into the care of a parent or another prepared family member. Jipe Moyo, and organizations like it, allow these children to create a childhood with the years they have left.

This is no easy task. It takes years for these children to regain trust in their families and in the system, as a whole. One of the young boys we met had been living at Jipe Moyo for five years. Another had been so young when he arrived that he couldn't remember how long he had been living there.

This is serious business. And it's not just occurring in Musoma.

How many children are we talking about? 

The United Nations consistently estimates that upwards of 100 million children, worldwide, can be considered street children. Yet, this estimate has been used for the past several years, leading many to believe that this number is probably much higher today.

And this isn't a problem reserved for developing nations. The United States is estimated to have 1.6 million homeless children, bouncing around from shelter to street to a family member's home. Their homelessness may not be as permanent as what we find in Tanzania but it is still staggering, to say the least.

In Mwanza, Tanzania, the city we will soon call our home, a recent survey in 2012 found that up to 2,000 children are living and/or working full-time on the streets, 200 of whom are under the age of 11.

This past Saturday, when we arrived at Jipe Moyo to spend time with the kids, we found them rehearsing dances and plays that they have put together for the International Day for Street Children here in Musoma. Of course, they all love to dance, especially the boys. They laughed as we tried to replicate their moves. A young 4-year-old boy named Kevin showed off by doing push-ups and flexing his arm muscles. The girls scolded me for sitting out in the sun, knowing that my skin can easily burn. We draw with others in the sand, as they write out numbers and ask us to "repeat after them" in Kiswahili. All in all, they're kids allowed to be kids. And we love that.

Source: Consortium for Street Children

Want to do more? 

As with so many causes such as this, there are amazing organizations working to meet the basic needs of street children and preventing children from arriving on the street at all. Two such organizations, Jipe Moyo and Upendo Daima (Unconditional Love), located in our backyard here in Tanzania, do just that.

As you can see from the image above, the Consortium for Street Children, since 2009, has been petitioning the United Nations to recognize 12 April as the International Day for Street Children. Having an internationally recognized day would give organizations like Jipe Moyo a platform to raise global awareness about the issue and advocate high-ranking political officials for change.

Would you be willing to sign the petition to help their cause? And for those of us who are Twitter-inclined, you can use the #TweetForTheStreet to show your support.

After meeting some of these children face-to-face and hearing their stories, it's the least we can do.

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