Street children, predominantly boys, are an unintended consequence of modern urban environment, and represent a complex and serious challenge. Females on the street, many of whom have been sexually abused, often turn to prostitution; while males are prone to violence, including rape. Although most street children come from the lower socioeconomic strata, they are not necessarily society's dropouts, but rather victims of unfortunate circumstances.
Once on the street, children resort to begging, robbery, and prostitution in order to survive. They join gangs where they are introduced to crime, violence, and drugs. Many of these children, some as young as six years old, become addicted to drugs; alcohol and cocaine abuse, and sniffing petrol or benzene is common. They suffer and die from various, often easily treatable, diseases such as head lice, skin parasites, pneumonia, tuberculosis and a host of sexually transmitted diseases.
Because of the grave lack of outreach and shelter programs, street children often have no place to go and no one from whom they can seek help and protection, yet protection is what these street children desperately need because they are prime targets of disturbed, exploitive adults. Few advocates, lawyers, or prosecutors speak up for these abused children who rarely have the financial resources to pay legal fees. Family members willing to intervene usually have financial constraints of their own.
When street children leave their homes and families, they think the streets will offer them much more in life. However, they soon find out that this is not true. They become dirty, sick, worn out, and helpless.
Because street children often have had no positive father figure and suffered parental rejection and physical hardship, they are often reluctant to trust adults and reject any authority or control imposed upon them. Yet most yearn to return home, provided that the familial factors that drove them away change.
Unfortunately the more time spent on the streets, the greater the likelihood that these children will show signs of cognitive or emotional dysfunction. In addition, AIDS is spreading at an alarming rate among street children.
And although most youth would like to go back to school in order to secure a better future, their prognosis for educational rehabilitation is slim.
M-Lisada social workers and local community leaders conduct regular visits to the streets and slums of Kampala. Their purpose is to identify vulnerable children and their needs, and to provide medical support and counseling.
Simply taking a child off the street is not the solution, but only a starting point in attempting to rehabilitate the child. It is challenging to smoothly transition a child who is used to drugs, crime, and abuse into a safe environment.
M-Lisada's street rehabilitation program conducts evening classes where children are taught positive behavioral change and life skills knowledge about drug abuse, self-value, and respect for both self and the community. Through this program, children are given positions of responsibility—some are appointed as academic leaders, spiritual leaders, court judges, and administrators—to provide guidance and help other children in need.
Our newest program takes this intervention one step further and has engaged street children in an innovative program, helping them to turn their lives, and the lives of their friends, around.
Interkultura, in Germany, in partnership with M-Lisada, has created a successful program for the street children of Kampala. Realizing the power of peers to influence the development of young people’s knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, and skills to enable them become responsible citizens, a peer-to-peer education and skill sharing project was designed for children on the street and those in conflict with the law.
It is our hope that the peer program will help less fortunate children to leave the streets, to avoid conflict with the laws, to change their mindset, change their attitudes, and to know their rights and obligations.
Four M-Lisada project social workers identified 12 children, between the ages of 10 and 16, who were on the street and/or in conflict with the law. The social workers held an interaction session to discuss the children’s future, and possible ways to come off the streets. The children were trained to be peer-to-peer educators, and went back to the streets to convince other children to come from the streets, build their skills for self reliance, so that they may become useful citizens.
M-Lisada organizes networking meetings with different organizations and key players who are experienced in the issues faced by these children.
Kampiringisa Rehabilitation Center
Kampiringisa is home to children "at conflict with the law" and also many innocent street children who have been rounded up from the streets of Kampala. The BfA/M-Lisada Brass Band Juvenile “Skills for Self-Reliance” project was recently launched at the Center. This pioneering project is using music and band training to engage and bring hope, stimulation, skills, self-belief, and some fun into the desperate lives of these children. Brass for Africa is funding the program and providing instruments and technical support for this life-changing project.
Two or three times a week, M-Lisada delivers hands-on training in brass band music, theory, and practical. They conduct training in dance and drama, training in sports (promoting the right to play), hold awareness sessions on the children’s rights, obligations, and attitude change, to prepare them for reunification and settlement in the community. The program also includes psychosocial support for the children and provides scholastic materials to schoolgoing children.
After playing together for only 8 weeks, the Kampiringisa children gave their first performance on the Day of the African Child in Lira, to an audience of administrators, politicians, community leaders, and thousands of spectators. No one could believe that these were the same children that had been written off as beyond reclamation.
Once a child has been rehabilitated, the complex process of reunification begins for children who want to return home. Some children have left home because of abusive conditions there. M-Lisada's resettlement team visits the family, adapting their approach to meet each unique situation, and tries to change the dynamic that drove the child away. Through discussions, children have been able to reflect about family life, love, and shared experiences with their families. When all parties sanction the child's return, M-Lisada takes him home. To date, over 30 children have been reunited with their families in the districts of Masaka, Mbarara, Hoima, Mukono, Kampala, Mpigi, and Kibale. There are regular follow-up visits to monitor the situation.