The Indian Ocean harbour city of Durban has thousands of street urchins. This week they got to talk to the British ambassador Paul Boateng to show him around their brand-new "Safe Space' which opened on Dec 1.
There, the children get their first whiff at a formal education -- including art , reading, writing and arithmatic, health advice, counselling, mentoring and rehabilitation. And the kids have already taken to the art in a big way.
The centre was created by the UK-based charity Street Action see and their partner Umthombo Street Children. hosted the British High Commissioner Paul Boateng, who listened to the children's stories, and was taken to the surf and art programmes launched at the children's own 'Safe Space' which opened December 1.
There, the Indian-ocean harbour city's many tens of thousands of street children, will get their first whiff of any kind of a formal education -- social workers, youth care workers and teachers all volunteer their time there.
The main strategy is to try and integrate the children into main-stream society and to teach them skills which will help them become useful adults. Many are South Africa's Aids-orphans who have never had any parental or adult guidance whatsoever. South Africa has about 6-million HIV-infected adults and with the co-infection of drug-resistant Tuberculosis now ravaging this population, their children's only way to survive is to scavenge on the streets and in rubbish dumps. They get no formal education and when they become sub-teens they reject all forms of authority, too and often form themselves into feral killer-gangs with nothing to lose.
However the reintegration programme sounds much easier than it actually is. Many of the kids die from disease and in violence. One volunteer, Tom Hewittt, says that he has now worked with street children for over fifteen years.
"And one of the most disconcerting realities is that ...I am outliving many of the children that I have known."
The children, especially the girls, lose their lives very quickly. He remembers them all, and names them one by one: Felicity…TB/AIDS (East London); Cynthia…murdered, found in a drain. (East London); Nonina,…murdered by boyfriend (East London); Mbali,..hit by car (Durban); Samke…TB/AIDS (Durban); Sarafina…TB/AIDS (Durban); Silindile…TB/AIDS (Durban); Zama…stabbed (Durban); Yoniswa…TB/AIDS (Durban); Nelly…thrown out window of building (Durban); Gugu…stabbed by boyfriend (Durban); Nontsi…TB/AIDS (Durban) ; Nombuso…TB/AIDS (Durban) ; Zama…shot dead by police (Durban); Mabuyi…TB/AIDS (Durban); Malondi…stabbed (Durban);
And that doesn't even include the many girls who have simply disappeared, and have not been heard from again,' he said.