Street children

Grahamstown is a small University town in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. Extreme poverty is commonplace and unemployment runs at 70 per cent or more. This challenging situation can be a breeding ground for many social ills including alcoholism, drug abuse and violence. Abject poverty, labour migration and high levels of parental death, exacerbated by South Africa’s AIDS crisis, mean that many young people struggling to sustain themselves.

At Amasango, we see some of these young people as street children, who we define as profoundly poor children who spend a substantial part of their lives on the street in the commercial centre of the city or in its townships. This is where they beg, work, eat or just sit. These children are extremely vulnerable to illness and abuse. Most are physically and mentally able but, through no fault of their own, are amongst the most vulnerable people in society.

With specialised intervention of the kind offered at Amasango this cycle of deprivation can be broken.

A few success statistics

* Nomso, who is 21 years old in grade 11, has a 7 year old daughter who has completed grade 1. Nomso and her partner, who was also at Amasango, are doing their best to ensure that their child will not face the struggles they did

* Peter is now a housefather at the Eluxolweni Shelter in Grahamstown and doing a wonderful job caring for the young men in its care

* Simthembile has qualified as a security guard and is also employed by Eluxolweni Shelter

* Simphiwe has a permanent job managing stock at KwikSpar, a local grocery store

* Thando has secured himself a job in a major supermarket bakery

* Vumile is now employed at a large independent bakery as their driver and delivery man

Children’s stories

George’s Story

I’m 15 years old. There was no money at home. My mother brought me up but she had a boyfriend who used to beat me. He beat and bullied her too. He made her go blind one day when he beat her so hard. I worried about her.
I used to spend a lot of time on the streets begging for food, then I would go back home to sleep. I started Amasango when I was 9. I had to go into Grade 1 but now I am catching up.

There are a lot of people in town that know me, but I try not to go there anymore. There is nothing good about being on the street, it can get you into so many problems. If you don’t have money then you can break into homes and steal things and then that might get you into jail.
When I am in school I don’t think about town. Amasango gives me a lot of choices. It helps me choose to stay away from town. We all get food at Amasango. We eat before school, at break time and after school. Amasango also gives you clothes and when I am clean and wearing nice clothes, I can sit with my friends and feel happy.

Amasango has helped me with so many things. Education is a good thing for me. If I had never come here I would not know anything. I would have stayed in town and felt sorry for myself. Now that I have been at Amasango I can grow up.
When I am older I want to have my own things – I don’t want to beg. I want to help my mother and family. I want to have my own house and get married. I want to be a traffic cop. I see so many accidents and am worried about the drink driving. I want to stop it. … I want to be a good man.

Xole’s story

When I was 13 my parents were both unemployed and I became naughty and started stealing. I stole to get food. I stole from neighbours and places in the township, sometimes mugging people. I went around with friends but I wasn’t scared to do what we were doing on my own. I got beaten and was hated by the people I stole from, but I didn’t care.

My father brought me to Amasango when I was 13 and I started Grade 3. At school I got food and education, I also moved into Exoluweni shelter. I had people to tell me right from wrong. I didn’t have to go around looking for food. I found people to talk to when I had problems, I felt I belonged. My friends on the streets started calling me names, saying I was a coward for leaving the street life and going to school.

Now I’m in high school and re-writing matric. I want to be a social-worker, to work with people. I would like to go to the University of Fort Hare or NMMU (Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University) in Port Elizabeth. I wish to talk with Amasango boys and tell them my story and help them change. I want to buy a house for my parents and get a job and send my sister’s children to school.

Themba’s story

My father died when I was very young, my mother was unemployed. I went to the streets to beg for money for food and get money for drugs. I was 9. I got bullied for money by the other bigger kids who were also on the streets. My mother brought me to Amasango where I saw kids my own age going to high school and getting on with life, that made me want to change my life too. I have no regrets about coming to school; it was the right thing to do. I play in the marimba band and sing in the choir and do gumboot dancing. I got a bronze President’s Award and am working towards a silver award.

Amasango is grand. My life has changed because I don’t smoke drugs or beg anymore. I get food and clothes and I stay at Eluxolweni Shelter. There are people I can talk to and who look after me when I am sick. I want to study to become a lawyer. I hope to be a father one day and look after my family.