Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Street Visit with Social Worker - Arusha

After the trial on Thursday, Sara and I met Anna for lunch at an unbelieveably delicious (but expensive) restaurant. Afterward Sara and I were walking down one of the main roads in Arusha when I saw one of the Amani kids that had left. It was the boy who had been sent to the juvenile deliq. Center but ran away again after. He was standing on a corner near the daladala stop begging. I went over and give him a big hug. It was strange to see him on the streets but it was still good to see him.
When Sara and I continued walking I heard someone call my name and turned around to find two more Amani boys. They had left within the past week. One had a huge gash on his chin, but it looked pretty clean so I wasn’t worried about but aside from his chin they both looked filthy. I asked them why they had left Amani and I didn’t really understand their answer. I gave them both hugs and did not want to leave them but had to and told them I would see them later.
I met up with John, one of the Amani social workers, and we went to our hotel. After it got dark out we headed out to the streets. At first I was a little because I never walk around after dark here, even with locals. When I saw that I knew over ¼ of the kids and when I realized how much these children respected John and looked forward to his visits I realized there was nothing to worry about.
It was very strange to see these boys who I had just been with at Amani living on the streets. Some were clearly on some sort of drugs and others seemed like they were sober. I turned around at one point and saw Emmanueli, who I thought was still at Amani, walking toward me. When he realized it was me he wouldn’t even look at me, I think he felt really ashamed to be on the streets. I was pretty upset that he was back on the streets…he is such a smart kid with so much potential and I did not understand why he gave up the chance at a future but hopefully he will return to Amani. One of the younger boys, also named Ema, who had left Amani a few weeks earlier with Baraka was wearing a huge sweatshirt and jelly shoes with flowers on them. I couldn’t help but to laugh at his outfit- he looked so funny. He was doing cartwheels in the street and running up to car windows to ask for money. Even on the street this boy seemed so energetic and so happy. He is so young though and small and is hard to imagine a boy his age, probably 8 or 9, living on the street with no protection.
One of the boys was wearing a blue pleather jacket with fake animal fur around the neck. It was hilarious- I have no idea where they find clothes like that but he looked like he was playing dress up.
The majority of them were not wearing shoes and the filth that had collected on their feet was disturbing…those were the feet that I had scrubbed clean a few weeks earlier. Seeing this made me realize I am happy I have been wearing gloves when I trim their toe nails and scrub the layers of dirt of their heels.
John was working with each child that had previously been at Amani to find out why they had left. For those who had not been to Amani he talked to them to see if they were interested in coming. We got mandazi (Fried dough) and chai for all of the children. They really enjoyed it. Many of them seemed exhausted and were falling asleep while sitting up. One of the boys fell asleep in the corner on the street and the other boys ran over and whipped him really hard with a stick. John told me that there is a lot of abuse that goes on in the streets. Many of the children are raped or are raping eachother; they are bothered by the police because they make the city look less attractive to tourists and other vistors; they eat scraps of leftovers for food; do not shower or wash their hands or face; and basically just spend their day begging. Some of them use glue which they put into a bottle and stick it in their sleeve. They hold their hand up to their mouths and inhale whenever they need it. The glue gets rid of hunger pains. One of the older boys had a laceration below his eye and his eye looked slightly swollen and the other boys explained that it was because he got beat up by a crazy man a few nights ago. I had not met this boy before so I do not know how he normally acts but the other boys were touching his cut and squeezing it but the boy barely even noticed and just stood there with a blank stare.
I did not care that it was getting late or that I was having trouble staying awake I did not want to leave the children all alone on the street for the night (especially not the children that I knew). They told me that they got cold here at night and I wanted so badly to take them back to the hotel and give them a shower and warm bed. For the ones that I did know from before I did not understand why they would leave the comfort and support of the safe environment that Amani provides to return to such an awful lifestyle. After we left John explained to me the reasons that some of the children gave for leaving Amani.
One of the boys left because he said that older boys had been beating him up, several left because they thought they were going to be blamed for doing bad things that they had not done but their friends had done, one left because he was told he had to clean the kitchen for two weeks because he did not mop the classroom floor on the day he was supposed to, there were several other reasons, most of which did not like a good enough reason, at least I did not think so, but then again I am not in their situation. Another reason why some left was because they thought they were going to get into trouble for ‘homosexual acts’ and at Amani no sex whether straight or gay is permitted. Homosexuality in Tanzania is not accepted and is not legal so if these boys were doing something and did get caught they probably felt that the street is better than living with the shame or teasing. The only reason to leave Amani that I can make sense of, aside from being addicted to drugs, is the desire for complete freedom. On the streets they can sleep when they want and wake up when they want and they do not have to go to school. Amani has structure which is not only necessary but beneficial for these children and after living on your own and not following rules or requirements having to live with structure may be difficult and frustrating.
I think the social workers are going to talk with the children and tell them that when something is going on (i.e. they are being bullied by other children, they feel they are being punished for something they haven’t done) that the best solution is to talk to a worker about it.
I really hope that the boys that did leave return and continue to do as well as they had been doing before. It really frustrates me seeing these children let such an opportunity slip away.
It was definitely a good thing for me to see the children and the way they live before they come to Amani because it will make me more understanding and patient with them when they are misbehaving or doing weird things. I definitely got a lot out of visiting the streets with John and I definitely want to do it again. I really hope that the kids that had been at Amani recently return and hopefully some of the other children that have not been before will show up sometime soon.

*the pictures are from Cassie's birthday and have nothing to do with this entry or with the street visit*

1 comment:

  1. What an education!!!! Your stories are incredible. Please be careful to take care of yourself.