Hello From Zambia: Kids on the Streets
In June and July, a group of Douglas College students are working with communities in
Zambia through our Zambia Global Leadership Program. Each student will be
sharing their experiences in a couple of posts. Today’s post is from Brayden.
Before coming to Zambia, I thought that I had an idea of what street children are. I was wrong.
Street children are an interesting population that are faced with many social issues. Some street kids are day street children, meaning they come to the market during the day to make money alone or help their parents with the family business. These street children have a house to go to at the end of the day and their basic needs of food, water, and shelter are usually met. The next type of street child is the significant street child, these kids eat, sleep, and live in the market. The streets are their home and the longer they stay, the harder it is for them to leave. Then there is the ‘blind’ street children; these kids are not actually blind, but their parent(s), aunt(s), or uncle(s) are. They are forced to assist their guardians in begging and walking around. There are not many ‘blind’ street children compared to the other two groups.
During the day street children make money by begging or working. The work done by street children is usually basic labour jobs like helping the shop keepers set up shops, carrying customers loads, or clearing debris. Some street kids have the opportunity for menial retail tasking’s like selling soda, water, or ice. These employment opportunities are provided by adults who work in the market, they are known as children’s benefactors and act almost as a type of unofficial guardian or adult friend. In one instance there was a young street child who was given clothes in exchange for showing his benefactor school work he completed by attending street corner education. They do work to feed and clothe themselves. Even though they are dirt poor, many street kids have more money than I thought they would.
Unfortunately, the street kids often have lots of extra time on their hands, have some sort of injury or ailment, and they often go to sleep hungry. These three factors, along with the peer pressure and social factors, press the kids to do drugs. The only real drug available for cheap is call Sticka or Genkem; these are names from old brands of glue. Currently in Kitwe the kids huff jet fuel, past drugs include glue mixed with kerosene and a blend of petrol, rubber tire compound, and sugar. The drugs are quite addictive and the effects are terrible. It kills brain cells, makes kids less shy so they steal and beg more readily, and destroys their respiratory system.
The problem of street kids in Zambia is relatively new and can be traced back to the change of government in Zambia. In the 1990’s, Zambia went from a one-party democracy to a multiparty democracy. Although this seems like a positive change, it brought a wave of privatization to the country and many people lost their jobs. Parallel to this occurring, the solidarity of society was slowing breaking down. Divorce was becoming more common and the family unit was facing problems in staying together. The 1990’s was also the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that tore through Africa. This killed much of the child raising generation off and left many children to fend for themselves or to go and live with other family member who couldn’t provide for them.
Hopefully this gives you a slightly better understanding of the situation involving street kids in Zambia. Identifying a single cause of the problem is near impossible. A number of contributing factors have left Zambia with a scary number of street children. Unlike in Canada, where the government takes care of street or homeless children by placing them in social services, Zambia is unable since the government is too corrupt and too overburdened.