OP-ED by Jeff Mbewe

YESTERDAY on 24 October, 2018, I got to interact with some street Kids in Lusaka, thanks to a youthful driven charity group dubbed Team Busy. Look it up on Facebook and follow or like it.

Before yesterday, my judgment and conclusion of those kids on the street has been premised on societal general perception; that they are savages, unclean and almost near to callous creatures we often never pay attention to year in, year out and we probably avoid at all cost.
Wednesday 08hrs, I telephoned a friend of mine Simon Mulenga Mwila, one of the pioneers of Team Busy, as agreed a night before, to inquire about his charity’s program on the 54the Anniversary of Zambia’s independence. On Tuesday Simon had aversely invited me to join him and his team for a cleaning exercise in Lusaka’s town with street kids. I agreed.

The agenda for Team Busy for the cleaning exercise, I learnt later, was to impart the street kids with hygiene values for them to always clean their environment in order to avoid diseases that could be caused by the dirt; such as cholera which is evidently chronicle in Zambia.

By 09hrs, I linked up with Simon and a few others including Salifyanji Mwengwe Namonje Miss Peace Zambia 2018, at Lusaka Main Post office where we found a small number of street kids. The program begun with greeting the kids, asking their names and where they came from before making the street their home.

Team Busy members explained to the kids that it was there to clean the streets with them, and later have lunch. Although they were reluctant, their morale was boosted when a seemingly leader among them, named Kelvin Phiri emerged from the Church Road fly over bridge. In nutshell, over 20 kids agreed to participate in the cleaning activity.
Cleaning gloves and mouth covers were provided as well as plastic bins to throw the filth.

I began to ask questions to those I was walking side by side. The most curious one was; why are you on the street and do you have parents?

For some, they have living parents while others are orphans. I took the opportunity to ask more questions as, how they survive the cold, the rains, the dust and basically the harsh life that most of us have probably never imagined ever living.

Interestingly, those street kids have ambitions.
Admittedly, they have various talents and skills. There was a physically challenged kid who was moving with crutches but could make very interesting dancing moves we often see drop jaws at the America Got Talent, as well as the music videos in the various entertainment industries world over. I imagined, that kid would probably be not on the street if there was an opportunity offered to him to earn a living through dancing.

There was a boy whose name I can hardly remember whose skill was negotiating. He complained of hunger throughout the cleaning exercise and talked a lot among others. At first, he was irritating but when I paid much attention to him, I realised he is gifted to talk. At last, he managed to convince me to part away with a K5.00 unintentionally, because I have a general perception that if you give street kids monies, they buy drugs. That kid could be a successful Sales expert if given a chance to.
Around 11hrs, I was talking to Kelvin Phiri, who demonstrated very solid leadership skills. Throughout the program, Kelvin insisted on protocol, calling his team of kids to order and guiding them on what to do as the cleaning program ensued. Although, there was no serious coordination, I could not help but notice the leadership abilities of Kelvin who was even able to speak a few English words to me as we spoke.

I asked him; where do you see yourself in a year time and perhaps more years from now? Kelvin says he has dreams of moving away from the street and find other things to do in society. There was another one, who told me his name is California. California says he wants to start a business of selling plastic bags in town, and then find a house to rent in the nearby areas like Kanyama and eventually move out of the street. He is 16 years.

When I asked Kelvin and California where other older street kids are, who were on the streets say 5 years ago, or when themselves were younger; they both said it is a mystery. They both don’t know where the older street kids go.

As we continued to clean, Kelvin opened up to me and said, there is a perception within the street kids that as they grow, the State ‘takes care of them’. I asked what that meant, and I was told, the kids on the street suspect that as they grow older, they are killed by the State on the premise that they are feared that if left in society, they turn out criminals.

This theory remains a myth requiring a serious investigation by charity organisations receiving funding on the premise of looking at the affairs of street kids and perhaps scribes from media houses in Zambia. However this being a myth, for now it is a true perception that the street kids have about the whereabouts of those who are older than them. Kelvin spoke to me as if to plead with me to do something to help him out of the street before he grows older an age he considers is ripe for elimination from earth by the government. I helplessly could not offer a solution but in my heart, I prayed I should return with more solutions to address the fears of those kids; whether or not the myth of their killing is true.

For me, Team Busy gave me an opportunity to commemorate 54th Anniversary of our Independence by knowing the things we would never know in the comfort of our homes during the rain, the dust, the cold, the sun and the dark.

For once in a life time, I began to understand the pain of those kids on the street, I began to realise their fears, and what moments are so dear to them. There were two twins Emmanuel and Andrew, 9 years old. When we just met them, Miss Peace Zambia Salifyanji Mwengwe Namonje held Emmanuel’s hand. For almost throughout the entire program, Emmanuel was close to Salifyanji. She gave the kid the comfort that a 9 year old kid needs and wants from a mother, sister etc. – I could see through his actions that it is that tender love that nurtures kids, that Emmanuel got accustomed to from Salifyanji which he never has on the street.

I have much more to write and say, sadly, not all can be said now – mine today was to ask a question; Where Do The Old Street Kids Go?

If society chooses to remain oblivious to the question being asked; I pray God must judge us. We all in society have the responsibility towards our neighbours; and in principle that constitutes all not necessarily those in the close proximity of our homes, offices and communities. Our neighbours are living humans everywhere and we ought to care for their fundamental wellbeing.

Team Busy and its members is a cog in the whole society. A small but effective team of individuals from all walks of life who decided to touch the lives of the street kids, albeit, with limited resources other than the few savings of individual volunteers. What amazed me most was the teamwork spirit, the commitment to the cause and the sacrifice of all who came for the program such as Mike Lukaki of Denim Enterprises.
I bow…

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