I considered saying something along the lines of: This story is intense and maybe not best for my youngest cousins, etc. But everyone needs to know that things like this happen in supposedly "developed" nations. They need to realize that having a bed to sleep in is a huge privilege, and that they should never ever take for granted the love their parents show them. There are so many kids I've met who will never know what that feels like.
I guess I do need to give a little background to supplement my post about what is happening in terms of sponsorship. Basically this big company is VERY interested in getting involved with this project (we're talking big bucks), but the reason they are interested is because they have a personal relationship with this journalist and they know that he will get them results. They said that they were willing to do this through the Y, but they would prefer to do the project in-house so that they had more control over it. At first Kevin told them that this wouldn't be possible because Swazi and Mdu (the coach/mentor of the boys) are a part of the Y and they are the core of this project--it's nothing without both of them. Some of this has changed, but BE PATIENT, we'll get there.
So yesterday. I'd like to start off by saying that I know very well that there are awful things in this world. I've been to Honduras and seen the third world conditions there , I know a lot about human trafficking, and I have heard stories and seen pictures of other horrors in this world. I have also never taken any of these things lightly--they are why I am an international development major and why I am here in SA. But yesterday I had I saw things and heard things from children that I have come to know and love personally, and it just hit me even harder.
So I knew that some of the street kids boys slept on the side of the river bank adjacent to the soccer field where they play, and ever since I have gotten to know them I have struggled snuggling up under three blankets in my room on my comfortable bed and trying to go to sleep at night. I had seen their little campfire area from the field, but yesterday I saw where they slept. This is third world, and these are teenagers--some of which have been on the street since they were 7 or 8 years old.
Reminds me of forts we built in the woods for fun
Chunks of salvaged mattress and soccer icons
Behind the little shack where more sleep
Still have faith in the ANC
The kitchen...a tire and a bucket for chairs and some old paint cans to cook in
After Swazi and I came out of the little wooded area, Mandla yelled with a smile on his face "Shannon--what are you doing in my room without me!" and started giggling uncontrollably like the teenage boy that he is. Mandla was one of the first to warm up to me and I am guaranteed a kiss on the cheek at the end of the programme from him. Although I think he might just be turning on the charm because he wants me to give him my sunglasses...
Part of what was special about Youth Justice yesterday is that we wanted as many kids there as possible so we could take pictures and get their ages so I can put together a powerpoint to show this potential sponsor. To do this Mdu went into town to get them because sometimes in Winter they are a little sluggish at getting to practice in the morning. Because of his excellent recruiting efforts one girl came along with the boys. Both the potential sponsor and Kevin were interested to hear about girls on the street--I tried to prepare Kevin a little but I know when he heard some of these things out of this girls mouth it hit him like a ton of bricks.
This is Mpume
She started living on the street in 2001 when she was 7, she thinks. She knows it was 2001 but she's not sure exactly how old she is. Kevin, the journalist, started firing some questions at her that she answered with grace in a steady voice, even though she was talking about unbelievably painful experiences. Her story which I'm about to share is a combination of answer's to Kevin's questions and what she said to me after Kevin left. I wasn't asking her any questions, I just let her talk. Before she told me this next part she said "My mom, she loves me very much. She really does love me." She had to start living on the street because her mom's new boyfriend said that he would take her and their infant child into his new home, but that he wouldn't support another man's children. Mpume made it seem like a simple decision...as a 7 year old she realized that it was more important for her mom and her baby siblings to have a stable home. She said she tries to do odd jobs to make a few rand, or she'll go into a shop and ask if they can spare some food because she doesn't want to have to go back to prostitution. She said she tried for a week in 2004, if you're keeping track that puts her at about 10 years old. Her adopted sisters on the street encouraged her to because they have a place to sleep and food from their pimps. She managed to get out after that week and hasn't gone back since, but she hinted that just because she isn't a prostitute doesn't mean she does not experience sexual violence.
Then she started talking about god. She said she knows she has done bad things, but she always prays after and asks for forgiveness and she tries to go to church when she can. She feels a ton of guilt for sniffing glue and smoking pot sometimes, but she said that the reason she does it is to try and keep from shivering in the cold at night and that it lets her forget how much she wants to die. Then she told me that she doesn't know why god won't just let her die. Why he wouldn't just cause some action where she is in an accident and will be put out of the misery that is this life on the street.
She said if only she could have an education she would be successful and come back and help other girls on the street. All she wants is to go to school and help other girls like her.
She told me she knows some boys who have sniffed so much glue they are paralyzed from the waist down from the nervous damage. These boys don't even try to drag themselves to some sort of shelter at night, they just sleep on the sidewalk and they might have a blanket if they are lucky. Try to remember that these are not adults. They are teenagers and children.
Swazi talked to her and she is going to bring some more girls on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that they can have some small group sessions while the boys play soccer--Swazi has some counseling experience.
I was telling Swazi about how Lindani told me he loves me--"Serious Shannon." I must say I thought I felt maternally towards my little rezzies, but this is that feeling times a million. I just want to round them all up and tuck them into a bed and make them cookies. I have only known Lindani's name for a few weeks, but I would ice his foot that he hurt and check up on him to see how it was doing. This little act of love...the fact that I remembered his name and that he had a sprained foot turned this "hard" street kid who does drugs and steals from those more fortunate than him (other's opinions, not mine) turned him into one of the sweetest little boys I have ever met. I say little boy knowing that he is 18 and an "adult" in the eyes of most Americans...but that's not what he is. He is someone's baby who never had the love that he deserves.
I got Mpume some things she needed and I really am happy that we are now able to offer the boys food Monday-Friday instead of just Tues&Thurs but as you can imagine I was a little torn up yesterday...my stomach was in a knot and I was blinking back tears for much of it.
I'll get into what happened later with the sponsorship--it really is very exciting even though the way we got to our current situation is more than heartbreaking.
I love you all and I can't tell you how much the Skype calls, video gchats, regular gchats, and emails mean. I miss home but it makes it easy when I can see positive impact and stay connected. More to come.
My Little Fratstar