12 April is International Day for Street Children. Led by the Consortium for Street Children this is an opportunity for street children and their champions; people like Catalyst Rwanda and centres like Les Enfants de Dieu to speak out. The International Day for Street Children: Louder Together is about giving a louder voice to the millions of street children across the world.
The children at Les Enfants de Dieu are former street children. They chose to leave the street, to have an education and to build a positive future. Without a centre like Les Enfants de Dieu and others like it across the world, street children would not have this option. Rafiki Callixte, Project Manger at the centre, said that our visit made a massive impact on the children. Not only because they learnt to break but on a deeper level our journey across the world was to be with them. As a street child not only are you invisible but your perceived worth in society is non-existent. Rafiki said that the significance of coming to be with the children and to share our days together was priceless.
How do you survive when you are alone, scared and a vulnerable child? Willy, one of the young men we worked with at the centre in Kigali said that he was scared his first night on the street. He met some street children who invited them to their home. Willy thought it would be a house; it a space underneath a bridge. Children on the street come together and help each other to survive. In Rwanda it is estimated that 43% of its population is under 14 years old. Of course not all these children live on the street, but it hints at the power that it could have as a country if its young people have a voice, have an education and the opportunity to build a positive future.
UNICEF was responsible for the earliest definitions and categories of street children. They are children ‘of’ the street who sleep in public spaces without their families; ‘on’ the streets working and returning to their families at night; and ‘street family children’ living with their families on the street. In 1989 UNICEF estimated that there were 100 million children growing up on the streets globally. It’s very hard to know the exact number but even if this is an indication of the number of street children it is a shocking statistic.
I think back to the opportunity that the children at Les Enfants de Dieu have. A warm and safe place to sleep, clothing and shoes, food, an education. The conditions they live in are simple but thanks to the Centre they are consistent. The children can go onto secondary school, to university or learn a trade. They can return to society as men, with a sense of community and a desire to make their country a better place for the future. Together they are stronger, they are finding their voice, they are speaking out for children still on the street.
When we met Willy we were struck by his quiet strength, his articulate plea for understanding street children as any other child; who with love will flourish and grow into a man. Willy says it better than I can. Today I ask you to watch our film Yes Man! made by Bret Downroc Syfert of our first trip to work with the children at Les Enfants de Dieu in November 2011.
Catalyst Rwanda is fundraising to go back to Les Enfants de Dieu in November 2012. There are big plans afoot for this July at Southbank Centre, London. Please support our project and what it represents to these children. Every donation helps.
Bret Syfert, filmmaker and B Boy, was so moved by his experiences in Rwanda with Catalyst Rwanda that he has returned to volunteer at the Centre with his wife Dorota. For more information about Bret, Dorota and their trip read on!
Catalyst Rwanda is asking its friends and supporters to help us on this special day to raise the awareness of our project:
- Re post the link for Yes Man! on your website, facebook or twitter accounts – https://catalystrwanda.org/2012/03/31/yes-man/
- Watch the film with colleagues on your lunch break and help us raise the number of people who have seen it
- Sign the Consortium for Street Children’s pledge to stand up for the rights of street children
- If you want to support the future of the project use the donate button on Catalyst Rwanda’s homepage.
The International Day for Street Children is asking you, asking us to be louder, to help the children without a voice and to provide opportunities for those who have found their voice to be heard. Do something special today. Make a difference for these amazing children and the millions of others just like them. Raise your voice for Street Children.
written by Kate