Queen awards Hewitt’s service to street children with an MBE

2011-07-09 00:00

“STREET children are a social challenge, not a criminal element,” Tom Hewitt has been singing the same song since his organisation’s inception in 1998 — and it seems like the world is finally listening.

Yesterday he received the Honorary Member of the British Empire award (MBE) for his services to child welfare in South Africa from Britain’s Princess Anne, on behalf of Queen Elizabeth, at Durban City Hall.

The princess was here to attend the International Olympic Committee meeting and Princess Charlene and Prince Albert’s party.

“It’s great to be acknowledged — and I am deeply honoured by the gesture,’ said Hewitt, CEO and founder of Umthombo, an organisation based in Durban that empowers street children and aims to change the way that society perceives and treats them.

Umthombo’s Durban model is pioneering the idea of providing alternatives to street life through engagement and therapeutic interventions and focuses on addressing the traumas associated with the children’s experience.

“Our team is a fusion of social working professionals and trained former street children who have a unique understanding of the realities of the street child experience and an incredible relationship of trust and respect with the children. In recent years there were as many as 500 children, under the age of 18 living full-time on the streets.”

Hewitt says that street children live all over the city but most popularly in the Point district, near the beachfront and International Conference Centre (ICC).

By using high energy avenues like surfing, he is able to keep children off the streets and give them a sense of belonging. Hewitt acknowledged the police for showing a change in their attitude toward street children.

“In the past kids would be thrown into vans whenever there was a ‘big shot’ in town and the facade of a poverty-free Durban was created.

“Nowadays police appear to be addressing the issue on a social level, which is definitely a step in the right direction,” he said.

“Currently one of our biggest challenges is the sale of shoe glue to these children, they simply go into a store and buy it over the counter,” he said.

According to him, glue is not considered a narcotic so shop owners make a booming trade from feeding the street children’s addiction.

A similar award was conferred upon Tertia Havenga for her exceptional contribution to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

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