Handouts that harm, not help

2015-01-02 00:00

IF you give money to street children, you are encouraging them to live on the street, says the Khayalethu project.

The organisation, which takes care of street children, has blamed well-meaning ­motorists for the high numbers of children found living on the streets of Pietermaritzburg.

They hang around robots during peak hours in the CBD, begging for food or money. Some even try to force their hands through car windows if their efforts to beg have been rejected.

After a campaign to try and get children off the streets by asking motorists to tell them to go to Khayalethu for assistance, many street children have been telling motorists that they’ve been turned away by Khayalethu because the shelter was full.

Khayalethu project co-ordinator Simphiwe Sithole said this is simply not true.

Many motorists seem to find it difficult not to sympathise with the children and give them money or food, but Sithole warns: “You are giving them more reason to be on the street.”

Sithole told The Witness that 80% of the children living on the street have been to Khayalethu and their shelter does not reject them when they want to be rehabilitated.

“Our shelter accommodates only 25 boys and 15 girls between the ages of 10 to 18. Here they undergo our street-based programmes designed to help them discover themselves and be reunited with their families,” he said.

Their programmes include Outreach, which begins in the street where they are identified by Khayalethu, followed by Residential Care, a community programme to help prevent children from going onto the streets and lastly the Aftercare programme, which deals with children that have been united with their families.

Sithole added that children over the age of 18 are considered adults, and are placed in shelters that can accommodate them.

“The municipality has tried to get them away from the streets but it did not work out. We have a partnership with the police, Business Fighting Crime, the municipality and social workers, who provide one on one interviews with them to discover the motive behind them living on the streets.

“Some of them have not been abandoned and funnily enough some of them decide to go back home once a year.

“Only on Christmas Day and during Diwali they choose to be on the streets because people give them eats,” he said laughing.

He said motorists should rather donate to the shelter directly if they want to help.

• More info from Khayalethu on 033 394 4057 or Tennyson House on 031 303  1058.

Witness reporter Siso Naile took to the streets to experience the life of a street child in the CBD. This is his experience of that morning:

“I put on my oldest clothes, a pair of scruffy tracksuit pants and an old T-shirt with a vest hanging out underneath. I wore a bucket hat on my head.

“Standing at the robots on the corner of Burger Street and Boshoff Street, begging for loose change felt very humiliating as motorists ignored me and looked straight ahead like I didn’t exist. Female ­pedestrians walked a metre away from me because they felt unsure of me.

“I approached a motorist driving a white bakkie, and asked the man for money. He said he had no money and asked me to move away from his car. I continued to nag him, and he looked at me like he was about to jump out of his car to beat me up. Fearing I might be in danger, I had to quickly explain I was a reporter with The Witness and was begging as research for a story I was working on. Only then did he calm down.”

Naile made no money in the time he was begging.

With the small amount they receive from motorists, many street children buy glue from downtown supermarkets to feel warm and to stave off hunger pangs.

The owner of a shop on Church Street said children living in the streets visit his shop and buy glue for R10 and ask for plastic bags, which they use to sniff it in. He added that many shops sell glue and if they don’t sell it to them, they will lose business.

Duzi Medicine Depot pharmacist Yunys Chothia described the side effects of glue on them. He said; “Glue causes starry eyes, disorientation, stupor and it makes them drowsy and they lose mental alertness.”

When The Witness visited the children who beg on the corner of Boshoff and Burger streets, the five boys said they were politely asking for money or food from motorists. One boy from Dambuza said he started living on the streets when he was expelled from school. Another 12-year-old from ­Ezinketheni said what brought him to the street were the living conditions at home which he could not cope with. He did not elaborate.

An 18-year-old said they were all welcome at their homes and visited their families whenever they could afford to.

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