Kids Haven is honored to have been recognized by AGFUND as winners of the Second Category under the theme of “Fighting the phenomenon of Street Children”. We are extremely proud to be alongside our fellow award winners working globally in realizing the rights of the most marginalized children living in dangerous situations.
When I was a young woman growing up in Apartheid South Africa, I knew that the system was not right. I knew that I needed to do something to make a difference. Even as far back as a very young child, I had wanted to be a mission worker to help others.
But it was only when I was around 30 years old that I started working directly with street children. First I was a mother of 3 of my own children with another career until I was able to qualify as a Social Worker and begin to do this work with street children.
I grew up in a small town next to Johannesburg. If I ever bunked school with a friend and went to the park, someone would phone the school and tell them that there were 2 school girls hiding in the park. People looked out for children and the whole community seemed to have a hand in the care and protection of children.
This was not true for Black children. In the 1980’s and the 1990’s, South Africa was a harsh place to live. I had seen Black children – older, maybe around 16 or 17 hanging around the shops that I would go to. They were begging and staying in the streets even though they were not meant to be in a so called “white” area. I began to talk to these boys, asking who they were and why they were there, on the streets, begging.
They told me that they had left their homes to find money, but that they missed their families. They also wanted to go back to school. I began to meet them more regularly, bringing food and spending time with them. At that time, I had begun working as a Social Worker for the local child welfare but it only provided services to White children. I worked with the Black children anyway – eventually my employers said that I could see Black children ONLY in the afternoon. Sometimes, children would climb up the drain pipe next to my office to come up and talk to me before the afternoon. Or they would hang around outside the office, annoying the others until I was allowed to see them after lunch. I arranged that we could use a community hall twice a week and volunteers helped me to start basic lessons with them. We also began to ask questions about their families and how to find them.
So much has happened since then. Our Country has been changing and is 20 years into the road of Democracy and inclusion for all its citizens. One of the first things that President Nelson Mandela did when he was in office was to change the laws of the country – developing an enabling environment to support the inclusion of all people.
Kids Haven has been a part of the working group on developing the new Children’s Act so that it included street children as a National issue and did not reduce it to a municipal or local authority issue which could have seriously impacted the services to children, and the opportunity to secure funding from Government.
Kids Haven also initiated the Johannesburg Alliance for Street Children in 1995 which has since developed into a National Alliance for Street Children across the country. Through the Alliance, Kids Haven is able to support and advise within the sector plus collectively there is a louder voice to advocate for the needs of street children across South Africa.
Around 5 years ago, Kids Haven took the lead in admitting foreign or migrant street children who were being excluded from other Children’s services and living in very vulnerable situations. In 2010, almost half of the children living at Kids Haven were from Zimbabwe. Today only around 40 of our 180 children are foreign but now from the DRC, plus Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
Finally, Kids Haven is now actively participating in National discussions around the stabilization of difficult children and the deteriorating mental health of children. This is the next crisis to be faced. Kids Haven is responding through continuing to provide a caring environment which makes a considerable difference, but also by initiating therapeutic support to build resilience in the children.
Kids Haven is recognized as place that helps the most vulnerable children. Here, the priority remains focused on THE CHILD regardless of whether he is a street child, or a foreign child or an abused child or an addicted child. He or she is a CHILD first. Our work is to support the child and offer hope. Fortunately Kids Haven has many partners who value the work that we do and who support the programmes that make such a difference.
Kids Haven is honored to be recognized by the members of the Agfund Prize Committee. This prize will enable us to share more of our expertise with the sector and add value to the collective response to children living on the streets in South Africa. Thank you.