Our street child story

So finally – the Day itself!

I’m so excited about everything going on around the world and very proud to be a part of it.

In Nigeria, we are holding a big event including presentations, music and drama – all about the rights of street children. It’s also an opportunity to really push this issue with the government and police in influencing them to make the changes needed.

It’s also made me realise just how much of our work centres around street children. We’ve been working with street children since 2006, when we first became aware of the issue of children being on the streets because of witchcraft accusations, and started working with local Nigerian organisations to provide children with food, shelter, medical care and education.

But it’s not only children living on the streets that we’ve helped. Our access to education projects also target at-risk children – those who might be on the streets soon because their families don’t have the money to send them to school, or who are excluded from education because they were disabled. The children know that education is a way out of the poverty trap, and is why they value it so highly.

Today, we continue this work to make sure children have the opportunities they need to avoid a life on the streets. A few years ago during a visit to monitor our projects in Nigeria, I first visited the SYDRI street child shelter. Like Rick on his first visit, I was struck by how much it felt like a proper home and family for children who had lost so much. I had no hesitation in recommending that we began partnering with SYDRI. Now, nearly four years on, it’s wonderful to go back and see how all the children are getting on. Some of them are so grown up I can hardly believe it – one of the boys I met on my first visit is now an apprentice tailor and plans to open his own business – all because someone helped him when he needed it.

Since 2010, I’ve also been managing a project to document and investigate cases of child rights abuse, and to make sure that the children get whatever kind of support they need – legal services, medical care and counselling to name just three.

Since then, we’ve recorded hundreds of cases through this project – and almost all of them involve children who are either on the streets or at risk of being so. Children who’ve run away from violence and abuse, children being forced to work when they should be in school, cases of severe poverty and neglect, and inevitably, witchcraft accusations.

This forms the core of our new SAFEChild project, which will continue all of these services, running from a dedicated Child Protection Centre, but which also focusses on a major need identified by our partners and the children – the need for Safe Accommodation. One of the problems we’ve found is that for so many children, it’s a choice between an abusive home, and the streets.

We want to give them another option. So we are setting up a network of small group homes, like SYDRI, and properly trained and monitored foster carers. There’s a huge tradition of informal fostering in Nigeria – wonderful, caring people who will take in a child in need and provide them with a home.

We aim to build on this goodwill while at the same time making sure that child protection standards are upheld, and that the foster carers as well as the children have access to support. We are also finalising plans for an emergency shelter, so that children in danger have somewhere safe that they can go immediately, while longer term care is arranged.

Finally, we want to expand our street outreach work – providing services to children who have been living on the streets long-term, and gaining their trust so they feel confident in getting help to get off the streets.

One very exciting thing we are looking at is how to provide education to children on the streets, as they can’t go to school without a fixed address.

Watch this space…