Learning to walk

On a foggy day, the decrepit shanty town of Susan-Bay looks particularly sad. It is one of the many slums of Freetown. The narrow path Cap Anamur social worker Ruth Zemedebrhan and her Sierra Leonian colleague Jonathan are taking, is lined by shacks and flooded after heavy rain. It demands skill to avoid the deep puddles. Then, finally, the two reach their destination: but the eight square meter hut is occupied by someone else now. Back then, the family of Samuel, a 13-year-old boy our team had picked up on the street the night before and taken to Cap Anamur’s new house for street children, lived here.

“Our first tours in the downtown area at night-time were distressing,” says Ruth Zemedebrhan. The street worker from Stuttgart, Germany, moved to Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, in July to coordinate the local project. “It was pitch-dark, the normally crowded streets were almost empty. Some teenagers in tattered clothes, many of them without shoes, were roaming through the streets – drunk or under the influence of drugs and without any perspective in life.” We approached them and woke up those sleeping behind self-made board partitions. “What happened to you? Why do you live on the streets?” – that is how most conversations started. But the most important question of every night: “Are you willing to leave the streets?”. We invite all children who answer with a “yes” – and the next morning almost all of them are waiting at the gates of the Pikin Paddy Center on Hagan Street. “Including Samuel”, says the 31-year-old.

Finally being able to shower off the dirt of many weeks, eat one’s fill without having to beg and sleep in a real bed with clean sheets! Samuel stays for two weeks. “All children are free to leave our house whenever they want. So we have to offer them better perspectives in live,” says Ruth Zemedebrhan. “But Samuel’s trust grows quickly as we care about his well-being. We learned that his mother had passed away and that he could not return to his violent father. But after making some inquiries, we managed to find Samuel’s adult brother, who was happy to take him in. However his income is barely sufficient for himself alone, so Samuel regularly joins us for meals at the ‘Pikin Paddy’ – which translates to ‘Friend of the Children’”. Over the next few weeks, we found Samuel – to our team’s delight – at home on all unannounced visits. And he is now able to go to school again, impossible before because of the lack of money. Now Cap Anamur helps with the school fees, school uniform and books.

Background:

After a long civil war, almost three out of four Sierra Leoneans live below the poverty line. There are at a guess 2,000 street children in the capital Freetown alone. Our team supports children and teenagers with their plans for the future: social workers mediate between them and their families, assist with the reintegration into schools; they provide advice, conciliate and – maybe one of the most important tasks – they listen to the children.