Sir Peter’s Blog ‘from the streets’ Day 2

EVENT: Retrak’s CEO in Lilongwe, Malawi; Day 2 | AUTHOR: Sir Peter Fahy

Following useful meetings with the mayor, police and other charities, I got the chance to spend some time with the most important people the street children we work with. Retrak in Malawi works with our local partner Chisomo Children’s Club (CCC) which runs two centres; one in Lilongwe and the other in Blantyre. The centre in Lilongwe is a great facility with some open ground children can play on. In the main building rooms the children sleep on mattresses on the floor, there is also a school room, medical room and a hall where the children play and also eat. There are also offices for the staff and counselling rooms that the social workers for one-to-one meetings with the children.

The children come here through the outreach work where Chisomo staff go out on the street very late at night to engage with the children living on the street. Hopefully they are able to encourage some of the children to come to the centre to use the services there. They also receive referrals from the police. One case struck me; three young girls abandoned on the street by their mother, the youngest is only six. They are being cared for at the centre and attempts are being made to find the mother to see if she can be helped. Hopefully she can take her children back with the ongoing support from CCC.

There are lots of challenges for the staff as many of the children are traumatised by their experiences – many have been sexually abused. They have missed out on education, some have not been to school at all so they need catch-up lessons. The teacher has 21 children in her class at the moment all of different ages and stages of development.

The children liked the street hockey set I brought from the UK. They laughed as we danced together and I taught them the Hokey Cokey. These are children that some call ‘criminals’ and ‘frightening’. They were polite and, at the end of lunch, swept and washed down the floor and dutifully stacked up the chairs.

Today is an important a day as 23 girls – previously living on the street as sex workers all around the age of 15 and 16 – will graduate from the programme as they return to their families. They have been through a rehabilitation programme which has included vocational training and some seed corn funding to enable them to set up small businesses and get employment. The support for them will continue as they face stigma and continuing trauma. A number are already setting up as hairdressers.

Every day the weather forecast here says it is going to rain but it doesn’t. The main river in Lilongwe should be close to overflowing, as this is the rainy season, but it is very low. The prediction is that the population of Malawi will rise from 15 to 50 million over the next three decades in one of the poorest countries in the world. It is no wonder that Africans are migrating to Europe.

What I have seen on this visit is practical action on the ground, street children being returned to their families and self-help groups in very poor villages giving some hope to women and strengthening families. I am leaving Malawi with a commitment from all the key agencies to meet together to agree a common goal of reducing the number of children who live on the street away from families and come up with more practical action. Your support for our work is making a real difference. To donate to Retrak’s ongoing work click here. Read more of Sir Peter’s arrival in the Malawi press here