James Sithole Chirandu has been living on the streets for three years. Originally from Chipinge, he came to Harare in 2013 looking for work. Both his parents had passed away and with little education, there were very few opportunities in Chipinge. His only hope was coming to Harare to secure employment.
Arriving in Harare he found that life was much tougher than he had anticipated. Soon he found himself living on the streets. Speaking to Chirandu about his life he said “Living on the streets is hard. I survive by begging for food or sometimes if I see someone carrying a heavy load of stuff I ask if I can assist them and in turn they pay me a small fee. I save all my money from the day to buy a plate of sadza and beef stew for $1. Sometimes I go to restaurants and I ask them if I can take out their rubbish and they pay me with a meal. I live on one meal a day or nothing at all. I am always hungry.”
The only things he owns are the clothes on his back, and from the looks of them they haven’t been washed for a long time. “The other street children stole my piece of soap. It’s hard to keep anything while living on the streets because everything is always stolen.” said Chirandu.
Winter is fast approaching and Chirandu doesn’t have any blankets. At night he covers himself with plastic for warmth and sleeps on the pavement. As I was interviewing him I noticed that he was shivering even though it was a sunny afternoon, and that he had a persistent cough. When I inquired about his health he said, “I have been suffering from a headache for a long time and my teeth hurt. They are all rotten.”
After I finished interviewing Chirandu I asked if he wanted something to eat. I thought fruit would help since he was feeling ill. Instead he opted for sadza with beef stew and maheu. I noticed that he is constantly in survival mode; he needed to eat something that was filling and save the maheu drink for later in the day. He also shyly asked for a piece of soap so he could wash his clothes.
Chirandu hopes that one day he will manage to go back home to Chipinge because living on Harare’s streets in unbearable and taken a toll on his emotional and physical health.
Harare News spoke to Winnie Rwaendepi, Child Protection Officer at House of Smiles – a project run by the Italian NGO Cesvi – about the effects on children of growing up rough. Rwaendepi said, “Once a child lives on the streets it is difficult for them to fit back into a normal social environment. The children are normally excluded by the general public – they are seen as children who are mischievous and unruly. But this is because they lack parental guidance. Our advice to people is to view these children as children. Try to assist them by recognizing organisations that will mitigate the dependence syndrome in them.”
House of Smiles is a drop-in centre for children living and working on the streets. The centre provides children with a home environment where they can speak freely so that helpers understand how and why the children ended up alone. House of Smiles tries to reunite street children with parents or guardians and also organises activities for them including soccer and netball. They work with the Department of Child Welfare and Probation Services to help with school fees and skills training.
Anyone wishing to donate clothes, blankets, food or books can find House Of Smiles on Facebook or visit them at cnr 6th Street and Livingstone Avenue.
Image: James Sithole Chirandu