The Story of a Street Child
Aaron was only 11 when he became a street child. His brother & sister were both killed on the street. Here are their stories as told by Aaron…
Life was good when I was young. I lived with my parents and our home was relaxed, but then things changed. My Dad started drinking heavily and his behaviour grew aggressive. It seemed like the alcohol had taken my Dad and replaced him with a different person; someone mean and angry. One-day Dad beat Mum so badly that she was left in a critical condition. When Mum recovered, she left us. That was the last time I saw her. Not long after that my sister left too, she was running from our Father’s beatings.
Dad didn’t like being alone so he ended up re-marrying, but my stepmother wasn’t too fond of us. Sometimes she blamed us for things we hadn’t done to provoke Dad into beating us. My brothers didn’t put up with it for very long before they decided to run away. I would have left too if I’d known where to go, instead I was the only child left at home.
When I was ten years old, my Dad and step-mum abandoned me and moved to a differed district. As Dad was walking out he said that I’d have to fend for myself. The neighbours occasionally fed me but most of the time I was hungry and had to steal to eat. Eventually I was caught and in keeping with our custom the village forced me to leave. They would have killed me if I’d tried to stay; that’s what happens to thieves. The only place I could go was to my maternal land (my Mum’s family), but when I arrived my Uncle refused to take me in. He said that he had no wife and was struggling to find food for his own family. Uncle told me to go back where I had come from, to my Dad’s land, but I don’t think he knew that I’d been expatriated for stealing.
With nowhere to go I followed the roads to a small trading center. I found a coffin workshop which closed overnight and figured out how to sneak inside to sleep in their coffins. I was the only person inside that building at night. I used to wake myself up before dawn so that the owner wouldn’t find me, then walk to the main city to find food and water. I got to know many of the street children but they thought I had a home to go to; I didn’t tell them that I slept in a coffin.
I was eleven years old when I arrived on the street and I lived there for two years. Eventually I started sleeping with my new friends in the city, underneath the market stalls. Most of the other street kids had jobs so they helped me find work in an abattoir. I used to hold the cows’ legs while they were being slaughtered and in exchange the owner gave me small pieces of meat. Sometimes I would roast the meat over a fire and eat it myself, other times I would sell it to buy water. Hunger was part of our daily lives; our jobs didn’t pay enough to eat. Often we found ourselves stealing from market stalls – sometimes bread, sometimes cassava. I never did big burglaries though and I never pick pocketed. Those things scared me; the community kills anyone who is caught in a burglary. I used to pray that God would provide food to keep me from having to do that. I’m not a thief by nature, I was stealing to survive.
After a few months in town I found my older brother. He was earning big money doing robberies with his gang and sometimes he shared his profits with me. He once gave me 1,500 shillings (USD 40¢) to start a business selling plastic bags. I purchased a box of bags then sold them individually to shop owners, which doubled the money I had. The business was successful and finally I didn’t have to steal; until one night while I was sleeping someone robbed me and left me with nothing. Once again I couldn’t afford food. I gave my best effort to not return to stealing, but as my hunger grew my resolve faded and eventually I joined in one of my friends’ endeavors. We stole from a woman and made 13,000 shillings (USD $3.60), of which my share was USD $0.80. I used half of it to buy plastic bags and with the other half I bought myself dinner.
When I was twelve years old I found my sister on the street. She was doing prostitution and had given birth to three children. She was only fifteen years old. One of the kids was still with her, so I started sleeping beside them and helping with the child. One day the other prostitutes sent us away, but that turned out to be a good thing because my sister ended up with a hotel job washing dishes. The owner paid her with leftover food which we always gave to the child.
In the cold season we often built fires to keep warm. If anyone had water we would boil it to drink, and occasionally someone would have meat to roast. One evening a stranger approached us while we were talking around the flames. All of my friends ran away, but for a reason that I can’t define, I stayed behind. That man was Uncle Tom (Hope Street’s social worker). He stayed with me for a long time and I ended up telling him everything. Uncle Tom slept on the street with us that night. When he left the next morning we made an appointment to meet up during the day.
Things didn’t go so well when I met Tom in daylight. The community thought he was up to no good and they formed a mob to beat him. They thought he was going to traffic us, because he was interested in us street children. Tom showed them his Hope Street ID which calmed the mob, but the whole incident must surely have shaken him somewhat. He kept meeting with me though. A week or so later Tom brought Lillian to see me (another Hope Street social worker). When we first met, she gave me the same type of big hug that my Mum used to give. Three weeks after I met Tom, when I was thirteen years old, I came to live at Hope Street.
From my dormitory at Hope, I worried a lot about my sister and her kid. Shortly after I moved here I snuck out to visit her in town. When I arrived on the streets I couldn’t find my sister anywhere. I wondered if she was back in prostitution or if she had found a home, but when I asked around the news was the worst imaginable: apparently my sister had been killed. I didn’t know whether to believe it, no-one was able to give me any details or tell me where she was buried.
The Hope Street staff really wanted to know where my home village was. I didn’t tell them because I knew that they would take me there – all the other kids had been home for background checks, and I was scared at the thought of going back to Dad’s land. The neighbours had threatened to kill me when they caught me stealing. So for six months I kept my secret, until I trusted Uncle Tom enough to let him take me home. When we arrived at the village all the neighbors ran away! They assumed Uncle Tom had come to collect a debt, that I had stolen something and he was there for retribution. Tom & Lillian waited for three hours but not a single person came out of hiding. Eventually Tom came up with a different strategy; he spoke to the village leaders, who listened to our story and asked the community to come. That’s when I received confirmation of my sister’s death. The community told us that the police had brought her body to our village. They didn’t give her a proper burial; they just threw her body in the bush. They couldn’t tell me why she was killed or if her children are still alive.
Recently, I found out that my older brother also died on the streets. He was fourteen years old. I was told that he was caught stealing a solar-panel and beaten to death. Most people believe it was my Uncles who killed him, because he was causing too much trouble for our family. My brother’s gang used to leave town for a few months at a time to do burglaries in places where they couldn’t be recognized. They had friends in Congo who would scope out places for my brother to rob, and in exchange he would give them information to commit burglaries in our city. My brother stole a lot of things from many people. I heard that he didn’t get a proper burial either, that his body was thrown in the river.
I’m the only one of my siblings who survived the streets; one died from sickness and the other two were killed. Tom & Lillian (Hope Street’s social workers) have been working to reconnect me to my father’s land. The only relative of mine who still lives there is an uncle but he wouldn’t co-operate with Tom – he wouldn’t even give out his phone number. My uncle told Tom that if I try to move home he’ll kill me for being a thief. Tom has been back to visit him three times; apparently he’s warming up and has now given Tom his number, but he still won’t visit me at Hope Street.
My uncle is correct: I was once a thief, but what he doesn’t understand yet is that I’ve changed. When I first came to Hope I often misbehaved. Sometimes I wagged school to sneak to town, and once I stole a phone which Tom had to pay for. But now I’m enjoying life at Hope and my behavior is good. I’ve been here for three years now and the staff say I’m a good role-model for the younger children.
One of my favorite things to do at Hope is play football, we have a game most days after school. In the holidays we learn tailoring which I really enjoy. I think I want to be a welder when I finish school, it’s a good job and will let me stand on my own two feet. I’ll be able to provide for my family and maybe I can even help street children. I’m happy with my life now and I’m so grateful that I’m not on the street anymore. If I was still there I’d probably be dead like my siblings. I’m so grateful that God used the Hope Street staff to find me. I’m also grateful to the people in New Zealand who give their money so that we can have this opportunity.
Aaron in tailoring class (front, white T-shirt)
Aaron in his dormitory (far right)