Working the streets at 14

Life was never easy for Hannah. Her parents weren’t around… her father disappeared before she was born and her mother crossed the border to Sudan in search of work. Hannah’s guardian, her grandmother, worked long hours to make ends meet, so Hannah had very little adult guidance throughout her upbringing.

Things became extremely difficult when Hannah was 14. Her grandmother was forced to retire and suddenly their household had no income. There was no money for school fees, there wasn’t even enough money for food. Hungry and despondent, Hannah left her village to look for a means of survival.

Cold and alone on the street, she turned to prostitution.

Hannah found a job as a house-maid but in exchange for her labour she was only given shelter. There was no monetary payment for food or medicine. Hannah’s hunger persisted and she found herself stealing to survive. She started by taking the odd piece of food from a market stall, but the habit progresses to stealing household items from her employer and selling these for cash. In her mind she could justify it: She wasn’t making a profit, she was simply preventing her own starvation. Then one day Hannah’s employer caught her in the act and in an instant her job was gone. Cold and alone on the street, she turned to prostitution.

Before long Hannah found friends among the other working girls. They were a tight-knit group of ‘sisters’ who ate, worked and slept on the street. Hannah made enough money for food and warm clothes. She was no longer hungry. Life was slightly easier, and it continued this way for a whole year.

One evening everything changed… Hannah was caught stealing from a client and severely beaten. It took a long time to recover from her injuries, and once she had recovered she could no longer work in prostitution. Her ‘sisters’ began brainstorming ways to find Hannah work in a desperate effort to keep her fed.

Enter Hope Street. One evening our staff were in town when one of these girls approached them. The friend told Hannah’s story and asked for work on her behalf. Our staff responded, they said they would form a relationship with the girls and take things from there.

We quickly established that one of Hannah’s friends had an uncle in a nearby village. Mediating between the friend and her extended family, we were able to repatriate the friend to her uncle’s household. This friend is now living with the uncle and attending school; far better for a 14 year old than the streets of Uganda.

Hannah is now studying hairdressing and she loves it. She hopes to one day run her own salon.

For Hannah, things were not as straight forward. Her experiences at home and on the street had instilled in her a habit of lying. We asked Hannah where her village was and trekked out to the location she gave, but upon arrival at the village no one knew of her. Hannah then led our staff to two more false villages. For a long time she refused to give a truthful answer of where she came from; she was fearful of being forced back to the poverty and hunger that she had known when she lived at home.

We eventually found Hannah’s family and they were incredible joyful to hear she was alive. However, it was clear to our staff that the level of poverty in Hannah’s household was too great for her to live there, and that she would need a specialised level of care to recover from her experiences on the street. Hannah’s grandmother gratefully signed the consent form for Hannah to live with Hope Street.

Having had minimal schooling, the decision was made to enroll Hannah in vocational training rather than send her to primary school in her teenage years. Hannah is now studying hairdressing and she loves it. She hopes to one day run her own salon.

The transition to living in a structured environment wasn’t easy for Hannah. She argued with staff and struggled with defiance. However, gentle counselling, encouragement and the showering of love have led to her transformation. Hannah is showing leadership potential. She has joined the church choir and is becoming an active member of the local community. She helps with cooking and encourages Hope Street’s younger children to help more around the home. Hannah also loves netball… us kiwis played with her earlier this year and her shooting skills really blew us away!

Natural Spring

Hannah (left) leading worship.

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