With an increasing number of destitute children on the streets of Windhoek, few seem to be aware that there is support and overnight accommodation available for them.
Ministry of Gender and Equality and Child Welfare spokesperson Charlie Matengu says they have a building for destitute and homeless children, called the After-school Centre in Grysblok, which was born out of the realisation that there are growing numbers of children roaming the streets of the capital.
Street children can overnight at the After-school Centre and activities, such as integrating them back into school life and their families, are undertaken there.
Matengu says the centre has the capacity to accommodate 500 children and caters for needy children between the ages of six to 18 years. He also mentioned some success stories, whereby people, who previously lived on the streets are now employed by the ministry after they were re-integrated as functional members of society.
Matengu was responding to questions regarding the ministry’s plans for children on the streets and how it plans to meet their needs in general, including healthcare, education, nutrition and housing.
He said although there might be more, they have identified 26 as from January to present this year. Of this number, three are girls and 23 boys. He said of the 23 boys they identified as indigent, two have been re-integrated into school and restored to their families.
He explained that of the remaining 21, ten have also been united with their families and four are currently living at the After-school Centre. The remaining 10 on the streets are from Gobabis.
“When we take them back to Gobabis, they return to Windhoek. They can’t stay at the centre, as they are older and addicted to substances,” he noted.
According to Matengu, some of the children are on the streets claiming they were abused at their homes, had no food and that there was lack of family bonding. He explained that the centre serves as an interim night-shelter and various services are offered to children there.
The centre offers activities, such as counseling, school integration and tracing of family and first assesses whether the child can or should be re-integrated with their families.
Importantly, Matengu said they regularly go and collect children who live on the streets and take them to the centre, where the ministry arranges events for them, such as sports activities, doing their hair, offering manicures, pedicures, and counseling, amongst others.
However, he said, some street children prefer to take a shower, eat and leave.
“For school-age children we place them at the children shelter facility, which accommodates a lot of children. For those who have passed the school-going age we liaise with the National Youth Service for them to be included in the national youth training programme,” he further said.
He notes the main challenge is that some children do not want to go to school, while others soon return to the streets when put in the shelter. “Even when integrated with family they go on the streets. Once on the streets, they get accustomed to a ‘no rule’ life and when integrated with family they can’t keep up and so run back to the streets,” he said.
Matengu further said the support programme for street kids is currently only available in Windhoek, but they plan to expand it to other regions. However, funding is limited.
During school holidays, Matengu said, they host events that help street children with assignments and arrange activities, focusing on arts, crafts, sports and culture. Young mothers are also taught income-generating skills, such as gardening, tailoring and making beads.