Monday, 7 June 2010

Caring for street children in Nigeria

Street children can be found in great numbers in many countries in Africa. They fend for themselves, living hand to mouth, finding shelter and food where they can. They beg, steal, turn to vice as a way to earn money, become involved in violent crimes. Society as a whole is contemptuous and impatient of them, often referring to them in derogatory terms, such as the Swahili word, “Chockera”, which means vermin.

In Nigeria, there are enormous numbers of children living on the street, not just in urban areas, but in rural provinces as well. Although Nigeria is Africa’s third largest economy, it is ranked only 141st wealthiest of 182 countries listed by the International Monetary Fund. Poverty is a big problem for many people here.

Many Nigerians are desperate to make money any way they can. Recently, this led to tragedy when people in Northern Nigeria tried to mine for gold illegally. They crushed the ore to extract the gold and discarded the lead filled waste products in places where it made people sick. 300 died of lead poisoning, including 111 children.

As well as poverty, other problems can mean children end up on the streets. These include the deaths of one or both parents to AIDS related illnesses and family breakdown, which rob children of their carers.

Of Nigeria’s 120 million people, 48% are under the age of 18. Of these, an average 30% are in education. It is widely accepted that those children who don’t receive an education are destined not to achieve their fullest potential, but to continue their lives of low income and unskilled work, leading to more poverty and the cycle is perpetuated.

In Yola, North Eastern Nigeria, World In Need is trying to break that cycle. Our representative, Cisse Kafinga, has bought five hectares of land and is building a centre for street children. The centre will include a home for the children, a school and a skills training centre, so they can learn trades and gain qualifications that will enable them to earn a decent living as adults.

As well as the centre, Cisse’s team is also building industrial units on the land. Businesses such as car mechanics will rent these units and the income will help fund the centre, so that eventually it can become self sustaining.

Recently, our International Director, Ron George, visited Yola and laid the inaugural bricks to begin construction of the centre. Our picture shows that moment, a time of hope for the future for the street children in Yola province.

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