Street children in the country’s cities are well-known for bad behaviour such as theft, blocking traffic and use of obscene language on innocent people.
However, on the streets of Lilongwe City emerged a story of Moses Mwalabu, 26, who once lived in the difficult conditions that are a daily reality for many street children but now has a different story.
Not only did he graduate from street life, but today he is a role model, both to street children and anyone looking for inspiration on overcoming obstacles.
A few kilometres from Malangalanga to Area 23 Township where majority of working class and small business operators’ reside, Mwalabu’s home is different from the bridges and culverts that once housed him.
That he lives in a decent home does not come as surprise. After all, he is a graduate from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (Luanar).
However, as Mwalabu sports his necktie and office attire and sit in his Capital Hill office in the Ministry of Transport where he is doing his internship, few can guess that he was once a street child.
Born on July 24 1993, Mwalabu has faint memory of his mother who died in 2003 when he was just 10-years-old in Dedza District. His father died when he was an infant and he has no memory of him.
“After the death of my mother, I moved in with one of her relatives. However, I couldn’t stay there longer. So, I walked from Dedza to Lilongwe to search for greener pastures.
“I secured a job as a houseboy. Unfortunately, they were never paying me. When I asked if they could allow me to go to school while working, my boss never agreed,” Mwalabu explains.
That forced him to go to the streets where, while attending school, he used all survival tactics, including doing piece works.
“Life was tough. I got used to sleeping in drains and bathing in Lilongwe River while attending Lilongwe Primary School,” recalls Mwalabu.
The scars on his body remind him, and all that care to listen to his story, of where he is coming from.
Former principal secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Mary Shawa met Mwalabu while he was on the street and she became his guardian angel, supporting his education until he got a university scholarship and graduated
“I used to meet Moses while he was on the street and I liked him because he was always smart and never demanded money after helping to carry my bags whenever I went for shopping,” she recalls.
Today, through an initiative by the Youth Net and Counselling (Yoneco) and the Lilongwe Social Service Office, Mwalabu goes back to the street to inspire current street children to take a different path from the usual drugs, theft and other vices.
His story is not just an inspiration to former friends he left behind on the streets but also appears to be sparring institutions into action.
Some organisations are now using Mwalabu’s story as an example of what can be achieved if more efforts are put on educating street children.
At the Lilongwe Rehabilitation Centre, 15-year-old Ganizani (not his real name), who went to the street at 13 to look for food and a home, is among those who have heard Mwalabu’s story.
He says it has inspired him to start attending school after spending two years in the street.
But what should be done for more children to leave the streets and take the path of education just like Mwalabu?
In April 2019, Ombudsman Martha Chizuma released a report on the plight of children titled Abandoned on the streets.
Among the recommendations in the report was that by March 31 this year, all children must be removed from the street.
Chizuma says she believes that Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare is gradually making progress on the project but more needs to be done.
Leon Matanda, a child rights activist, argues that the country can eradicate challenges facing children on streets by investing in them.
“These children require love and protection that is why there is a need for serious intervention from both individuals and the government,’’ he says.
A look at this year’s National Budget points to little funding being channelled towards the life of street children.
According to Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, only K70 million is budgeted for street children across the country which, according to activists, is little money compared to the number of children on the street.
Yoneco executive director MacBain Mkandawire believes that there is more to be done to eliminate street children.
“We need a systematic approach in addressing the issue of street connected children that will lead to reduction in poverty, that will lead to more families and parents caring for their children and all this will lead to reduced number of street children,” he says.
The story of Mwalabu tells us that everyone has a possibility to bring a change in this lifetime. While narrating his story, he challenges that the fight is not over, he is still waiting to enjoy the fruits of his labour.
His dream is to open a home and a vocational training centre for street children.
To keep his dream alive, Mwalabu, using his savings from college, bought 5.3 hectares of land where he wants to build the centre.
But as of now, until he gets a stable job, or until someone with a similar dream comes to his rescue, the centre will remain a dream.