In the coldest nights of June, there is always a boy without a home standing helpless beside a tree, shivering. He is dressed shabbilyâ€”a dirty shirt which is torn at the back, exposing his pale and cracked body to the biting cold.
As he walks around the streets begging and sometimes pick-pocketing, he barely looks remorseful. But why should he? There is no one he goes to when he needs new clothes and shoes. There is no one who punishes him when he misses school for the entire term.
In moments of danger, there is no one he runs to for safety and security.
Two years ago, that child was Cydric Alfred, now 15. Like most children, he once had both parents, a home and three meals per day. He also went to school and dreamt of becoming a medical doctor.
But along the way, his status changed. He lost his father at the age of four and his mother at eight.
“I then went to live with my uncle in Ntcheu, who always found a reason to beat me up. To him, everything I did was wrong,” he says in quite a slow tone, his eyes nailed to the ground.
He dropped out of school while in Standard Three in 2007. He no longer had good clothes. He was lucky if he got three meals per day. He no longer had a caring home, and his dream of becoming a medical doctor was shattered.
“I was forced to leave Ntcheu for Chirimba in Blantyre, to live with my brother. But life with my brother was almost a repeat of the pains I left uncleâ€™s home for,” says Cydric.
Hopeless, Cydric left home at the age of 10 and sought comfort in the streets. He joined a number of homeless and parentless children who meet their daily needs through begging and sometimes, causing havoc in cities.
“A day is hardly complete without being beaten heavily by unknown people and also having your food or money snatched.
“You really feel bitter sometimes that you think of breaking down. But even if you did, who is going to hear your cry? The cities are full of people who are always busy to spare their time for you,” says the boy.
True. Street children are invisible humans; invisible not because they cannot be seen, rather because people refuse to see them. They beg with faces veiled in shame.
Of course, they can be a danger to society. Stories have been told of street children attacking people while withdrawing money from ATM machines and pick-pocketing.
But Chancellor College sociologist Dr. Pearson Ntata understands the depth of street childrenâ€™s behaviour.
“Street children are usually victims and not perpetrators of violence. Many homeless children are enticed by adults and older youths into selling drugs, stealing and prostitution,” he says.
Then there is the issue of deviance. The children lack societal principles which help instil accepted behaviour in any human being.
“For all the four years I was on the street, I never went to church or attended school. All you think about is what to eat for each particular day and how to survive and fight whatever gets on your way,” says Chikondi, 16, another child who stayed on the street for almost four years.
Whether it is Cydric, Chikondi or any other child who has tasted life on the streets, their stories are nothing different.
But at least, the two can smile. They are no longer in streets. They are now back in the comforts of home and family after they were captured from streets by Safe Home Project, a charitable organisation that captures orphans and street children from their pains and gives them a sense of family and home.
“It is a project that began from the trauma I suffered after noticing a street child being soaked in the rains, when I was enjoying the comfort of an air-conditioned car.
“I pictured the innocence on the childâ€™s face and saw my own child on it. I was compelled to, at least, make a difference, even if it meant helping a single child,” says Audrey Mwala, chairperson of the Safe Home Project.
Together with friends, she started soliciting funds. In 2004, the project took off.
“We took a number of children and lodged them in a house which we rented in Manase, Blantyre. The idea is to give the children an opportunity of normal childhood so that they can grow into productive citizens.
“Our vision is to own a big village with safe homes to shelter these street kids. We hired a woman who gives motherly love to these children,” she says.
She adds that it has not been an easy going, though
“We need K110 000 [$440] every month to meet the expenses of keeping these young ones. Currently, we are working on building our own house.
“We have already bought a piece of land in Manase at half a million, and resource willing, we will start building right away,” she says.
Yet that is not the only challenge they face in keeping these children.
“What we need to understand is that we are dealing with children who lived without guidance, homeless and were denied for long. Re-socialising them is not that easy,” she says.
But though tough, Mwala feels convinced that the journey is heading towards the intended end.
“Since we started, we have kept close to 27 children. The interesting thing is that a good number of them show progress.
“They are cooperative, friendly and they exhibit deep love for school and the word of God. This year, we have two who will be sitting for Standard Eight examinations,” he says.
Despite Safe Homeâ€™s efforts, the problem of street children is still a thorn in the countryâ€™s flesh.
“We need serious investments in efforts that rid children of streets. What we are doing here is working,” she says.
She is right. Cydric is back in school after missing for two years; he is now in Standard Five at C.I Primary School in Blantyre. Not only that. He gets a motherly love from the hired woman. He sleeps on a bed. He has three meals a day. He goes to church.
“I am really at home, very comfortable, now,” declares Cydric.
But though he is comfortable, as June comes closer, there will still be a number of his friends shivering in the streets.