As is often the case with most street kids, the reality of not having a way of meeting their basic needs, due to there being no parent or guardian to rely upon forces them to fend for themselves in ways that easily gravitate them towards petty crimes such as pick-pocketing just so they can survive.
Some of these kids are breadwinners to their families, and in this regard, they have no other option, but to bring whatever they can fetch home, thus increasing the wave of crime, which sometimes escalates to robbery that usually involves the use of knives or other dangerous tools.
In Zanzibar, these street children that indulge in criminal activities on a daily basis to make ends meet are known as ‘pushers’, because of the donkey carts they usually drive or the more popular term of children, who swim against the current of the law.
These names may sound different from those used in other parts of Tanzania, but in reality a child that drives a donkey cart in Zanzibar is often one that grew up on the streets, thus he’s never been to school, and therefore lacking the enlightenment that would equip him to do other formal work such as running a business or working in the hospitality industry as is the case for many on the islands.
Young Khalid Mohammed Zaharan lives in Amani Magogoni, Unguja, but he grew up on the streets after his parents divorced, where he was forced to engage in crime such as theft just to be able to get by and support his mother with whom he lived.
By chance he met Tatu Mvita, a paralegal, who upon learning about his lifestyle talked him out of it and instead enroll at the Raha Leo Alternative Education Centre. There UNICEF ran a program for street kids, who wanted to learn new job skills, and eventually leave the streets.
“My life challenges stem from the fact that, I come from an impoverished background. My parents divorced, and this led me to find ways of earning a living and provide support to my mother. She pushed me really hard to study, but I kept telling her that, I would study when life is settled at home, because even at school I met numerous challenges. For this reason, I opted to do what I thought was worthwhile on the streets just to earn money not knowing, I was gradually drifting away,” says Khalid.
Life on the streets changed people’s perception of Khalid, because he couldn’t be trusted anymore. “Even Mvita to whom I often went for advice and help wasn’t very confident about me. There were times, when she needed to step outside for a moment, she would ask her child to keep an eye on me until she came back;
“I’m grateful to her because of her patience with me that allowed her to help me get on the life skills program at Raha Leo, where I learned office and domestic cleaning skills that helped me get a job at a hotel here and leave the streets permanently,” he says.
While employed at the hotel, Khalid also learned to cook and was eventually employed at the same hotel as a chef, which paid him better than his cleaning job. After working at the hotel for a considerable while, he left and started a catering business, which he says pays him well enough to take care of his family trouble-free.
Profits from his business, further enabled him to source fresh fruit and sell at the local market, and through that, he was able to get married and buy a plot of land on which he has started to build a house.
Mvita says that, through LSF’s Access to Justice Program, she has been able to provide legal services in Unguja, where she has invested her time in helping people in communities there, especially children who live on the streets to steer clear of crime.
“I work with the police and I regularly visit their stations to see if there are street children in custody and facilitating bail for them, because after all they are children, and they need all the help they can get. In addition to working as a paralegal, I also teach at Raha Leo and there we help them transform their lives and become responsible, resourceful citizens like Khalid,” she concludes.