Street Children in rehabilitation (1)
On this sunny April morning at Lubhoo, Lalitpur district, dozens of boys are playing football on the field below. Others perform acrobatic figures in the fields adjacent to the center. A Voice of Children center that welcomes street children. Only boys. Most of them are very young, some are just 6 or 7 years old.
“Our center is divided in 2 entities, explains Govinda Koirala, VOC program coordinator. After being rescued by the rescue teams or the police, the children are first taken to the drop-in center. During maximum 3 months, our association provide them basic services and a protective environment to meet their immediate needs: psychosocial care, first aid, food, shelter, clothes, etc. We also motivate the boys towards leaving their street life by introducing a friendly and fun environment in the center. We organize recreational and creative activities, we work to make them feel comfortable, to meet new friends, etc.”
Raj* is one of them. Aged 15, he has been living in the Drop-in center for almost three months. “I was caught by the police while stealing milk for myself and my friends.” Raj had been living on the streets for 4 months, around Patan's Durbar Square. It was the second time that he had escaped from his house and lived in the streets. “I couldn't stand my family anymore. When my father remarried, my mother returned home to Mustang. My mother-in-law beat me, without my father defending me. He didn't care about me... I quickly made friends in the street. To eat, we used to be pickpockets or steal the money from offerings in the temples. I enjoyed my life, we spent the afternoons in the cyber-cafes or at the swimming pool, we were free. We also smoked a lot, cigarettes, marijuana. I also worked a few times as a sandbag carrier on the construction sites in the area.”
For the moment Raj does not intend to see his family again “I do not like them, none of them”.
"However, we will do everything to try to bring them together, insists Govinda, because our project also focuses on preparing children for reintegration into their family or community.” Indeed, in a second stage, those children are referred to the second entity of the VOC center: the socialization center. “If they show interest to abandon street life and adopt family life, the children are introduced to vocational training programs and education for one year. It's the rehabilitation part of the project. For example, before leaving in the street, Raj was an excellent student, it is essential that he can resume his studies, offer himself a better future.”
There are an estimated 5,000 street children in Nepal, the majority are boys who escape from poverty and violence at home. “The vast majority of street children have experienced difficult family environments. Beaten, abused, simply rejected because unwanted or different, abandoned, according to Tara Gyawali, the manager of the socialization center. “We teach children to live normally, to go to class, to follow rules, to live in community, to feel like at home, but we also provide them with psychosocial counselling & therapy. But we also focus on these families: we carry out work in parallel with their parents, their communities, we try to re-establish contact between the child and his family.”
This is the case with Pradeep*, one of the 46 children present at the socialization center so far. For some time now, once a week, he has had telephone contact with his family. “My father has lived in Malaysia for three years where he runs a cosmetic shop. My mother was beating me so I left our house near Lumbini, in Terai.” With two friends, he traveled the 250 kilometers that separate him from Kathmandu by bus and arrived in the Nepalese capital at the age of 13. “I lived in the street for two years, mainly in a bus park. For a while I worked as a bus ticket collector, for 1500 rupees per month (10 euros). The rest of the time my friends would manage to find us food. At night we slept in the buses... "
It has been almost a year since Pradeep has been living at the VOC socialization center. For him the street seems far away, he dreams of being a farmer in his family region of Terai, in the south of the country...