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    Monday, August 12, 2013

    Pathetic Stories of Street Children

    Street children pose a lot of security risk to the society if nothing is done to rehabilitate them. Adewale Oshodi, in this report, presents pathetic stories and lifestyles of some street children and how an organisation, the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), is trying to rehabilitate them.
    When other children are in school, these children are on the road, struggling to make a living. Some sleep where nightfall meets them, while others have particular ‘joints’ where they sleep, with their mattresses made of cartons and cardboards. Welcome to the world of children who are no longer under the supervision or guidance of any adult, but are already their own ‘Lords’.

    While these children, most of who are less than 18 years of age, may look tattered and unkempt, one thing they are definitely ‘enjoying’ is the fact that they are making money compared to their age mates who are still under the control of parents or guardians, and this single fact is what drove many, but not all, of these children to the street.
    However, the Justice, Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), Ibadan, recently brought together a group of these children to enlighten them on the dangers of being on the street and why they should focus on their studies or vocation in order to achieve a brighter future.

    Seyi Adebisi, a 13-year-old boy, left home about four months ago and carries load at Ogunpa Market, Ibadan. Before he left home, he attended Oke’Badan High School, and was in Junior Secondary School (JSS) 2. He gave no reason for leaving home, although he said his father sells fairly-used clothing at Iwo Road, while his mother sells food at Oje. Seyi sleeps at an open space in Sabo with friends who invited him to have a taste of life on the street.
    Asked if he would ever go back home, the teenager said he was not sure. He feels so comfortable with the N750 he makes on a daily basis.
    “My parents are not even bothered if I am home or not. I think I feel okay the way I am at the moment. I sleep at Sabo on disused cartons,” the diminutive 13-year-old said, with all smiles.
    While Seyi’s parents may not be divorced, Olaiya Toheeb’s parents are, and this probably contributed to why he left his father to fend for himself.

    At 15, his father kept telling him that he was old enough to fend for himself. His mother, who sells herbs at Dugbe Market, also didn’t have enough to support him, so he found himself at Mokola area, wiping vehicle windscreens when there is traffic build-up.
    “My father is at Oke Ado. He is a tailor, and he has a new wife now; my mother also has a new husband, so I became irrelevant to both of them; that was why I left home. I sleep at Sabo and make about N600,” Toheeb said.
    Akin Ogunwale’s toughness was what drove him to the street. He was always fighting in his school and neighbourhood, and each time he was reprimanded, he ran away from home, but returned after a while.

    However, the 13-year-old beat a classmate until he collapsed one day in school, and seeing what he had done, he took to his heels. He then didn’t go home after the incident, and stopped schooling altogether.
    Knowing who he is, his grandfather, who he stays with, didn’t bother to look for him when news got to him that he had beaten a fellow student to the point of death.
    Now, to survive, he empties people’s dustbins at Agbaje area of the city, while he also sleeps at Sabo with his friends.

    Ademola Sunday, a 21-year-old from Gbaremu, stopped schooling when his parents divorced and went their separate ways without making any plans for him. He just saw his father, who is a mechanic leave home one day, and after some days, his mother also left.
    “I first thought my father went to work because he is a mechanic. It was later I learnt he had moved permanently to Lagos, while his mother moved to Port Harcourt with another man.
    “Now, to survive, I catch fish at ponds with hook and sell. It depends on the number I catch on daily basis, but that is all I do to survive,” Ademola explained, while saying he could go back to school if he could get a sponsor.

    Ayodele Akintola’s story evokes emotions. The 14-year-old boy is the only child of his mother, and when she died, his father’s other three wives were not too keen on taking care of him.
    “My father is a tiler, and he was always away from the home, but my father’s wives would give me the work they couldn’t give their children.
    “As a result of this, I dropped out of school, and nobody really cared, including my father, because he had many children to fend for. After a while, I just left home to start working.
    “I now hawk cold drinks on the express, and I make about N1,200 on a daily basis. I think I am fine now compared to when I was at home, and I don’t think I would want to return to that house again,” 16-year-old Ayodele said.

    Sunkanmi Bello hawks rat gum at Mokola. The 16-year-old said he didn’t really know his father, but his mother left him with his grandmother at Ayeye after she got married to another man last year.
    “My grandmother is over 80 years and she sells pap at home, but the money is not enough to cater for me and the other four grandchildren who are with her.
    “So a friend who was selling rat gum told me about it, and that is why I started selling it on the road,” Sunkanmi said.

    On whether he is still living at home, the young boy said he began staying with his friends who are also selling rat gum, explaining that a room is highly unconducive for him, the other children and his grandmother.
    “I can really go back to school if I find somebody who will help me, or I can learn a vocation as well,” Sunkanmi said.

    An official of JDPC, Sola Olaniyan (left), counselling the street children. However, no matter how gentle a child may be before venturing on the street, he is bound to be influenced negatively by fellow street children.
    For example, a number of the 13-year-olds are already into drugs and are already showing signs of addiction through their behaviour and utterances.
    One of the children even said he was could not wait to leave the gathering to go and ‘eat fish’, a term for smoking Indian hemp.

    While speaking on this, Dr Eigbadon Gregory of the Galilee Foundation, a home that rehabilitates street children, said a number of factors are responsible for the difficulties in rehabilitating street children.
    “First, they see freedom outside; they don’t want to be under the control of any parent or guardian. Also, they think they are making money which they would never make if they are at home.
    “You can imagine a 13-year-old child making about N1,000 daily; there is nothing you would tell him that would make him return home, and again, once they are out on the street, they develop some vices, like taking hard drugs, some involve themselves in petty crimes like picking pockets and so on, and later graduating into serious crimes,” Dr Gregory said.

    “It is, therefore, important that all hands must be on deck to rehabilitate these street children so that they won’t be a burden on the society in the nearest future.
    “We are trying at Galilee Foundation, where we rehabilitate these children, but majority of them don’t stay. After a while, they return to the street, but we still have some success stories,” the Galilee Foundation Coordinator said.

    While sharing his rehabilitation story, Adebayo Samson said he had stolen his mother’s N20,000 in 1994, and thereafter, ran away from home.
    “Because I couldn’t return home after what I did, I started working at Agbeni and Oja Oba markets, and was also involved in various vices until Galilee Foundation rescued me.
    “We were about eight that were rescued on that particular day, but we are two remaining now, and I thank God that I have been able to finish my secondary education, and I am looking at what to do next”, Adebayo said, while charging other street children to also look at their lives and make a change before it is too late.

    Another rescued street child, Kayode Olubodun, said he was just doing all sorts of menial work in Oshodi, Lagos, before he was rescued by Galilee Foundation.
    Kayode said anytime Galilee Foundation officials were at the motor park in Oshodi to counsel street children, he always participated because of the food they would distribute after the whole programme.
    “But one day, after the whole programme, I was just eating what had been distributed when a voice asked me if I was enjoying the life I was living.

    “What happened at that time was definitely beyond my understanding, as I saw my whole life in ruins before me. It was at that point that I realised I needed to change my ways, and that was how I followed Galilee Foundation officials to Ibadan,” Kayode said, while telling other street children who were listening to him with rapt attention not to waste their lives on the street.
    “You could feel you are enjoying your life today, but is this what you want to do, even when you are old?” Kayode asked.
    “Taking the right decision may be so difficult, but it will pay-off in the end; it is better to struggle now and enjoy in the old age, than to enjoy now and suffer in the old age,” the ex-street child said.

    An official of JDPC, Sola Olaniyan, said the organisation, which is owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Ibadan, would look at ways towards rehabilitating the street children who are willing to be rehabilitated.
    Olaniyan said in partnership with Galilee Foundation, the children would be provided with accommodation and would be sent to school or encouraged to learn a vocation provided they are willing to turn their backs on the street.
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