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From street begging to College of Medicine

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While in standard one, Simon Maston was forced to leave his home in Lilongwe to live with his uncle in Blantyre when his mother died.

Since he was a little boy, Simon did not know what death meant and thought his mother would reappear one day. Each day, his thoughts took him back to his mother’s home.

As days went by, Simon kept asking himself why he had to live with his uncle’s family and not his own.

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Simon felt lonely and could not understand what had happened to his parents who had offered him a home and security.

“I found life very hard living with relatives,” he recalls.

“They would give be chores beyond my age, shout at me for no reason and I was often accused of things I had not done.”

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With nowhere to go to seek solace, Simon was forced to join his peers on the streets, claiming they offered him freedom.

“This made me to alternate between living on the streets and at home as my uncle would come to take me home before I would return to the streets,” says Simon.

Even though he preferred to live on the streets, the environment on the streets did not give him respite from hardships as he lived rough as a street beggar.

Simon told Mana: “Life wasn’t rosy on the streets. You had to sweat to get everything. For you to even sleep, it was not easy to get a place to lay your head on.

Then he heard about an organisation called the Samaritan Trust where he went to and begged them to keep him.

Simon says he does not know how old he was at the time, but remembers that he joined the Samaritan Trust in Blantyre when he was in standard two.

And as luck would have it, joining the Samaritan Trust was to be his turning point.

The Samaritan Trust enrolled Simon at Chilomoni Primary School in Blantyre in 2003 from where he was selected to Robert Blake Secondary School in Dowa.

The Samaritan Trust was established by the late Jarvis Chakumodzi in 1993 to reach out to street children.

The Samaritan Trust Executive Director, Margret Mukwena, says the institution can accommodate 120 children, but at present it is only keeping 77 children due to financial constraints.

“We realise that children on the streets have no opportunities. We rehabilitate and send them back to school. We give them a chance to make a choice about their future,” says Mukwena.

She was speaking recently during the Samaritan’s Trust open day that was held under the theme ‘Collaborating for the empowerment of the street child’.

Mukwena says children at the institution are also trained in different vocational skills such as carpentry, bricklaying, electrical installation and farming.

She says it is not an easy job for the Trust to manage 77 children as they need school fees, food, clothing, and shelter, among other necessities.

“We have reached this far because of numerous donations and we would appreciate if more people would give towards this noble cause,” says Mukwena.

Such a call prompted the Major for Blantyre City, Noel Chalamanda, to volunteer to be the ambassador for the Samaritan Trust.

Chalamanda says: “Whatever the circumstances that force children to be on the streets, we can still get involved to reduce the problem. We know the streets of Blantyre or any other city in the world are not a safe place for children to grow up in.

“A simple shift in behaviour can reduce this problem. If for one day, people were to stop giving money to beggars and instead channelled it towards sustainable institutions such as the Samaritan Trust, imagine the difference that would make.”

Chalamanda says giving alms to street children is a pull factor that has encouraged children to come and beg daily on the streets of Blantyre.

“We are not solving the problem, but rather making it bigger and uncontrollable by duty bearers,” he says.

A 2015 Malawi Street Child Enumeration Survey by Chisomo Children’s Club estimates that there are 4,165 street children in Lilongwe and Blantyre.

“The 91 per cent of the street children in Lilongwe and 76 per cent in Blantyre go home to sleep with their parents or relatives,” reads the survey’s report.

The study suggests that the number of children living on the streets is small and that it is possible to provide outreach, emergency shelter and transitional care for this number.

It says reintegration and prevention activities are needed in these communities and that emphasis should be on family and economic strengthening as most of the street children come from home.

Chalamanda says there are various reasons why children are found living, working or begging on the streets.

He observes that most come from homes that are too burdened with poverty to care about the welfare of their own children.

“The increase in number of street children is one of the most serious urban social problems facing Blantyre today,” says Chalamanda.

He says street children face a number of challenges that keep them entrenched in a vicious cycle of vulnerability.

“They cannot enjoy a normal childhood and lack resources to alleviate their problems,” he says.

Minister for Gender, Children and Social Welfare, Patricia Kaliati, says there are about two million street and vulnerable children in Malawi.

She says the problem of street children is rooted in breakages of marriages and poverty.

“Mothers fail to take care of their children due to high levels of poverty as some even send their children to beg on the streets to survive,” she says.

Kaliati says the Child Care, Protection and Justice Act of 2010 lays a foundation for the protection of all children in the country.

“Section 3:2 states that a parent or guardian shall provide proper guidance, care, assistance and maintenance for the child to ensure his or her survival and development, including in particular adequate diet, clothing, shelter and medical attention,” she says.

Kaliati says her ministry with other stakeholders has rescued some children from the streets, rehabilitated and reintegrated them into their families and schools.

And one of the rescued children is none other than Simon.

Simon passed his form four with 15 points and was selected to the College of Medicine.

He has just finished his premed at the age of 20, studying physiotherapy.

At the moment, he is waiting to start his first year.

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