Sudan: Street Kids - Changing Lives Inside the Sit-in Grounds

You will be taken by surprise at what goes on inside the sit-in grounds around the Army General Command: All are united behind the popular demand for the formation of a civilian government. And all are united by a collective feeling of bitterness resulting from the defunct regime's oppressive behavior towards the citizens. Some of these citizens in the sit-in have set tents and documented in writing and pictures those atrocities of the fallen regime.

Everyone has his loud voice and, for sure, a means for the redemption of the wrongs committed by the regime, sooner or later. Eventually everybody here will leave the place and return to his home and his home area.

But some will stay behind, because they don't know where to go. These are the street kids. Nobody will listen to their complaint because they have no voice and because they don't have the means to make themselves heard. They are a true embodiment of suffering and will be left alone on the pavements and roadways, because they have no home areas and no homes to go to: They are the helpless street heroes, or rather, the street kids, the name that truly expresses their condition.

Since Day One, 6 April, they moved to the sit-in grounds. They did not plan for that. For them it was a God-given chance, a God-sent mercy. The happy days they have so far spent at the place are so little as compared to the magnitude of their long suffering. But they are days they had always dreamt of: Here at the sit-in grounds they were embraced by a group of heroic men and women who provided them with a safe tent that sheltered them from the grilling summer sun, helped them with clean food, recreation, schooling and chocolate and juices they had never tasted before.

This attention has triggered a lot of interesting stories. One of these is about a street kid who was brought to the sit-in clinic. Doctors and their assistants received him with a lot of sympathy: This doctor carries him and that doctor plays with him. But he continued to cry all the time, quite unable to answer their queries about his health complaint. At last the medics discovered that he was simply moved by the way they treated him, something he had never experienced before.

I called on these kids inside their tent. I found some of them drawing pictures, others shaping flower vases, others writing the alphabet and the numbers they have so far learned on the blackboard. Some other kids were cleaning the tent An atmosphere of tranquility engulfed the place. At first I did not have the feeling that they were abandoned children or street kids. They were clean and tidy, innocently laughing and playing. They were happy at this atmosphere that restored their humanity to them.

They did not know what Bashir and his government had done that angered the protesters and prompted them to leave their homes and families and choose to sleep on the ground beside them and eat with them in the same utensils.

Nobody dares to shout at these kids or try to drive them away if they happen to come closer to the protesters. In fact they entertain the feeling that the protesters were their guests and that they (the kids) are the owners of the place. That is why they race to offer help whenever needed and contribute to the cleaning of the place and serve water and food to the crowds at the place.

Despite the harshness of their life and their deprivation, they are creative artists and drawers, good swimmers and dancers. They do everything that makes suffering bearable.

I talked to Abushaiba, called so because of white hair (in Arabic shaiba) on his forehead. He is the most fierce. He had left childhood a long time ago and took care of himself in the hell of the streets. That is why when he confided in me he started to, vainly, talk about his skills. He said he was a skilful swimmer and can cross the River Nile. He was a basic dancer in the De Gee dancing troupe.

When you look at Moa'awaya (14) you get the feeling that he would explode out of depression. He claims to be sick and despite his daily calls at the sit-in clinic, you get the feeling that he is thirsty just for a single dose of attention, something he readily receives from the teachers and volunteers in the tent.

There are also some young girls in the company of their mother. Though these are very noisy, they can make you happy. They have no knowledge of what 'home' means. They were born in the street; their mother too! Their mother is young, but was exhausted by years of suffering. She is responsible for guarding the place. I asked her where she lived in Khartoum, but all I could get was a meaningless look.

The youngsters make you so happy that you forget the magnitude of their calamity. But you feel the older ones are sad and dejected. According to one of them, Alrayyah, they still dream of moving to a real house after the sit-in is over, because the teachers will not abandon them and will build a school for them. Alrayyah said would continue with his education up to the university. He said they would continue in the sit-in until the new government (the government of justice and equality as he called it) is formed. It is clear that Alrayyah has started to use the jargon of the protesters. So did his fellow street kids Adam and Ali. All of them said they would move from the tents to a proper house and will go to school. Even the pictures they draw express that dear wish.

The protesters (males and females) have done a good job with these kids. But what after the sit-in is over? These kids own nothing. They have no homes and no education. Now they have found everything. What will they feel when all this is gone. Certainly their hopes will be dashed if something useful is not done.

Mr. Salah Albashir, the teacher in charge of the tent of the Initiative for the Army General Command Children, who is also executive director of the NGO "We Are For Them", has an answer:

These kids often ask me where are they to go when the sit-in is over. The We Are For Them Organization is planning to build a home for the street kids. What has prompted us to set this tent is that the kids' number is too big and increasing everyday. That is why we have started to gather and devise enlightenment, health and education programs for them. Some of these kids were troublesome. But they started to change when they realized that we wanted to help them. There are over 120 kids in the tent now. But according to statistics there are 6000 homeless persons in Khartoum, most of them kids.

Ahmed, a volunteer from the NGO Ashamna (It is Our Hope), says the number of the homeless at the sit-in grounds is vast. The NGO has started to provide them with health care. Many of them suffer from inflammations and skin allergies. The NGO is working to qualify them psychologically and socially. Statistics have revealed that stray children in the streets are not all of them homeless. Many of them are beggars employed by begging gangs. Many of them are not Sudanese.

Ahmed hoped the upcoming government would prioritize this category in its reform programs. He said the most painful question he receives is when these kids approach him with the question: What are you going to do for us? "What we are doing for these kids is just lighting a candle in thick darkness. We have to wait. We do not have a home for these kids at the moment," he said.

Akram Alwathiq, a volunteer with the NGO Mujaddidoon (innovators) said his NGO originally had classes for teaching these kids at the Nile Avenue and the continuation of the sit -n had encouraged them to relocate the school to this tent. This had allowed the kids to receive training and guidance from a number of activists. This has raised the patriotic sentiment amongst these kids to the extent that when asked to draw something some of them drew the country's national flag while others drew the entrance of the Army General Command where the sit-in is staged. The relocation of the Nile Avenue classes to the sit-in grounds has availed many Sudanese with the opportunity to meet with the kids. Some have promised to take care of them via the plan for educating the homeless children. "We have a program to follow up these kids called '2 For 1' that now faces some impediments which we hope to overcome in the future," he said.

Saba'a, a volunteer teaching the kids, said is concerned with educating them on the fundamentals of good behavior, religious values in particular; in addition to Arabic, arithmetic and English. "They are clever and desirous of education" she said, urging the protesters, males and females, to adopt such initiatives to help these kids.

Abubakr Alsiddeeq, a volunteer from the Martyr Ahmed Alkhair Initiative for Educating Abandoned Kids, has said the first step the next government should take is to take care of these homeless children. The government should build homes for these kids where they can receive all necessities. The protesters should prioritize the plight of these kids and the society should change its attitude towards them and never view them as criminals. Instead of looking at them as criminals and delinquents, the society should help and sympathize with them, he said. "Every one of us should try to see himself in their position, scavenging for food in garbage cans and living in the sewers" he said.

So far the protesters around the Army General Command have given these kids due sympathy and warmth and are willing to do more for them. These young faces and these bodies; fatigued by illness, deprivation, fear and oppression are the most happy by this sit-in and never want it to be over, therefore a solution should be sought to save them from returning to the miserable life and suffering.

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