‘I once was on street but never born for the street’
Led by two professional psychologists, our counseling program aims to transform the boys from traumatized children to a state of psychological wellbeing through life skills training and psychotherapy. The counselors meet with the boys on a weekly basis, with both one-on-one and group session opportunities. Stigma reduction, rebuilding hope, and rejuvenating a hard-work ethic are goals of the program. The boys’ perception of the world as unsafe is transformed into one that is loving, caring and safe, as they experience CYH as a program that facilitates emotional healing and comprehensive support. Behavior change as one of the key elements of counseling is achieved by positive reinforcement of the boys and maintained through positive peer influence; quarterly recognition which involves rewards for good behavior; and community events that build cohesion between children, caretakers, and staff. Through counseling, the boys come to understand life as a journey, and that street life is part of their past and part of their journey which they need to tread positively till the final destination – successful transition to adulthood that is marked by self-sufficiency, psychological adjustment, and positive sense of self worth and agency.
The basis of the program is to facilitate a reunion of the boys with their parents or relatives, when possible and safe. Through our interaction with our rescued boys, we identify where they come from. We than initiate contacts with their families, find out the events that led the boy to leave the home, and represent the boy to his family. We then evaluate the feasibility and appropriateness of the boy returning to his family; if this is possible, we help to negotiate, advocate for and facilitate a reunion of the boys with their family.
School fees are provided for by the program so that boys who are young enough for primary school can return to school, and older boys can return to secondary school if they demonstrate a motivation and commitment to doing so. To prepare the boys for returning to school, the boys work with a tutor 3 mornings each week. The boys are matched based on evaluation of competency level, and the training content is tailored to this competency level so that boys are able to learn and master the content, and gain confidence in their academic achievement and performance. Once the boys are in school, the tutor assists in ensuring the boys attend their classes, study and do their homework, provide continued tutoring.
We have begun a kitchen garden based on organic, permaculture principals and the boys have been taught bio-intensive gardening techniques to grow food for use at CYH and to improve their diet. Our goals are to improve the nutrition of the boys and to give them training in nutritional gardening techniques. The gardening beds are double dug to a depth of 50 cm and mixed with natural fertilizers. There is companion planting within the beds to maximize the yields from each bed and a long-term strategy of crop rotation to maintain the health of the soil for consistent production over time. The boys have done the work and are responsible for overseeing the maintenance of the garden.
All children who enroll in the program receive an HIV test at enrollment, and those who test HIV+ are linked with HIV care clinics that we actively collaborate with (e.g., Uganda Cares; Baylor). We ensure that the confidentiality and privacy of HIV+ children in the program is preserved and respected, and that they effectively engage in HIV care (attend clinic appointments, adhere to medication regimens) to manage their disease. We also engage in counseling to help them adjust and cope with the diagnosis. As for prevention, we counsel the children on the value of abstinence at their young age, but also make condoms available to those who are sexually active.
For older boys, especially those who do not return to school, we help them to acquire trade skills or cultivate their natural talents that can be developed and used to provide for their livelihoods as they transition into adulthood. Tradesmen and talent “coaches” in the community are identified who are willing to work with and train the boys through apprenticeship appointments. We work with the boys to identify their talents and interests so that the selected trade is a good match for them.
Children living on the street are vulnerable to being exploited, including through human trafficking rings, which we have heard first-hand testimonies of from children in our program. We will work with the police authorities who identify and refer children who have been victims of human trafficking to us for shelter, services and attempts to reunify the child with their families. We will work with the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice and to advocate for the need to heighten awareness of this problem for children living on the streets.