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CYC-Online 11 DECEMBER 1999 / BACK
Listen to this


Those street kids!

Annette Cockburn

Trevor arrives from out of town with that infinitely poignant supermarket bag holding all his worldly possessions. He looks clean, well looked after, he's 16, had never been to school “a child labourer on a farm. He's diffident, desperate. I say, “It's okay, we'll sort out something, you can stay here, we'll take care of you". He begins to cry as I try to reassure him and I find myself in tears. The next day he tells us a dreadful tale about his dog tied to a tree in the bush near Worcester, and he sobs and sobs. Linda, Annie and I are quite beside ourselves in pity and horror. The following day he leaves with Christopher's new shoes!

Sydney has a wicked smile, and is sassy to just about everyone. When he is good, he is very, very good, but when he is bad ... He came to us from a local place of safety and at first settled well, but then he began to truant from school. We threatened andcajoled, until finally I snarled at him: “Well! Why didn't you go to school today? Why?" He smiled, looked me straight in the eye: “I forgot", he said.

Jeffrey went back to the streets and got badly stabbed, in his head and chest. He comes back to us now from Somerset Hospital for weekends, and is getting better. He can no longer speak at all, so Quinton looks after him. The clinics tell us Quinton is psychotic and is ineducable and unemployable. They are quite excited today because they are going to collect for 'our Children's Day', the Child Welfare Society street collection. We imagine them in Claremont, speechless, injured Jeffrey, and strange, limited Quinton. When they leave the office we don't know whether to laugh or cry. They're our boys, lost and damaged and quite precious.

We had been harrassed by one of the Cape Town gangs, who hung about outside the Homestead intimidating children and staff and demanding food – eventually our housefather said “come play soccer with us", and we employed some of them occasionally as casual labour, and handed out spare bread and fruit reasonable relations were restored. They left one night, saying “if any of the other gangs give you any problems just give us a ring". “Thanks" we said, “Thanks" “and afterwards thought “where on earth do you phone a street gang?" (assuming you wanted to!!).

A number of strollers who belong to a gang called “The Dock Road Kids" attend the Learn to Live skills programme regularly. In the beginning they pointed out to the teachers that it was costing them a lot of money to be there. “But we don't charge!" said the staff. “Yes" they said, “but imagine what we could be making in begging and stealing if we weren't here!"

Keith, who is new to us, and extraordinarily bright, tells me one day “you know its quite difficult to be a street kid, you have to think a lot. Most children don't have to think much!"

Reggie drives me crazy; he is one of the most demanding and manipulative children I have ever known. I often end up after an hour or so, saying “Please just go away, just get out of my office!"

Then Annie tells him, “Choose your person; the one who looks happy and relaxed, and start with (persecuting) him/her". So we play “pass the parcel." Katie takes him out of my office into the laundry, and when she can't bear it any more, sends him to Julie who sets him to scraping carrots, after a while she says “Elaine wants to see you." We're getting better at protecting ourselves – and him!

Sibusiso is one of our children who is “all over the place", sometimes settled, sometimes at school sometimes truanting, sometimes sniffing. He has this disarming and alarming habit of “recruiting" children for the Homestead. He has on several occasions arrived back from Guguletu shepherding confused, well dressed, and obviously reluctant children to our door. “Look, I've brought you some more children!" The social worker spends the next while returning the “candidates" to their anxious families.

Adam was the first boy admitted to the Homestead. He is 19 years old now, very limited, charming and unsettled. Recently in Pollsmoor Prison, he described his arrest! A gang intending to break into a laundry in Long Street gave him the job of lookout (their first mistake). “I looked up and I looked down then a policeman grabbed my shoulder". “What's going on here?" When our social worker saw him in prison he was (understandably) separated from the gang. “What do you need" she asked?" “A colouring-in book," he asked. But when she brought it, they refused: “He might stab someone with the pencil crayons!" they said.

Five boys leave ostensibly for their school in Langa. Later that morning I stop at a traffic light – and there they are. Foolishly and spontaneously they run over to my car, “Hello principal".

"Hello." I look silently and pointedly at my watch. They realise their error, faces fall. Kicking themselves they slink off.

Dogs and children in a rich city
We found a guide for feeding a small dog in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town:

Breakfast A little Pronutro or baby cereal and/or Weetbix and/or uncooked Jungle/Tiger oats with tepid milk not too warm – mixed to a loose paste plus a teaspoon to half an egg yolk (raw) twice a week. Note: oats to be soaked overnight with a little warm water. A little scrambled egg, maximum three times per week.

Morning/Afternoon tea A saucer of lukewarm milk with a quarter teaspoon honey (optional).

Lunch A tablespoon of raw, lean mince with a little puppy meal or crumbles, e.g. Epol Stage 1 (pink) and later Stage 2 (blue).

Supper Saucer of cooked meat/fish (fish never raw) plus grated carrot plus small clove of garlic (mashed) plus some wholewheat bread and/or puppy crumbles plus half a teaspoon bonemeal, e.g. Calsup (ask your vet). Twice a week add half a teaspoon sunflower or olive oil.

Bedtime snack Marie biscuit, rusk, Beeno biscuit, or small piece dried sausage “have your pick.

General tips Never give chicken bones – they splinter – only solid bones. A little dirty tripe, or raw (scalded) ox liver (a little only “too much causes diarrhoea) is very healthy. A little grated cheese will be appreciated by some dogs. Cod liver oil/soya oil in place of sunflower or olive oil is very beneficial.

We think of the diet of a child living onthe streets of Cape Town ...

Breakfast Bread. Milk, if there's money

Lunch Hot chips

Supper Water with bread, Coke, or a tomato, if there's money.

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