Zambuko House: the church hearing the plight of street children

Children living on the streets lead risky lifestyles. Their filthy clothing and the begging clearly display their desperate lives and lack of access to basic social amenities. They live in unhygienic conditions, have no access to health care and they have a poor diet. In some situations they abuse substances and are also vulnerable to sexual abuse.

Some may think street children are becoming a menace to the people walking around town but we really need to think about their stories. Despite their desolating state, the way we treat these children living out of family units can even worsen the depression that compelled them to the streets. They need care, rehabilitation and support services. But who is there to give it to the hopeless youths?

In 1995 a Jesuit Brother, the late Canisius Chishiri SJ, walking down the streets was struck by the situation of the boys on the streets. He thought of assisting them. With the support of the Jesuit Province of Zimbabwe, he set up a refuge and rehabilitation centre for street children. It was named Zambuko House. Zambuko is a Shona word that means a bridge.
Zambuko House focuses on providing rehabilitative services and skills training to homeless young people.  It is located in the suburb of Hatfield, twelve kilometers South East of the city center. Since its inception it has been operating under the auspices of the Roman Catholic Church.

It is now registered with the Department of Social Services as a home to offer a family environment to boys between the age of thirteen and eighteen.

Moving from a mere support service to boys living on the streets, the initiative has developed to a home striving to offer a holistic development to these homeless and marginalised youths.

Zambuko House Director, Mrs Emilia James, a Seventh Day Adventist and a professional Social worker, opened up and said initially it was set up only to support and accompany the boys on the streets but has now grown to even accommodating a small number and training them. 

“Initially, the late Br Chishiri wanted to give companionship to the boys on the streets and it was later identified that we need to get them off the streets. We need to equip them with a skill so that they are self-reliant,” she said.
She indicated that the home engages street children with various backgrounds for rehabilitation. Some of the children are totally abandoned while others come from very poverty stricken families. Some even leave their homes due to unbearable abuses.

While the home would love to support over a thousand children living outside family units in Harare only, it has been registered to accommodate only twenty two boys. It currently has sixteen fulltime residences while an average of sixty to eighty are housed and supported annually.

The selected children are provided with an experience that seeks to restore their dignity.

“We want to be a bridge to these boys, a bridge from one way of living to a rehabilitated and changed person. A wholly developed person. That is why we have a holistic approach where we offer skills training, spiritual development and also counselling,” said Mrs James.

She further said the institution targets integrating children with their families, training them to be self-reliant and assisting them to be responsible citizens with a brighter future. This is done through a basic literacy training and bridging education offered to the full time residence upon procedural admission.

Since the establishment of Zambuko house two decades ago, over 1500 children have passed through the institution. These have been assisted as either full time residences or through the drop in facilities. In the drop in Facility, street children not residences at the home, come in to seek medical care, shelter for a short period of time, clothing, food, bathing and informal counselling. 

Over 195 children have been trained and successfully completed secondary and tertiary education and also skills training mainly in building and metal work.

A volunteering Social worker, Mr Lovingtone Changa says the institution successfully reintegrated about 50% of the children who passed through it while several boys have started individual projects in the informal sector.

“Some have parents and relatives who have weak support systems or are very abusive so these boys and girls run away for survival. We then make efforts to build bridges and assist the boys to be accepted back into the society,” said Changa.
“There is a group that agree to be assisted by Zambuko and among these some need a go between. They share with us their stories and we look at the best way of talking to the family or support systems who may agree to take them back,” he added.

 While the home has made strides in offering this substantial service, many children continue to live on the fringes of society and are facing a host of challenges.

As a way of developing the whole person, Zambuko house also conduct sexual and reproductive workshops and sporting and recreational activities. 

Mrs Emilia James appealed to the society that they should make a collective action to support these children and mentor them.

“90% of our boys are totally abandoned so we need the church and the local community to come here and make friends with them. These boys need to be fostered. They need to belong to families and they also need mentoring. So we really feel the community can do much in taking care of them,” said Mrs James.

“Every child is everyone’s child. Children belong to the community and we must assist each other in taking care of them,” she remarked.


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