The Our Father’s House ministry in Tarime, Tanzania reunites children on the streets with families. This may be their own family, through family counseling and fixing the issues that forced them to the streets in the first place. If that won’t work, then they unite the child with a foster family.
This has worked remarkably well. Over the last five years, they’ve reunited over forty children and youth with families.
Unfortunately, there was a group of youth who they have had trouble helping. These young men were older- between thirteen and sixteen- and felt that they were too old to return and live with their family, or to enter into a new family. “Tutaishije nao?”- “How will we live with them?”- they would often say.
The situations were often a bit more complicated. In one case, for example, two brothers had been reunited with their mother. A few years later though, she died, and they returned to the streets. At this point, one was fourteen, and the other sixteen, and they weren’t interested in a new family. In another case, a young man had been united with four different foster families, but each time, he had left after no more than two months.
The discouraged Our Father’s House volunteers would sometimes ask if we could build a house for these older folks to sleep at. We finally decided against it though. Reuniting children with families needs to be our priority, and this house would take a lot of our budget and focus off of the family reunification. Also, a place like that will make running to the streets more attractive for children in difficult homes. Were we really able to handle a huge influx of kids running to the streets? And was this really the best option for them? Finally, a house would need to be maintained for years. Was that really sustainable, given the size of our organization? We decided it wasn’t.
I would often see these older youth hanging out in this run-down lot in the middle of town, and I would know that this was where they were going to sleep, their feet in gunnysacks, doing their best to cover themselves with packing cloth. “What do they do if it rains?”, I once asked an Our Father’s House volunteer. He didn’t have an answer.
Once we started the brick project, we were able to start paying three of these older youth. The first time we paid them, we heard them talking about renting a place to sleep, but we weren’t sure if they had.
A few months later, though, they started to speak more definitely and consistently about “Kwetu”, swahili for, “Our place”.
Me: “Rafi*, where is Saimoni today?”
Rafi: “When I left him, he was still at kwetu, cooking. He’ll be here soon.”
Or we would hear them talking to each other.
Saimoni: “Chacha, where is your shirt? You said I could wear it today.”
Chacha: “You don’t remember? I gave it to you when we were still at kwetu.”
Saimoni: “Stop it, man.”
And we started to hear even better news. We would talk with some of these older youth who weren’t working with the brick project, and we would learn that those who had paid to rent were allowing others to stay with them. One short conversation I remember very distinctly,
Mwita, an Our Father’s House volunteer: “Where are you sleeping these days?”
Daudi: “Kwetu, the place that Rafi and Saimoni and Chacha rented. I always sleep there.”
I had been pretty disappointed in our inability to help Daudi, but this news made me happy.
Of course, it would have been better if these children were still with their birth families. It would have been better if we could have reunited them with families. But given the facts that both of those were no longer options and that these young men had remained on the streets, we are pretty thankful to have finally helped them to find a safe place to sleep.
In these pictures are four of the five youth who are staying here.
All names changed for client protection.