Kundai Marunya Lifestyle Writer
His usual spot is a bench in Africa Unity Square. Always with earphones plugged in his ear as if to block away all the noise life has been shouting at him.
One would wonder how he can afford a portable music device or where he charges it as the streets are his home. Alas, these are just discarded earphones he picked up in some trash can. They are not connected to anything, but they give him hope that one day he may just afford a smart phone.
For now his immediate concern is what to eat, what to wear and where to safely lay his head at night. At just 15 he carries a burden many of his age do not.
Tawanda Mukunda (not real name)’s story of destitution started when his caregiver passed away sometime last year.
She was an old woman who had been tasked to take care of him when his grandmother left their home in Murehwa coming to Harare to seek greener pastures.
The only relationship they had with his caregiver was that she was a friend of his grandmother. Initially she was supposed to take care of him for just a short period of time until his grandmother had established herself in the city. At that point she was supposed to come for her, but she never did. Years went by and no one ever heard from his grandmother again.
With no known blood relative, her caregiver’s family had to force him out of their lives. There are cultural connotations that suggest if one was to die only their blood relative can bury them.
“They were afraid to keep on taking care of me when they did not know any of my relatives. They said they would not know what to do if anything were to happen to me so they gave me bus fare to come to Harare and look for my grandmother,” said Mukunda.
He made his maiden trip to Harare sometime last year. With no clue where to look, he resigned to life in the streets.
Unlike many street kids who mug people, do drugs and abuse alcohol, Mukunda claims to maintain a clean life. He begs, only for food and avoids hanging out with other street kids.
“Many people who live in the streets abuse alcohol so I avoid hanging out with them. I just want to maintain my good behaviour and the values my grandmother taught me,” he said.
Just like many young people his age, Mukunda dreams of a better life, but right now he is content with just living.
According to data released by the Ministry of Social Welfare two years ago, over five thousand children live in the streets of Zimbabwe’s major cities. Unlike Mukunda, most of them run away from home after suffering abuse while some are just attracted to a life on alcoholism and drugs with no one to tell them what to do.
Social worker Farirai Hungwe said different organisations including the Government have been getting children off the street.
“Organisations sometimes take in street children but most of them end up running away again. There are places like House of Smiles in Harare which have resorted to giving street kids meals and a place to bath. They sometimes train them with life skills so that they grow to be self-reliant,” she said.
Hungwe called on corporates and the Government to set up shelters for the homeless in major cities.
“These will act as safety nets for the underprivileged. They will have a safe place to sleep, somewhere to bath and a clean hot meal,” she said.
In different countries around the globe, South Africa included, the homeless have access to shelters. In the absence of resources, churches are converted into shelter for the homeless.
Though the issue of street children is a growing concern, there are able bodied parents who send their children to beg for money from well-wishers in the streets.
Some are even given targeted amounts they should bring home each day.