International Street Children Day: Salesians in Rwanda call for help to deal with widespread problem of street Children

On the International Street Children Day which is held annually on 12th April, Brother Hubert Twagirayezu, the Director of the Salesian Planning and Development Office in the African Great Lakes Province (Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi) had an Interview with Vatican Radio to raise the voice of Street Children currently in need of care, education and other life changing services.

According to the recent statistics of UNICEF estimates, there are about 7,000 street children in Rwanda, and another 300,000 who live in 65,000 child-headed families.

In an Interview, Brother Hubert tells the Vatican radio about the efforts of the Salesians “for the future of the most vulnerable children and young people”. The Interview touches the life of Street Children in Rango, Huye District where Father Remy Nsengiyumva, the Don Bosco Rango Parish Priest has started a program to cater for these young people.  Below are excerpts of the Interview:

Brother Hubert: – In Rwanda the Salesians of Don Bosco carry out their mission among poor children and young people, and in Rango, in the district of Huye, we help more than 120 street children, but at the national level there are many more. The situation of street children in Rwanda is caused by several factors: the family situation: where you will find separated parents, and situations of extreme poverty, which do not allow families to provide for the basic needs of their children, such as food, education, medical care.

But poverty is not the only factor: children are often victims of abuse, violence, mistreatment as a result of living on the streets. The situation of children living on the street is characterized by high uncertainty and a continuous violation of their rights: from education to the right to health, protection, food, to live with their parents.

The Salesian missionary of Croatian origin, Fr Darko, with the children at the formation center

They have all dropped out of school, and often do hard work to earn pennies. They carry heavy bags, fetch water, collect and sell pieces of metal and empty plastic bottles and glass. Most of them suffer from malnutrition and other diseases such as dysentery, malaria, etc. On the road, children also suffer from lack of sleep: they stop only a few hours a day on plastic and sleep with one eye open for fear that someone will steal the few things they have. Many risk using drugs to forget their problems.

Vatican Radio: Has the pandemic aggravated the phenomenon in Rwanda and the living conditions of these young people?

Brother Hubert: – Since the arrival of Covid-19 in Rwanda, the situation of these children has worsened and the number of street children is growing every day, because many families do not have enough food, they cannot meet the needs of their children because they have lost their jobs. Children therefore are living on the street as their only chance and hope: they think that they will find, for example, food or help. When the pandemic stopped school activity, many children, not knowing what to do, remained on the street from morning to evening doing nothing. So, they learned a lot of things wrong: stealing or consuming drugs. So, there is always the risk of finding even some of them in prison, because they have committed crimes.

Vatican Radio: What is the commitment of the Salesians to street children in Rwanda?

Brother Hubert: In 2016, the project for street children was launched by the volunteers of Don Bosco from Bonn, Germany, and now it continues above all with the welcome of the parish of San Giovanni Bosco in Rango. Assistance, school and contacts with families continue to function in a line of socio-economic and educational integration. Our goal is to touch different aspects of the person: both the care of one’s body and the suspension of drug use. Children are cared for, they learn hygiene again, they play sports.

From a psychological point of view, we try to listen to these children, to help them to recover slowly from the trauma, and to regain confidence in themselves and in others. We Salesians of Don Bosco want the children to be happy, to continue studying and learning to read, but also to play. We want these children to be given new clothes, uniforms, and to regain respect for adults and other children. But we also want these children to be able to participate in the prayer activity at the Salesian center, respecting the sensitivity and history of each one since the center welcomes children of all faiths.

Vatican Radio: Can you tell us how Fr. Remy Nsengiyumva, the parish priest commitment began: are parishioners also involved as volunteers? And what can he do now?

Brother Hubert: The parish where this activity of helping street children takes place is called Don Bosco Rango, the parish priest is Father Remy Nsengiyumva, a Salesian from Burundi, who started this program during the pandemic. Because the young people came for help every day, and the priest was able to provide some food, soap and clothes. The parish has some volunteers who help him every day to follow up on these young people. Father Remy wants to do many things: he tries to recall the children from the street, in collaboration with the parishioners, to support them in their capacity.

Vatican Radio: Are you also thinking about the problem of dinner and a safe place for these children to sleep?

Brother Hubert: For many months, the Salesians have been thinking about how to help a greater number of children in this area: looking at the current situation and the number of children in the Rango area, the Salesians would like to increase the preparation of enough food for everyone, but we still need financial support. We also have plans to build a hospitality center for them so that we can provide them with real protection and be with them every minute. For this too we need the help of people of good will: with their help, we can do many things for the future of these children.

Vatican Radio: How many of these youth, perhaps the first ones who were helped in the professional center, have found a job thanks to your courses?

Brother Hubert: The Salesians offer these young people professional training, and after 5 years we have some of them who have completed their technical training. I recently met one of them who said he needed an extra toolbox to do his job well.

Vatican Radio: What do you ask, on the day that the UN dedicates to street children, to the Church, to Western Christians and to international institutions?

Brother Hubert: On the occasion of the World Day of these children, we ask the United Nations, the Church and Western countries to help us financially to protect children at risk and to sensitize the world community to promote respect for the dignity of the world’s vulnerable children.

 If we find financial help, we can provide these children with a legal framework for welcoming and listening to them from their street life, to help them with family reintegration programs. If we find help, we can guarantee the school and family integration of street children, we can collaborate with social services and non-governmental organizations to develop and apply a legal framework for their integration into society. We can also guarantee good hygienic and sanitary conditions, organize sporting and cultural activities, and we can guarantee food, family school visits to children with a home.

Find the Interview in the Italian language
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