By Tapuwa Mutseyekwa
Masvingo, May 2009 - As Titus Peya (12years) defeats a new opponent at the game of checkers, his group of ardent supporters ululate and put up a new victory dance in celebration of the well deserved win. Loud sounds of exhilaration and joy soon fill the games room at Scripture Union drop in centre in Masvingo town. The level of excitement from Titus, is however very low. Yes, on the checkers board, victory is guaranteed, but he wishes he could also score some victories in his life.
“I love this game, but I know that the joy I get from here is short-lived, when I get out of this building, there is nothing but misery and disappointment in my life,” he explains.
At the age of three years, his mother dumped him at a squatter camp in Masvingo to stay with an aunt, two years later, the aunt died, leaving him to stray the streets alone in search of survival. For most of his 12 years of life, Titus was among the 12 000 children believed to have made the streets of major cities in Zimbabwe their home. Countless nights he spent alone lying bare in the streets, while he wade off hunger cramps with whatever he could source from rummaging through dustbins. His bitter reminiscences are on how he has suffered from bilharzia; scabies and various stomach ailments, resultant of bathing in polluted nearby rivers.
Since 2008 when he was introduced to a UNICEF supported drop in centre for children living on the streets, the coy lad has found some reprieve in his life. Titus is one of 30 children who are daily being assisted at the centre in Masvingo under the Programme of Support (PoS) for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. Daily the children get a hot meal and have a chance to shower and clean up, while at the same time efforts to trace their families are made. Since he began his daily visits to the centre, Titus has been reunited with his mother and has been placed in school. The rehabilitation process has gone beyond taking Titus back home. The feelings he has of betrayal and past hurt continue to need nursing and counseling and efforts to establish a bond between the two are ongoing.
“I still do not understand why she dumped me and why she won’t talk about my father, I need to know about my past”
With collective support from the Australian Government, German Government, DfID, European Commission, New Zealand International Aid & Development Agency and SIDA, the PoS in Zimbabwe was initiated in 2007 to complement government’s National Action Plan (NAP) for Orphans and Vulnerable Children. NAP mapped the response to the growing vulnerability of Zimbabwe’s children arising from the continued deaths of the adult population to AIDS and the prolonged economic instabilities which have increased household poverty and abjection.
Rehabilitation of children living outside of family care is one of the many arms of support being extended to Zimbabwean children under the PoS and to date more than 5 000 children have been assisted with temporary protection, family tracing and rehabilitation. Through four partner organisations, UNICEF has targeted to reach more than 7 000 children living outside the family setting with counseling; recreation; refreshment and rehabilitation services.
“A number of Zimbabwe’s children have resorted to street life as they run away from the depressing situation at home”, says UNICEF representative, Roeland Monasch, “The support we receive from the various donors under the PoS programme has ensured that these children are placed in secure home environments.”
Having become a regular face on the streets of Masvingo, one of the greatest challenges in the rehabilitation process for Titus is that his classmates continue to label him and call him “a street kid”. He has learnt to disregard these sneers as he pursues his dreams of completing his education and aiming to score victories in his life.