Street children

Cooking ” mamas” in action at Amani.

Karibuni to another blog post by the somewhat shadowy ‘B’ (from the ‘K&B’ duo)! This post has been in the works for awhile now as I thought you might like to know more about how Amani works and how it is run. Here we go…

In our first few weeks on the job, Salma, our volunteer coordinator, had arranged for an extensive 2-week orientation which gave us an (insightful) look “behind the scenes” and helped us gain an understanding of how Amani carries out its mission of ‘rescuing children, restoring hope and transforming lives’. Amani’s growth in the past 10 years has been phenomenal; transformed from a two-bedroom makeshift center to a large purpose-built home, Amani can now cater to up to 90 children at the home, while supporting hundreds more on the outside. Amani as an organization has come a long way, but even more importantly it has helped hundreds of kids to leave a hopeless street life behind and forge a much brighter future. This might sound schmaltzy, but it’s the truth: we saw the reality of street life ourselves during our visit last week (more on it here) and it is devoid of a future, at least one that comes even close to fulfilling the potential of each child. Much remains to be done though as the causes that drive kids to the streets (sadly) won’t just disappear over night.

Amani is an admirably well-oiled machine with dedicated and professionally run departments for education, social work, communications, accounting, human resources, and essential services. The Center’s Director has oversight of all departments and liaises with an external Board of Trustees, made up of unpaid individuals with qualifications in various relevant fields. The Amani team itself consists of 45 permanent staff, of which 42 are locals, including three lovely cooks that prepare 100+ kilos of rice every week (!) and a team of night and weekend caregivers.

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From left to right: Jifti, Boogie and Fanueli at the back, Sele and Robert at the front.

We had a good day today: relaxed morning, productive afternoon at work and lots of fun reading and playing with the kids… But we also got our first bittersweet taste of what it means to become (unexpectedly) attached to one of the kids and have him leave (again, unexpectedly) to be reunified with family.

Because Amani isn’t an orphanage it aims to reunify children when possible, either with immediate family members or extended family like uncles, aunts and grandparents. Although there are some kids at Amani who really have no one they could be reunified with and will likely stay at Amani until they grow up, most will be reunified at some point, either successfully, in which case Amani continues to support them and their families by paying for school fees, providing food aid etc., or unsuccessfully, with an all-too-real risk of the kid ending up back on the streets and possibly back at Amani. The reality is that reunification is hard because it usually means that the underlying reasons for why the child ran to the streets in the first place have to be addressed (extreme poverty, destructive family dynamics etc.), and the lure of street life has to be broken. The hope, however, is that family ties that have been restored with the help of Amani’s social workers will keep the kid anchored and will allow him or her to grow up in a familiar environment and supportive community.

And so the day came for one of our friends, Sele, to return to his home village and to his grandfather, his only surviving family member. I don’t know that much about his case but I think Sele is about 11-12 years old and has been at Amani for some months, even years. Judging by the commotion that broke out as the other kids found out that he was leaving he was also very popular. One kid said to Daniel, one of the social workers that was standing with us, “Ah, Sele is leaving? He’s smart like an adult.”

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An Amani social worker with two street children in Arusha.

I’ve been postponing writing this piece for a week now; not because it’s not important to tell the story of where the Amani kids come from but because the whole experience of going to Arusha to do street work with the Amani street educators/social workers (as observers only, of course) was an intense experience that we somehow felt we needed to digest and perhaps even get some distance to before writing about it here…

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