Tendai Rupapa in CHIREDZI

HOPE, gratitude and the resolve to work hard and achieve greatness in life are dreams of scores of children that were rounded off the streets and committed to Chambuta Rehabilitation Centre where they are attending school and being equipped with vocational skills, thanks to First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa.

One could not help fighting back tears as the children gave heart-rending accounts of how they ended up living and working on the streets.

Speaking at a bonfire held by the First Lady at the institution on Tuesday night, the children gave tear-jerking narratives and openly spoke about their wishes and aspirations.

The rehabilitation centre offers the children a new lease of life, which is far different from life on the streets where they were exposed to drugs and other vices.

The children sang religious hymns and described the First Lady as “God-sent” for pulling them off the streets and committing them to an institution where they can focus on their school-work in addition to vocational training skills.

Amai Mnangagwa was emotional as some of the children gave harrowing accounts of how they ended up living on the streets.

She has a passion for the welfare of women, children and the elderly.

Her care for the former street children also dovetails with her role of ensuring that every citizen has access to proper healthcare, food and shelter.

On seeing the Angel of Hope Foundation patron, the children burst into song.

“Tokutendai Jesu munoshamisa, munoita minana nezviratidzo,” they sang and danced while ululating and whistling.

One of the children, a 13-year-old said he found himself on the streets after being abandoned by his mother and grandmother.

“My mother left for greener pastures in South Africa. She left me and my brother in the custody of our grandmother. We were renting in Warren Park. One day we went out to play, but when we came back we found our grandmother gone with all the property.

“We were now just the two of us with nowhere to go. The landlord kicked us out and this is how we ended up on the streets. I am glad me and my brother were brought here. This was made possible by our mother the First Lady,” he said.

The boy’s account is, however, different from that of his colleague who admits to having left home due to juvenile delinquency.

“I ran away from home through mischief. I went into the streets on my own, but through your assistance Amai, I was brought here and I am loving this place,” said the child.

He is not alone. There are scores of other children who became mischievous in communities, resulting in them leaving home to settle on the streets while some left home after being orphaned and feeling neglected.

At Chambuta there is one such child who said he came from Gokwe following “the death of my parents and was in the streets for a long time before I was rescued and brought here.”

The bonfire was, however, not without lighter moments.

One of the boys left everyone in stitches when he told the First Lady that he aspired to be in the “watering can” industry.

“I want to do watering can.” When probed further by the First Lady, through his explanation, the boy wanted to say he wished to work in the hotel and catering industry.

But some of the things that drive children from their homes onto the streets are hard to believe.

One boy said he left home after being made to believe that sumptuous fast-food meals similar to those prepared by fast foods outlets were found on the streets.

“My friend made me stay on the streets saying there were mouth-watering meals there. I packed my bags and stole money from my uncle who was my guardian. We walked from Mufakose to town after a friend fooled me. He played me ‘dummy’ and went back to his house leaving me in the lurch since I had stolen money from home and feared getting bashed.

“I then met new guys who introduced me to drugs, including glue. I once got seriously ill to the point of death. I am thankful for your decision Amai to bring us here. You really changed our lives. Even though it was my friend who pushed me into the streets, ndanga ndichazongoyenda ndega because life was hard for me at home. My aunt was abusive,” he said.

But the issue of meals is not the only reason. One boy said the urge to steal saw him flying away from the parental nest.

“I started getting into people’s homes and stealing up to a point where my mother wanted to get me arrested. I walked for seven days from Bulawayo to Gweru until I was helped by a certain elderly woman who gave me bus fare to Harare where I was later rescued,” he said.

Some of the children who are above 16 years of age expressed their wish to become professional drivers and the First Lady promised to buy them copies of the Highway Code to realise their dreams.

Amai Mnangagwa also had a heart-to-heart talk with an 11-year-old boy who said he had escaped from the rehabilitation centre more than three times choosing street life.

He said he had been accustomed to drugs and other vices hence was finding it difficult to adjust to drugs-free life at Chambuta.

He, however, vowed not to run away again.

The First Lady urged him not to keep on missing life-changing opportunities through mischief adding that all she was doing was for their benefit.

“All this time you will be running away you will be missing out on better things. Forget what has happened in the past and move forward where there are prospects of a brighter future,” she said.

One child whipped up emotions when he sang “Jesu chiyedza kusvika narini” for the First Lady and praised God for making it possible for him to go back to school.

“I dropped out of school in Grade 3. I was not good in school and other learners would laugh at me and I ended up not going to school for fear of being laughed at. I then started stealing money from my grandmother and sniffing glue. My grandmother later took me and my brother to my aunt’s house in Gweru. There in Gweru I met my cousin who made us return to Harare. We stole cash and phones and went back to the streets where we did drugs and stole from people.

“We later moved from Harare to Mutare where we continued with our wayward behaviour. We once got arrested in Odzi where we were beaten up before we went back to Harare from where we were brought here. We are grateful mama because we are receiving everything here that you are giving us. We have changed for the better,” he said.

One of the boys, an 18-year-old from Masvingo, who is now at the rehabilitation centre, said he started stealing while in Grade 2.

“I started stealing when I was in Grade 2 and I was staying with my mother’s brother. My parents had divorced. My wayward behaviour got worse until they took me to my father. My father then took me to his mother but he was not supportive and did not want to send me to school until I ran away from home and went to South Africa. I was recruited by robbers in Musina and would rob people. I later became tired of committing crimes and came back to Harare. Today I am here mama. Thank you so much Amai for helping me I am now a changed person ndinotenda. I am now back in school. I regret doing all the bad things I was involved in, circumstances pushed me. Thank you for giving me another chance in life. Mune rudo rwunoshamisa Amai,” he said.

One of the children openly said he ran away from an abusive stepfather.

“We lived on the streets where we ate rotten things but today we are eating healthy food because of you Amai. We slept in storm-water drains without blankets but now we get all we need here because of you our God given mother,” he said.

Speaking with a motherly tone, the First Lady urged the children at the rehabilitation centre to take their studies seriously and also urged them to be well-mannered and stay away from unscrupulous activities.

“Here you are being sent to school so that you learn and make your money in future. I have come to you as a mother so that we strengthen your resolve to lead better lives. Do not throw away this opportunity because this is a chance to shape your life,” she said to thunderous applause.

Amai Mnangagwa impressed upon the children to leave street lingo and speak clearly without peer pressure to go back to the old lifestyle.

Head of Chambuta Rehabilitation Centre, Mrs Tendai Adam, praised the First Lady for her initiative to give the children a chance to lead a better life.

“There is an African Proverb which says it takes a village to raise a child. The initiative that the First Lady has started is commendable in the sense that there are so many kids who came from disadvantaged backgrounds those who were living and working on the streets.

“Many of us have shunned them and we didn’t give them a second chance to life because of the different challenges that they faced, but Amai remembered them,” she said.

Mrs Adam said like children in homes with a family setup, the children who lived and worked on the streets deserved love, shelter and protection. She added that the children were also being given warm nutritious food at the centre and clean clothes, courtesy of the First Lady through her Angel of Hope Foundation and its partners and various stakeholders.

Mrs Adam thanked the First Lady for dedicating her time to interact with the children.

Following their interaction with Amai Mnangagwa sometime last year, homeless children pleaded with her to help them access basic needs, especially shelter.

As someone who has a passion for children, the First Lady pledged to assist, in partnership with the Department of Social Welfare.

Angel of Hope Foundation, whose vision is to uplift lives of disadvantaged children and other vulnerable members of society, then identified Chambuta children’s home where the children were moved into.