It’s been a journey, figuring out how to stay true to the Original Core. One great new find has been the Consortium for Street Children – a London-based network of organizations working on the issues of street-connected children. I’ve been poring over the resources, and reaching out to many earnest, wonderful people committed to the same things (as I would like to be). They understand, immediately, and my hesitant voice becomes stronger when it finds an audience that listens without raising eyebrows – or losing interest.
Through the Consortium, I recently had the opportunity to attend an All Party Parliamentary Group meeting, looking at violence against street-children through the lens of human rights. It was my first time actually inside the House of Commons, and I have to admit, I took a picture for D.
The event was titled “Street Children Have Rights Too: Street Children and Youth’s Experiences of Violence from Police and State Authorities in Three African Cities.” It was based on research undertaken by StreetInvest – who had, incidentally, given me some time in their Twickenham office that very morning. The amazing thing was that the gap between theory and practice, so visible elsewhere, was bridged in this instance – this was “not a research project being done ‘to’ streetchildren,” but engaged them in the process of ethnographic research over a three year period. This was a clear departure from the ossified traditions of development research; it is one thing to acknowledge children as having agency, and more difficult to actually build processes making them central to data collection.
It was a small room, Committee Room 18. This was a good thing, in terms of being able to hear the intro and the research presentation. However, once it was filled with the voices of young people, transported from the city streets, it suddenly felt much smaller. Dr. Van Blerk played the original audio while reading out translations of boys and girls describing their separate interactions with authorities. The air felt heavy, filled with anger, and a kind of dull desperation that could congeal into the threat of violence. Violence is a daily experience – it is a regular occurrence to be forcibly removed from a place of work or sleep, or beaten as a scapegoat for a crime.
A few particular examples are hard to shake from memory. One, of a boy describing a police stabbing, and the way he felt about anyone in uniform forever after. Another, of a girl describing the recurring process of a man who will “push you in a car…and say in your ear, ‘Today I will have sex with you.'”
Her voice I can still hear, ringing in my ears.
The specific vulnerabilities of street-children are familiar to those who have worked directly with them. For me, however, this was the first time I had heard them being addressed in such a systematic way. I thought back to the first time I engaged with the concept of an International Day for Streetchildren, and realised that this probably the way it was conceived – through the efforts of people in rooms like this one, working to ensure that every young person was taken into account.
To have a day dedicated to street-children is to stop and take a closer look at the little urchin being left behind: a picture of poverty, neglect and exclusion. His story could be any one of 1.5 million in Pakistan. Maybe he’ll learn the alphabet, maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll turn to drugs, maybe he already has. Maybe he will roam the streets till night rather than return to abuse, squalor and hunger never sated…By labeling a day, at least (UNESCO) has forced attention on how disparity is taken for granted. (“Wiping the Windscreen,” The Express Tribune, 2012)
My words have, of course, evolved since then. I’ve ventured into the world beyond the windscreen, and now into an entirely different one where there is still much to learn. Here, finally, geography is immaterial. The miles that separate Westminster from the streets of Ghana – or Pakistan – contract and disappear, when all that matters is the will to relay and release voices, and have them recognised as legitimate.
From an invisible chair in Committee Room 18, I realised how much I wanted to be a part of this movement. And then I saw the participant list, and had another realisation. Next to my name, it said, “Founder, Cities for Children.”
Hello, World. Let’s see what happens next.