By Prisca Sam-Duru
You do not even need to be deliberate about looking out to identify street children in a place such as Oshodi, Lagos, for instance, before noticing them. They are all over every nook and cranny of Nigeria and easily identifiable; dirty, from head to toe and with mien that says a lot about substance abuse.
These children sleep mostly in motor parks and under bridges not just in Lagos State but in cities across the country. And to survive? Few among them do menial jobs such as helping people carry loads during the day.
Many others peddle drugs, pick pockets, snatch ladies hand bags and then, turn to real robbers at night. These set of children, whose numbers are in millions, are growing rapidly such that without being adequately checked, will explode as a time-bomb and the impact will be devastating.
While surviving in the streets, their lives are also in danger as they are exposed to ritual killings, accidents, mob action or come down with mental illness, etc.
READ ALSO: The Oratory movie premieres for street children
“The experience on the street was not really an easy one. I faced a lot of hardships and dangers on the streets; lack of food, clean water and adequate health care”, says an ex-street child, we would tag as Ward 1 in this article for security reasons.
For Ward 1, living with his stepmother wasn’t an easy one, so he left home and ended up in the streets, only to discover that he had jumped from the frying pan to fire.
But there’s good news. He has long transited from a street miscreant to a star and regained the best thing he once lost- family; courtesy of the Salesians of Don Bosco priests’ Bosco Boys’ Home.
“I really appreciate the good Samaritan who found me and took me to Alakara Juvenile Welfare Centre to stay before I was transferred to Bosco Boys Home. I will say a lot has been down since I entered Bosco Boys Home, I was able to get in-touch with my parents, enrolled to school and a lot of positive attitudes have been imbedded in me”.
It’s quite unusual to learn about the numerous labour of love projects embarked upon by any Catholic Church organisation but, the critical nature of issues revolving round street children and youth, has brought the Salesians Priests of Don Bosco, a Catholic Missionary organisation with presence in not less than 130 countries, to the public domain.
For so many years, this Catholic group has been in the business of ‘adopting’ abandoned children from Nigerian streets, and moulding them into stars that’ll form part of the country’s future leaders.
Can you believe that Sule(not real name), was picked up from the streets and transformed into a movie star? Yes! That’s exactly what has happened to him and many of his peers who featured in the blockbuster movie titled, The Oratory; a production of the Nollywood Factory in collaboration with Salesians of Don Bosco.
The Oratory, filmed at various locations in Rome, Atlanta, Lagos and Turin, features inspiring array of both Nigerian and international movie stars alongside street children as cast.
“Some of them have the natural gift and so to encourage them, some of the children who live on the streets acted in this film; so, they can tell their friends”, says Fr Cyril Odia, Executive Producer of The Oratory, and Nigerian Salesian priest presently serving in Dublin.
The movie, produced by Obi Emelonye to address the plight of street children in Nigeria, already premiered in Lagos and Abuja recently.
According to Dr Odia, “This movie project is very dear to us, young people in Nigeria constitute the highest part of our population and we feel a lot needs to be done to expose the plight of young people in Nigeria.
“The movie is to raise awareness of children abandoned in the streets, there are very many of them, we see them every day, and ‘it’s becoming a ticking time-bomb. What is going to happen when we have an explosion of all these young people on our streets, abandoned, no hope, no future? It is becoming a national embarrassment”
He explains further that “Sometimes these are children who run away from home by themselves because there’s no more hope in the house”.
Fr Odia is seriously troubled by the plight of street children even though he is based abroad. “I am somebody who is also a missionary and I’ve committed my life to say I’ll continue working for humanity”. Although he is based in Ireland, according to him, “Nigeria is very dear to my heart”.
It’s interesting to know that in addition to training and encouraging quite a number of the boys to become actors, there are other areas through which Rev. Odia and his fellow Salesian Priests rehabilitate street children in Nigeria.
The team is passionately committed to the upliftment of homeless, delinquent and juvenile youths, through the film, vocational training and diverse forms of empowerment. At Bosco Boys Home, these children are offered real education and orientation that transform them and at the same time, redirect them into living out their destinies.
All thanks to the Salesian Priests who’ve partnered with Obijackson Foundation and MTN Foundation. There are cases of very intelligent street children, who perform incredibly well in their technical education, and turn around to also teach others. Such talents would have wasted if not developed by the Salesian Priests.
Also, as part of the organisation’s commitment to put smiles on the faces of the street children this Christmas season and beyond, the Bosco Boys Street Children Home, Lagos, held an outreach programme themed, ‘The dangers and Risks of Street Livelihood on the young people, on December 17, 2021 at St Timothy Catholic Church, Ojodu, Lagos.
The testimony of another transformed child- Ward 2, gives an idea of the huge task the organisation is performing to save our children. Coincidentally, Ward 2, also ran away from home and ended up in the streets.
“There was no place for me to sleep. I met some boys who also ran away from home. I begged for money to eat from people and at times they asked me where are my parents, I will often lie to them or take them to a wrong address or give a false story as to why I ran away from home. At night, I sleep anywhere I found myself and, in the morning, I look for food to eat with my dirty clothes”.
Sometimes it’s difficult for these street children to weigh which is more comfortable; the home they ran from or the streets which become a new home but jungle in disguise. “Frankly speaking, the street life is not that easy. It’s a tough life where by the stronger one survives; its survival of the fittest.
“I was many a times physically abused by the bigger boys and not to count the number of insults I often received on the street. I felt disheartened until I found myself in Bosco Boys Home, where I realized how skilful and useful I am.
“I can’t imagine myself being good in tailoring, shoe making, barbing and schooling at the same time but it’s possible through the help of Bosco Boys Home. I say a big thanks for such an opportunity granted to me.”
Fr Odia was right when he said most of the children roaming the streets ran away from home; for reasons such as maltreatment from step parents, abuse by caregivers, prevalent abject poverty etc.
The testimony of Ward 3 is also inspiring; “When my mother left me, I ran to the market to look for her, but I couldn’t find her. The second day I ran to the bale’s house and before I entered his house, he asked me a lot of questions but I could not answer and the last question he asked me was where is my mummy?
“I said I didn’t know where she is and he started taking care of me. I spent seven days with the bale and afterwards they took me to the police station and when I got there, they asked me questions but God help me to speak out and the woman told them to take me to Alakara and I was happy that I am saved. From Alakara, they brought me to Bosco Boys Home”.
In Bosco Boys’ Home, Ward 3 “found a home that welcomed me and took me through the process of realizing my dreams. The home has been so dynamic in its activities in order to enhance the rehabilitation process and I really appreciate each day I spend there”.
Presently, there are no females in the Centre yet, street girls are not left out of the Salesian’s labour of love.
According to one of the Salesian Priests, Fr Linus Nnkemjinaka Onyenagubor Sdp, also known as ‘The priest on the street’, “So far, we don’t have females, but we often get in touch with them through our outreach program whereby we distribute sanitary pads and sensitize them on some of the dangers on the streets”.
Looking at the transformation that has taken place in the lives of these children and in the words of Fr Onyenagubor, “listening to some of the wards, we could see and realize that the Salesians of Don Bosco have clearly established themselves as pioneers and path-breakers in bringing hope to children who for no fault of theirs find themselves in difficult situations.
“Don Bosco Children’s Home or “Child Protection Centre” has its presence in Ibadan and Lagos, reaching out to hundreds of children on the streets, trafficked children, the abused and abandoned children, the orphaned, children in conflict with the law (juvenile delinquents) and young substance abusers”.
He explained further that, “These centres are recognized and approved by the two State Governments under the Ministry of Youth and Social Development as a rehabilitation home for vulnerable children or kids.
However, the question many people would like to ask is, “why vulnerable children?” These children are vulnerable because they are exposed to danger; and being in such a tender age like theirs, it is almost impossible to resist danger just by themselves.
“The Salesians of Don Bosco, like Don Bosco, believe that every child on the street is a human being with dignity; we believe he deserves to be loved, to be befriended, to be educated and be helped to improve his life. Like every other child, the child on the street has great potential and responsibilities for his generation, if he or she is helped. He is a great future of his generation”.
‘The Priest on the Street’ has a final word for every Nigerian. “My advice to the general public is that children need mentors, not just ordinary mentors but good and responsible mentors, it could be their parents, teachers, Imams, priests or pastors name them all… today’s children lack such, no one to accompany them towards the right path of life and this has led many of them into wrong path that is detriment to the society and if proper measures are not taken our society will suffer the cause in the near future.
“Father Flanagan was right when he said, ‘There are no bad children. There is only bad environment, bad training, bad example.’ We believe in the bright side of life of every vulnerable child. Vulnerable children are our greatest wealth.
“Give them a chance and they will give a good account of themselves. As St John Bosco says, “the primary happiness of a child consists in knowing that he is loved”. A child or young person must not only be loved, but he must know that he is loved. In every young person, even the most difficult, there is a spot for good”.
According to UNICEF, the exact number of street children is unknown but, a situation whereby we have 1.3 children forced to flee their homes in the north-east region of Nigeria alone, and 10.5 million are out-of-school; many of whom are at home, IDP camps and, in the streets across the country, calls for desperate action.
And this means the country needs more organisations, philanthropists and the government to team up with the Salesian Priests to rid the streets of children.
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