It’s been an eye opening period of realisation for the ICS Progressio volunteers working at Simukai Child Protection agency, based in Mutare. If I look back at when we stepped off the plane onto Harare soil, arriving as the new (but slightly less fresh team members - after that journey), I guess we knew to expect the unexpected, but we still didn't know much about our partner organisation and what we’d be dealing with.
Our in-country orientation really shed light upon our project. We learned more about Simukai as an organisation: A tirelessly diligent child protection agency, devoted to upholding the rights and safety of children who are faced with very challenging and often tragic backgrounds. It is made up of several departments, including the contact centre, working with homeless children who live and work in the streets of Mutare, and the ‘Place of Safety’, a home for children from harmful or abusive backgrounds seeking refuge within Simukai. Simukai’s expanded outreach also extends to schools and orphanages in the area.
The Shona word ‘Simukai’ means ‘Rise up’ and what could be more apt to describe the charity’s work in lifting vulnerable children to a place of empowerment. Simukai’s backbone and heart is made of a team of professionals who are deeply passionate about the children they are helping, whom we all had the pleasure of meeting in our orientation week.
For me, the stand out experience of learning about our project was being in the humbling presence of Barbara, who is the Director of the organisation. She delivered a frankly breathtaking speech about what Simukai do and who they work with, which was so soul stirring and enlightening that it actually brought some of us to tears. We could never have imagined the reality of the difficulties these children have been dealing with, the exploitation that some of the street children have been at the mercy of was truly shocking. Despite being very emotional at this rude awakening to their lives, we all felt nothing but great drive and determination to really do our best in helping Simukai during our time on this project. The whole team whirred with motivation and it was in those moments we all agreed with certainty that we had arrived at the worthiest of causes.
Meeting some of the boys at the centre, they seemed without the cares and the burdens that we expected to be apparent in them. Clearly, Simukai is to them a place of peace and a time to just live the childhood that seems to be robbed from them in their life on the streets. Their smiles and laughter resonated as they welcomed the national and international volunteers into a high energy game of football in the Simukai grounds. From the international perspective, their English was certainly better than our Shona, however we knew we would not just be diving straight into a discussion of sensitive issues with them. We just played with them, joining in with their fun and foolishness and momentarily leaving behind the serious nature of the task ahead of us.
Leaving from the first day at the office, our international team took to Mutare’s bustling city centre to pick up some supplies to prepare our food for that evening. It was then that we had our first chance to observe some of the boys we had met earlier, in the street environment. Sporadically lined up outside the supermarket, they are there to greet the shoppers as they leave with their change still in their hands from the till. There was such a massive change in their behaviour from the childish innocence we had seen from them at the centre, now looking somewhat tense and on edge as they appeal to each person that passes them by. They approach us as we exit the store and greet us, and we exchange pleasant conversation before we get our turn, and they ask us for money too. It felt like a very difficult moral situation to be faced with. On the one hand you are staring in to the longing eyes of a hungry child who is homeless and has nothing whilst we as Westerners have so much, the decision should seem simple. On the other hand, we knew so little of their real backgrounds, their decision and reasoning to have a life on the street (as we are told that many of them choose this life). We do not know what they really want to use the money for…or who is in real control of the money they earn.
We decide to buy them a loaf of bread and snacks from the store and they say thank you, but it appeared with a little disappointment. We could at such an early stage only speculate, and we depart from them with some confusion and concern, telling them we shall see them tomorrow morning at the centre. The only thing for certain was, our own hearts were now invested into the project, and we were committed to trying to making even the smallest of differences to their lives.
Written by ICS volunteer Marguerite Leathley