Engaging Children with their Human Rights

I’ve created this blog post as a resource for people who are passionate about Human Rights and want to bridge the divide between the dense wording of legal documents and the every day language children can grasp. Though simplified versions of the convention exist, this blog attempts to take it a step further by suggesting ways to create dialogue around the articles in those conventions.

I will also be highlighting some of the problems that each article presents when trying to implement and facilitate these rights on a local, national and global level both practically and philosophically.

I’m going to start off with the UNCRC. UNCRC – United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989). This convention is signed by EVERY SINGLE country in the world except …. drum roll…. the USA. If you are interested, let me know and I can write a little more about the USA rationale behind not signing this.

The UNCRC has 54 articles. However, only Article 1-42 are about children’s rights, whereas Articles 43-54 explain how governments and international organisations like UNICEF will work to ensure children are protected with their rights.

DO SHARE IF YOU THINK THIS IS USEFUL – the post will be updated every few days till all articles are covered.

ARTICLE 1 (definition)

Engaging Younger Children:

  • Can you name some of your friends under 18 this convention is for?
  • Go through a list of babies, toddlers, children, teenagers and adults and ask the child to say whether this convention is for them or not

Engaging Older Children:

  • When do you think childhood begins?
  • When do you think childhood ends?
  • Do you agree that you should be made criminally responsible before you are legally able to drive, or have sex, or vote?
  • Can you do some research of countries where the legal age of becoming an adult is not 18? Can you find countries where childhood begins before a baby is born or much later?
  • How can this be implemented and monitored?

The first Article stipulates the age of the people that are protected by the rights of this convention. To most, this appears very straight forward and not controversial at all.

However, when Childhood begins and ends is super problematic… a whole discipline exists that focuses very much on this question – the Anthropology of Childhood! In some tribes, you are not considered a human being till you are 2 years old – the belief is that babies born are connected to the spirit world for 2 years before they decide to stay or return (some researchers argue this is a way they have come to deal with their grief over a high number of infant mortality rates that it became such an intrinsic part of their belief and tradition – “The Afterlife is where we Come From” is a great book if you’re interested)… some argue you are a child before you are born, and this is relevant because this gives a foetus rights against abortion, for example.

But not only when childhood begins is in question, but also when it ends… in Article 1 of the UNCRC, countries have signed up to 18years old… but in many countries it is still 21. This is almost made irrelevant because throughout the UNCRC, government are free not to ratify (agree to) articles that don’t suit them… and this usually about age where children can work, go into the army, get married… so a country where 16 year olds join the army, according to the UNCRC, they are child soldiers… so you see… is can get messy!

Children’s activists that work to get children’s voices heard earlier and have a say in politics ask question like – how is it, in the UK for example, legal to have sex and become a parent at 16, yet you cannot vote till you’re 18? How is it the age of criminal responsibility is 10 (YES TEN) but you cannot have a say in how your local authority manages services till 8 years later?

What do you think? Was it straight forward when you first read it? What ages do you think the UNCRC should cover? Is it problematic? Or is it just a good place to start?

ARTICLE 2 (non-discrimination)

Engaging Younger Children:

  • Go through a list of children the child is familiar with who are different to them in some way until it is clear this convention applies to all of them.
  • Present the child with a globe and search for pictures of children in that country explaining the rights covered in the convention apply to them

This is a good opportunity to introduce protected characteristics to children.

Engaging Older Children:

  • Can you try to write a list of protected characteristics?
  • Do you think the rights in the convention should apply to all children? Why? What about children who do something wrong?
  • What do you think about giving children rights who have parents who have done terrible things or broken the law some how?
  • Can you think of examples of indirect discrimination?
  • How can this be implemented and monitored?

Article 2 is a good starting point for conversations about how human rights are applicable to ALL and not to particular groups or “deserving” groups.

Some forms of discrimination that article 2 would cover include:

• Sexism

• Ableism

• Racism

• Sectarianism

• Homophobia

Direct and Indirect Discrimination

Article 2 covers both indirect discrimination and direct discrimination. Direct discrimination is when a person is treated differently because of the way they are and their protected characteristics. Indirect discrimination is when a rule applies to everyone in the same way, but affects some people unfairly.

To understand indirect discrimination a little better, we just need to remind ourselves that equality and equity are not the same. So a rule that applies to everyone, may disadvantage some groups more than others (e.g. no one being allowed to use the lift, that would disadvantage disabled children more than able bodied children).

Also there are instances where what our family members are up to does influence how a child is treated or what opportunities and access are available to that child… for instance:in some countries, if your parents are of a particular religion or race/cast your access to particular activities or jobs or marriage becomes limited… and though the country has signed the convention which makes this illegal, it has an obligation to enforce this and make it applicable and punishable on a local and national level if it is not adhered to.

The Stamp of The Street

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Omar is the first street child that I have seen a photo of before he became a street boy. Someone had once said to me that all street children look like each other. Looking at the children I didn’t have a clue what this person was saying, but looking at photos of Omar before and after the street, I see that there is a look on their faces they all share, rather than physical characteristics, a stamp the street leaves on you, of all the horrors you survive on it.

Dr Hany, who had kindly offered to take on Omar’s case as soon as I bought it to him, has a way of dealing with petrified children. And make no mistake, the children I bring him are petrified. They are particularly scared from adults in any position of authority because in their worlds, those responsible for their well being and safety have – always – been the cause of their horrific experiences in such early years. Omar was no different in the fear he displayed, but added to his emotional distress, was a terror that the doctors would amputate his hands and started off reluctant to show his wounds to him. After an admirable display of patience and reassurance by the doctor, showing him photos of previous cases, recounting the happiness at their success, Omar opened up.

For both doctors to tell me the injury was terrible (especially coming from Egyptian doctors who are optimistic even if your head would be rolling between your feet) this was bad news. Omar had suffered 3rd degree chemical burns with complete loss of skin, all his fingers were stuck together becoming one mass and his thumb had been partially amputated. Dr Hany tells me there’s a shortening too of all his tendons and arteries. X-Ray’s and lab tests are being carried out now and the operations (2 or 3 ) will be started within a few days. All this will be done in a private hospital with the best doctor and facilities and Omar will have it all done free (you see, my utopian dream of sharif skills and time and facilities does come true).

A recap on Omar: an 11 year old boy who ran away from home after the violence his father perpetrated towards his sister. In fear Omar left in October taking a train to another city. After his disappearance, his father (a taxi driver) pled with one of his passengers to put Omar’s photo up on Facebook groups for missing children in an attempt to find him. The photo of the smiling, handsome little boy went viral. In February, a kind woman in Alexandria found Omar at the gates of a train station passing out from pain with both hands wrapped in dirty pieces of cloth with what she describes as a nauseating smell coming from them. She tried taking him to two hospitals and was met with failure – the first told her no doctors were present and the second refused to treat him on grounds it was not a new wound and he had no papers. The lady took photos of Omar and uploaded to Facebook missing children in Egypt pages in hope his parents would find him. Despite the changes the streets write on your face (even in just four months) Omar was reunited with his family. He refused to return to his parents and his aunt and her husband came to his rescue and took him in.

Extended family can be such a blessing; as they are in Omar’s case. Despite having his mother and father come with him to the appointment, Omar, who was clearly petrified did not direct a single word towards them. Instead, he seemed the comfort of his aunt and her husband who have been caring for him since he’s come off the street. The father, sat in shame and regret, finally understanding the gravity of what it means to be a violent care giver (oh the irony of those words together), understanding that Omar ran away because of his parenting and is now suffering a disability because of the being on the streets.

Shame on the father whose regret comes too late, and shame on the legal system that doesn’t enforce laws to protect children in vulnerable situations, and shame on the harsh streets that are filled with a mainstream society too self absorbed to reach out to those in need.

But just as our world is filled with disappointments, it is filled with beacons of light that shine so bright they heal the darkness and what it brings. Below are two of those beacons in my and the street children’s worlds. They are two of the reasons I am SO proud of the blog I started for street children that acted as an introduction. I love them with all my heart.

Hany is a well known plastic and reconstructive surgeon. The first blog post I had written a out street children was one about the rape scars the children suffer (the gang who rape them will knife their face – usually a curved scar under the eyes to mark them as no longer being virgins, ‘spoilt goods’ and this scar would result in a thick piece of flesh hanging from their face serving as a reminder of the horror they faced but also as a deterrent to society at every attempt the girls tried to reintegrate back into it). Hany wrote to me numerously, trying to reach me on all platforms and not giving up till I answered. He was offering to perform surgery, free of charge to any and all of the children I worked with who needed this scar removed. The respect and love with I have seen him treat my girls, from  the older children who have been raped to the four year old I once took to him who had been abused by her parents and suffered burns to her chest and pubic areas. He was often the balance in humanity I needed to remember our world was not all bad. That angels lived among us.

Yara, a young, newly graduated doctor, busy studying for her board exams and who lived the other side of the city was there. I had asked her to go because I trusted her with my life and so I trusted her to be the go to person with Omar. She had previously humbled me with her proactive nature. She too had read my blogs of street girls and wrote repeatedly to tell me all she would try to do… Having lived in Egypt I know you need to have the will and patience to move heaven and earth to change an injustice and do something good. Since Yara emailed me the first time, so much good has been done. She got together with a group of other incredible doctors who guaranteed the street girls were treated with dignity and respect when they went into labour (previously they would be so scared because of the verbal and physical abuse they’d get for going in to give birth without being married or being so young – bearing in mind they were often raped). Yara was also my go to person when I was not in Egypt for a number of other cases doing what I would do, only ten times better.

I need a third hero in this story. I know he or she exists somewhere out there. I need a physiotherapist for Omar who will see that all the efforts made have a great outcome. Without this person, Omar will lose any hope of using his hands again. As always, I don’t work with fundraising, so this human will need to agree to share their skill for free.

I’m asking if you could all help me find the third pillar to this success story by sharing it as widely as you can till we find our physiotherapist in Cairo

Have a lovely day all xx

A Simple Exchange: Your Baby, for Your Money.

Lilly June 2015 - 1

My brave little flower, Lilly!

She’s 20 years old. She’s just had her fifth baby. Her first baby who roams the streets in another city with another family, she delivered when she was 12 years old. Her second and third babies are in a children’s home. Her fourth passed away. She then got married. Her husband is in jail. She gave birth to her fifth child who needed intensive care in the neonatal department.

The details of the girls tragic life isn’t what I’m writing this post to discuss. It almost doesn’t matter right now that she had to run away from an abusive home and find safety on the street when she was 11 years old. Whichever way she fell pregnant at 11 is tragic – she bares the scars of it. It isn’t a blog to discuss contraception or abortion options that aren’t available to these children who are victims of rape and incest. It is not to tell you about one of the girls I work with who tried to abort her own baby with a metal hanger inserted into her vagina that nearly killed her.

This isn’t a post to sensationalise. This isn’t even a blog about street girls entirely. It’s about the health care system in Egypt that never fails to terrify me.

It’s been some time since I’ve been working on the street children cause, the last few months I’ve dedicated to making my daughter better. But I’ve been working the last few days on getting money to a government hospital in Egypt. The 2000 pounds donation of syringes and nappies, that were asked for, were a negotiation down from the original 6000 pound bill the hospital demanded in exchange for discharging a baby to his street girl mother.

So as far as I understand, the hospital cannot discharge a baby without the bill being paid. If the bill is not paid, the baby gets given to an orphanage. And because it costs 1000 pounds a day for a baby incubator, many parents, not just street mothers, end up leaving their newborn babies at hospital and never coming back for them. So I got involved with the case of this girl because the beautiful Dr Yara bought it to my attention. Our deadline was looming. Next Saturday, 7th November, the baby was due to be discharged. If the money or the donations didn’t get there in time, the staff would hand the baby over to social services to be taken to an orphanage and his mother would not be allowed access. If we did manage to get the money to them, we could pick up the baby. We managed it. The money had been laying around for months waiting for a good cause (interestingly it was 2000 to the penny) from friends (thank you Reem and Samah) who had given me money for the cause, and because I’m not currently in Egypt, my cousin is driving the money to Yara who is overseeing the exchange (thank you Dr Mark for driving it). The beauty of group work of people who have never even met, is overwhelming.

When I gave birth to Lilly, she was born with no heart beat and didn’t breathe for 16 minutes. Before I ever held her in my arms, she was put into an incubator for 14 days. Of course I hate the beeping machines around her. My heart broke at the sight of tubes going into her nose and throat. I cringed with pain at the needles in her veins, in her hands, feet, head. I worried when I saw the 10ml morphine syringe gradually numbing her so that she wouldn’t feel the pain of forcing her body temperature to 33 degrees. I cried when I stood feeding her my milk through a tube and she whimpered in pain to what I had convinced myself, was a need to be held.

But… BUT, all the while I was achingly grateful for my privilege. I was acutely aware of it because just a year before, I had spent hours desperately trying to find an incubator for a 1 day old street baby who tragically died because when I could get her an ambulance and an incubator, there was no baby oxygen machines. She died while I managed to organise everything in 56 minutes. I found out she had died before her mother did. I knew about privilege and I knew, standing, watching over my own daughter, worried only about if she would make it, or not, that many others had not just this, but money and accessibility to worry about.

So things have to change. Let’s change them bit by bit together while the government sits around shuffling ministers and while political opinions flood social media in heated debates between people who’s hands are often not stuck in the fixing. I’ve always relied on your input so far for the girls and we’ve worked miracles together. I’m finding out how much two incubators would cost and if we manage to get them to this public hospital, I want an exchange from them that the street girls get to use them for their babies when needed. It’s a small step, but it’s a start and maybe will shame those responsible in acting.

Wouldn’t be incredible if we could add two incubators in this neonatal department in the name of street girls? Not only so that they can use them, but so that all babies who ever do, can know one day, as well as their parents, that the street children being good to this world and are not what “parasites” as the colloquial language describes them. 
Never shy away from doing little. Little is more than nothing. 
——–
Update:
Since writing this post I have found out some exact costing and also something incredible happened…
Prices: 

Incubator: 90,000 – 120,000 L.E (without a ventilator)

Ventilator: 100,000 L.E (aprox. £8500)
In a private hospital, the incubators cost 3000 L.E a day with a requirement to pay 30,000 in advance. 
The ventilators currently in the hospital are a mix of donations from Arafa organisation and Shiekha Mozza of Qatar.
That’s the bad news… As for the good news: 
After writing this blog, I got a donation for an incubator. Life is good.

Street Children: “Rubbish is Only Matter Out of Place”

One question that I was often asked about the lives of street children was why they would sleep on the street instead if going back to the “comfort and safety” of their own home: concepts that us, privileged few automatically associate with the word home.

When I heard the horror stories of the street, I often wondered similar things. But when I started visiting where these children’s families lived, often answer was found in the photos I took. Sometimes the stories of emotional, financial, verbal, physical and sexual abuse, violence and neglect inside the home were the reason. But often, less sensational reasons presented themselves. The physical structure of “home” was so small that they often had to sleep outside it anyway, under the staircases, in the building entrances, outside altogether.

So I started answering that question with one of my own: “what would make a child want to travel for miles back to an area that is often dirtier, scarier, lonelier, often more abusive and less comfortable than the street corner or under the bridge where they had spent their whole day, made friends and learned to survive in?”

There is dirt, danger and discomfort in both places… One was just miles away and not worth the effort of the journey back… But what makes us ask the question is rarely the state of the alternative place the child has to return to, but mainstream society’s absolute distaste and discomfort for seeing private life routines taking place in public spaces. The reminder of our failures as a society to protect the vulnerable by ensuring we provide them with safe alternatives. That’s what’s ugly about the street and children out of place – not the children and their practices, but society and it’s apathy towards the lack of alternative care.

Screenshot 2015-04-17 09.24.35

The title of this blog quotes Mary Douglas who argues that rubbish is nothing more than something out of place and so becomes dirty and dangerous. That would apply to children out of “place” the place we (again, the privileged few) would see suitable for children: home or school etc. and so what of child soldiers, child prostitutes, street children? And this of course leads to the problems with definitions.

So many working with street children are so concerned with the politically (and sometimes academically) correct definitions and we see terms like “street connected children”, “children of the street”, “children in the street”, “children in a street situation”. I find them all unhelpful. So when I went out working with street children I thought I would focus on finding another definition and I chose to look at what the slang for street children in different countries was… here’s a summary of what I found:

  • India – Without root or roof or carrying the stamp of the street
  • Brazil – A younger child of a slave or an individual with no word of honour
  • Egypt – A  small insect that destroys grains and crops
  • Columbia – The plague
  • Ethiopia – Vermin
  • Cameroon – Mosquitoes

The biggest problem with these definitions is that they dehumanise the victim. When you start referring to children as pests, then it becomes more acceptable and justifiable to mistreat them. It is acceptable for the police to run after a mosquito and abuse the vermin and try to get rid of the plague.

The one slang word that moved me to tears and perhaps summarises the plight of street children the most came from Vietnam, where the children are referred to as “bui doi” which translates to “The Dust of Life”.

Personal Post: On Loss, Miscarriage and Pregnancy

Both Shariff and I are geographically challenged. We both don’t know how to use maps. Though we can see where the destination is and where the arrow is pointing, we don’t know where we are on the map in the first place to follow those directions!! So last year when I went into hospital with severe left abdominal pain, hours after testing positive on a home pregnancy test, and getting the devastating diagnosis of “Pregnancy of Unknown Location”, we knew that, “Yes! This baby was definitely ours” Even our little one couldn’t find it’s way to the womb J But, joking aside, this was probably the scariest thing to hear, I didn’t understand what the doctors were really saying except that they were worried I was having an “ectopic pregnancy” (where the fetus decides to grow outside the womb). It is a horrific experience, not only because you will definitely lose the baby, but also because at any point it may rupture the mother’s tubes and the internal bleeding could kill her. The advice was to come straight to emergency if the pain got worse, if I couldn’t breath, if my shoulder tips started to hurt, or if I fainted.

That day was incredible. I don’t remember as many details of any other event as I do this particular day. I remember deciding to buy a pregnancy test while I was out. After I peed on the stick, staring at the hourglass that’s checking for my hormones, I knew I was pregnant even before I saw those words. I had done this test many times before. Since I’d been married I was often asked in a multitude of different ways, why I hadn’t had a baby yet. The ways people asked this ranged from “you know, there’s nothing quite like being a mother”, to “you’re so passionate about children, are you thinking of having your own?” to “no children on the way?” to “do you want to have surgery to lose some weight if that’s stopping you getting pregnant?” to “do you want to lose weight to have a baby to make Shariff happy, if you love him?” to “Why haven’t you had a baby yet? What’s WRONG with you?” It’s amusing to me writing this and to think of the faces and reactions of some of those who will read this blog – to those of you who are shocked and horrified: thank you. To those women who’ve been asked the same, my heart goes out to you, because I know nothing can hurt as much – no matter in which way it’s being asked.

The last of these comments is what stuck with me of course, we have a way don’t we, us human beings, a certain refined capacity to hold onto, to carve space in our souls for painful slurs and hurtful comments. And because I am no more than human and no less than that, I have a great talent for absorbing the anguish. When the hourglass stopped and the words “Pregnant” showed up, my primitive response was “nothing IS wrong with me”. This made me angry. It made me realise that despite having convinced myself that I had dismissed this comment, I obviously hadn’t. That despite all the achievements that I had worked towards, that required dedication, patience, passion, hard work, sleepless nights, results, despite having impact on change that bought about better moments for those I worked towards helping – yes despite all of that – I was never going to be a success in a lot of people’s eyes if I did not have my own children.

Oh the woes of being a woman I thought, as the smaller hourglass was turning that would soon tell me how many weeks pregnant I was. I mourned something in those moments about how my entire being was being judged and evaluated by its ability to reproduce. I could get all the degrees in the world, get promoted to all the positions in a company I worked at, I could volunteer everywhere that needed people passion, I could be the best wife, daughter and sister, friend and neighbour, colleague and teacher; I could be the best at all my roles, but if I am not a biological mother, no matter how competent or incompetent in that role or any other role, it seemed I was not a whole woman without it. Some would consider my body a mere waste of space; if through it, a new life did not pass; that everything else I was doing should only be seen as a temporary distraction until my “real purpose” of living was fulfilled.

On Tuesday, the first drop of blood fell. It was a tiny, tiny pink spot of blood. I knew straight away this was the beginning. You feel it in your heart, you know. I was at my parent’s house that day, I remember seeing the cracking in the tiles for the first time as I sat on the loo, a small tiny detail that was too unimportant in day-to-day life. I also started to get some chest pain and decided that I couldn’t sleep upstairs in my old room because I may need emergency care during the night, so this body, proving that there was something “wrong with it” needed to be accessible. I laughed at that thought and how organized I tried to be even in this situation. It gave me a sense of control but I was angry that I couldn’t control my own body – damn my own body for having a mind of its own. I wanted this little baby and no matter how many diaries I kept, no matter how much I tried to keep the symmetry, no matter which height order my books were kept at, which colour order my clothes in the wardrobe were hung, the order and the control I need to keep this little baby where I wanted it to be was something I did not have. I was being betrayed, by myself.

Going to the toilet was the scariest thing. I didn’t want to wipe and find more blood, I didn’t want to give access to what I was beginning to understand was inevitable. But on Wednesday when the bleeding started to increase, clots started to pass, pain started to grip my organs, I knew. Shariff rushed me to the hospital as silent tears started rolling down uncontrollably. All I could think about was that comment “What’s WRONG with you?” I was so angry that as I sat in an emergency room losing my baby all I could think of was what this person was going to think of my impending loss. Of course I should not worry about it, I know, reader, I know. But I did and it hurt and it worried and it angered me all at the same time. The nurse that saw me asked if I was passing clots, asked if it was my first time, took my temperature and recorded my pulse was extremely fast and decided to channel me through to the majors. This is, if nothing else, an incredibly humiliating experience. You have to open your legs wide, two people, doctor and nurse put a lamp between your legs and insert all sorts of things to ensure your cervix is still closed to determine whether a miscarriage really has started. This day they sent me home saying, my cervix was still closed, they weren’t sure it would lead to a full miscarriage and all I could do was wait. It was a “threatened miscarriage”.

The next few days were difficult. I was obsessed with a support group where women would write on the forum about their experience of miscarriage. It was good and bad. It was good because it was comforting to know that I wasn’t over reacting, that I was justified in feeling all those things that I was, other people felt those exact feelings too. It was bad because some stories were worse, of pregnancies lost much further into the pregnancy, photos up of women holding the tiniest babies that had passed at 20 weeks, tiny fingers that weren’t even the size of their nails, tragedies that passed so clinically, in and out of hospital with something so achingly significant missing. I had to keep doing a pregnancy test for a few weeks to see if the hormones were decreasing. This was especially painful. It was the same stick, still saying “pregnant” rubbing salt into the wound. Perhaps because the NHS didn’t wait to spend time and money confirming that you had “passed away all products of conception” – such a terrible, terrible term.

The finality of it all was too quick. I wanted it to be finished of course, so I could “move on” what ever that meant after this. But, at the same time, I wanted some sort of ritual, some ceremonial procedure that would ease me to waking up and realising I’m not pregnant anymore, that this time round I’m not going to be a mother. I understood the idea of initiation and rituals so much better when I felt a need for them. I never really appreciated the traditions around funerals for instance, but I knew now I’d appreciate it, I’d appreciate the recognition of loss, of parting, of the acknowledgement of others that I was in pain and the reassurance that people gave during these rituals that this passing didn’t take anything away from the very real fact that for those weeks/months I was a mother and that no one could ever take that away from me. And that empty arms at the end of it did not mean I’d be any less a mother than if I did experience those sleepless nights had this particular baby come home.

I made some incredible discoveries during the weeks between finding out I was pregnant to finding out the miscarriage was at last over, things about my body, my marriage, my friendships, my family, my expectations and my own feelings around being a mother. I also, after the initial emotions and physical pains started betraying me by getting better, realized what an awful system of official support there is for women. No one at any point of my education spoke of miscarriage; what to expect, your options, about the stuff you lost and wipe away as you stare horrified not knowing if your flushing your child down the toilet – and I’m sorry I’m writing this, but no one talks about it and I’m all for the taboo because I could find nothing about this when I needed to. I also hated the “reassurance” the doctors provided telling me “1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage”. This amused me the most. What was it meant to make me feel? Was I expected to be happy I was that lucky one?! How does throwing a statistic like that make me feel better? And the term “product of conception” a term coined to probably emotionally detach everyone involved from the potentiality of what this “matter” was. How this made me angry. I was so angry that the crippling pain of the actual miscarriage, could not compare.

It has been by far the most painful experience of my life, both physically and emotionally. Without Shariff’s support, if it had not physically killed me, then something inside me would have died, but he was my breath of life, his grounded self that he offered so generously, his patience with the incredible mood swings I had, curling into bed and holding me every time when the physical pain was so bad it felt that some phantom hand was inside my very body ripping at my very soul. I fell in love with Shariff during these weeks a hundred times over, I knew now what it meant to be loved at your worst, to be comforted when you didn’t deserve to be, but because you needed to be. But it pained me how much love he showed, how much love I had for him, it hurt because the more amazing he was, the more I desperately wanted to have a child with him and the more I wanted all these ties that would brings us even closer – as I would have myself brainwashed into believing. I thought hard about all this during those weeks and though I still wanted a baby from him at the end of it all, I realised from the love he extended to me during it, that those ties I was craving had nothing to do with having a child together, but had everything to do with those midnight cuddles that he gave because he heard me calling out for him without my having said a word.

A couple of days after finding out I was pregnant, I went to have my favourite Nando’s meal. I’d never been there alone and feeling the need to be sociable, I started speaking with two teenage boys who’d sat on the table next to me. They were about 13 years old. I said “excuse me gentlemen, I need your advice. I just found out that I’m pregnant”, “congratulations” one of them interrupted, “thank you! So, I’ve decided I want to be a super good mum and thought getting some advice from some young men like yourselves might be a good idea, what do you advise me to do or not do?” I was incredibly touched at how open they were, how genuinely engaged they were in the conversation and grateful, too, that they were being asked their opinions. I received a wide range of advice, from letting my child play as much play station as they wanted, not going through their phones, not joining in after school activities after they reached ten years old, letting them chose the subjects they want to study and to give them hugs when they’re at home even though they say they don’t want any when they’re around their friends”. Even though I could not take their advice that time around, I promise I will not forget it now that I’m pregnant again.

Child Prostitution, Empty Swings and Mental Health

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Photo by Tim O’Brian

They started running away from the orphanage when they were 11 years old. Nesma was the girl she felt closest to there. Maybe because like her, Nesma wasn’t really an orphan, but had grown up in a “proper” home. And both these homes were abusive. Reena’s sadistic stepmother subjected her to heart wrenching torture, whenever she fought with the little child’s father to spite him; burnt skin still tells of the hours of torture that the young Reena had endured.

Like most children that arrive on the street, escaping familial or institutional abuse, Reena and Nesma were picked up, within an hour, but the local pimp. Their first night in prostitution, sold as virgins for “deflowering”, was in 6th October city to the Arabs that came from the Gulf looking for young virgins. These clients paid the children and their pimp well. So well, in fact, that Reena managed to organise her own clientele and eventually be independent of the older lady that had sold them to these men.

But when at 14 she fell pregnant, and had her baby, she looked for her birth mother. And enticing her with money, she agreed to keep the baby as long as the cash kept coming in weekly. And it did. But a few years later, Reena turned up at the door and her baby was gone. No death certificate, no burial certificate; just the repeated verbal confirmation that her baby had died, that God had “remembered him”. It was then that Reena stopped combing her hair and started roaming the streets looking for her child. The well-groomed teenage prostitute, who only slept with the elite, was now picking up clients at street corners and at microbus stops, just for night-time shelter while she looked for her baby during the day.

There are many situations that you find yourself in when you work with street children that you wouldn’t have imagined to find yourself in otherwise. These are mainly situations of devastating tragedy. Stories that should never involve adults, let alone young humans, who may have not developed the resilience and coping strategies that come with time. But the more I spend time with these children, the more I realise that they have incredible resources, given the circumstances.

One of those situations that I found myself in was roaming the streets of a certain square in Cairo looking for Reena. I had been preparing myself for days for that ache that I would no doubt feel when I saw what I imagined as a child with dirt under nails, wiry hair, ripped clothing and eyes that I knew would haunt me. I knew that talking to her I would see the image of the child she was at 11 when she started leaving the shelter and every age she could have been that would not have led her to that particular traffic light, in those particular clothes, with that particular look in her eyes. I knew if I saw her and she looked at me, that those eyes would have seen the underbelly of human nature and they would look at me with caution at best, with detest at worst. But I also knew that somewhere deep, deep inside, there would be some comfort that three random strangers would roam the streets at night for her.

I remembered the story of why Shaymaa had stuck with this job for so long. On Shaymaa’s first day at the shelter, she saw a nine-year-old girl sitting on the swing, the seat dripping blood from where she had been raped by ten men. The child swinging, while monsters had made that childhood bleed out of her at she sat on it. Preserving that chance of childhood, fighting for the right of children not to be anything but children, in any way they wanted to live that childhood, as long as they are not harmed, not abused, that’s what we were fighting for. That’s what made us do this work. That’s why we braved going out in the streets looking for Reena.

We couldn’t find her begging at the coffee shop that Shaymaa had spotted her in a while ago, so we began asking the other children if the had seen her. The words coming out surreal: “Habeeby (sweetheart) have you seen a girl with uncombed hair, roaming, talking to herself, she looks and acts a bit mad”. I have so many reservations about the vocabulary we are using. I don’t want us to use the word “mad”. I don’t want us to describe her hair the way we have, reducing her to a habit or hairstyle. But the restricted code the children are used to talking in, the small number of minutes we have with them before a street adult appears and we put them and ourselves in danger, are all limited and so “uncombed hair, mad girl, talking to herself” will have to do.

I advocate for street children a lot. I am always humbled by what they teach me, not about the academic subject matter, but about life and friendship. I actually mean that. After my first year of the PhD, I ripped my university cards and created my own ones that read, “I go to university to teach and I go to Street Kids to learn”. The children we spoke to on the street that day taught me about caution and looking out for the less fortunate. To be a child on the street was unfortunate, to be a child on the street with uncombed hair, mad and talking to yourself, was even more so.

The first child we spoke to, wearing oversized, olive coloured overalls and slippers so small all his toes were actually on the ground, was pulling a big rubbish cart behind him. He was from the Zabaleen area in Cairo (an epic percentage of recycling goes on in this secluded area of 600,000 Christian Copts, and poverty and marginalisation and disease – many documentaries are available that I urge you to look at… It always surprises me how many Egyptians don’t know about this place and it’s incredible struggle and history). When we asked him about Reena, his first questions were why we wanted her and who we were. Only when he was satisfied that we were there to help her, he told us he knows who we were talking about, but that she answered to a different name, was working for Sheeba, the street adult that the kids in this area worked for, the he made her work all night and we could find her sleeping on “that” street corner from 7am because that’s when she came after her “work” was finished.

We asked a few other children, the name they all gave us was the same, and all the children making sure it was safe to share her information with us before talking. One child stood out for me. Realising we could help “mad” people he said “look, I don’t honestly know where or when you can find her, it depends on her work you know and how long they keep her. But, I’ll tell you something… There’s an old man that I can point you to, he’s mad and he talks to himself. Do you think you can help the poor thing too?” My heart cracked at the caring spirit of this boy who could not have been older than 7 or 8, with torn slippers and faded trousers and dimples that shone when he smiled, the child who on stumbling on potential help asked for nothing for himself and wanted us to help the older man who he felt such pity for. I ached at the potential within this human being to love society and others and I prayed that some change in circumstance would happen to preserve that spirit and not replace it with the bitterness and justified vindictiveness with which this kindness is often replaced.

Though we didn’t find Reena that night, we spoke to many children telling them about the shelters and the work we do. We let them know they can drop by and eat and play and leave when they want to. This in itself, the outreach work is important. But then, what of Reena?

Do I need to even say how society and structural violence let down Reena as a child? Do I need to talk about the lack of alternative care and social services that weren’t there to step in when Reena’s parents got a divorce and her stepmother started burning her for satisfaction? Where were the official documents that her uncle (didn’t) use to sign her into that orphanage when she was 6 years old telling the shelter her parents had died and they had to take her in. He was a man with good intentions kidnapping her from her father and stepmother because of the physical signs of torture on her body… Where was the orphanage staff when she started spending nights outside the shelter at 11? Where were social services when she gave birth at 15? Where were the mental health institutions and support when her child was either sold, killed, lost or actually had died? And how many of us are guilty of walking hurriedly past tens of Reenas in the street, blaming the children for “running away”?

The reason we were looking for Reena was because when I heard her story, I looked for, and found someone who could help us with the mental health problems of the children I work with in a humane and compassionate manner; two qualities that are incredibly scarce in the world of street children and those with mental health illnesses. I found one such human. We’ll find Reena and we’ll convince her to come with us and we’ll meet her with the psychiatrist who’ll look after her and we’ll help her move into an institution where she can be protected from the harshness of the street. But, is that good enough?

Saving one child at a time is not the goal. The goal is fighting for a system that doesn’t need to save kids because it’s so amazing it already protects them from things they need to be saved from! That’s the goal; lobbying for a change in the structure and services and outlook and attitude. But I’ll tell you what; I’m going to take my own advice “don’t be ashamed of doing little, because little is more than nothing”. So until we can reach that goal, there’s definitely no harm helping one child at a time.

Flames of Cruelty; Setting Fire to Childhood

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Fire. That seemed to be the common theme of my work with street girls in the short visit I made to Egypt this time round. Flames. Burns. Scars. Pain. Fire.

I asked Shaymaa what her name was, the little new arrival that I had not seen there before. She couldn’t have been more than two. She stood with her little crisp packet away from everyone. She hadn’t run to the boxes Shariff had bought, like the other little ones had, she stood and waited. Noor was the one who gave her a packet – I love watching the little ones share, perhaps it’s they who heal one another because no one knows, like them, what needs to be healed and how. She opened it up for her too. Little Hannah stood right where she was given the packet and ate, not making eye contact with anyone, not saying anything, and not making the happy sounds the others were making when excited.

I asked her name and the answer was, “we think it’s Hannah, we spent three weeks calling her by all the names we could think of, but when we said Hannah, she looked at me”. I called the little human by the name she had responded to and asked her to come to me. She came, limping, heavy bodied, the toddler walked towards me like she was a 100 years old. When I lifted her on my lap, she also felt heavy; I am not sure whether it was her physical weight, or the weight of whatever it was that she had suffered. It immediately became clear that she had suffered. Copying the other babies on my lap and around me that were trying to share their crisps by ramming them in my mouth, I saw her little fingers make their way up to my lips, and they stood out between the others. Hannah had not nails. My stomach turned. “No, no please no”. I could hear those words shooting to my brain and those damned tears that I try to control escape. I quickly play with Noor so I don’t stop being helpful.

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These are different hugs I give her. So many sorries in small embraces like this. I try to hold her in a way that I will so much love to transfer from me to her, to make up for whatever happened. To last her for whatever is yet to come. Hannah breaks me in a way I haven’t felt before. Shaymaa tells me she’ll tell me how she arrived at the shelter later – on our way to take baby Amy to the reconstructive surgeon for her own burns and scars and those stubborn physical reminders of similar abuse that Hannah has endured. And I am left with “How?! And Why?!”. Two small words which seem so difficult for either the activist or the academic in me to answer.

Hannah had arrived at the shelter with a police officer. She was quickly taken to hospital because there did not seem to be a single bone in her body that was not broken, or piece of skin not burnt. She was plastered and wrapped from neck to toe, with only one little opening for her to go to the toilet. The police knew nothing except that a street dog had pulled her out of a rubbish dump and a bawaab (a building porter) had taken her to the police. That’s it. That’s her story – a few words written by a stranger, a few lines that hold so much torture and abuse and paid and betrayal. How can she have been betrayed so much by every power and force and being meant to protect her? The reason she couldn’t speak back to me was because whoever had tortured her, had burnt her tongue.

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Sometimes I fold. I crumble out of my own selfishness at how stories like this make me react. But it’s not really a story you know, reader. It’s flesh I’ve held, a hint of a smile from stitched lips that were directed at me, it’s a little nail-less finger that made it’s way into my mouth to share it’s food with me, it’s beautiful, big, brown eyes that look at me with a void look that I am free to make my imagination reign with stories of what it could be telling me. So this is not a story, it’s Hannah’s life.

I am sorry this post is more emotional than how I have tried to write before, sorry that my heart and tears and soul bleed on every word I have typed here, but it’s all so raw, so fresh, so real. It’s alive inside the walls of these shelters, on the pavements that are so much kinder than family cruelty. How terrible that there is no need to exaggerate, no need to horrify; but to tell things as they are, in a reality that shames me of being human, that keeps me up, that paralysis my hope. Yet, a reality that shows sparks of humanity coming together again when people give up their time and skills to soothe. The shelter driver driving us four hours, unpaid on his time off, Shaymaa coming to keep us company even though she has left her job and is unpaid, Amira, who accompanied Amy from Alex, so she could have someone she’s familiar with on her trip to the doctor, the doctor himself, who opened the doors of his clinic to us on his day off so we could have it all to ourselves. Humanity.

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Dr Hany has seen Amy and she is on a four-month treatment plan of creams we got as instructed (thank you Samah), that will soften her skin so that when the reconstructive surgery is performed the skin will be able to stretch. I’ve found an ENT doctor who will see to the puss and infection in her eardrum caused by the hole the monsters drilled in it. Hannah too I have started with her, the incredible Sally Toma (psychiatrist) has volunteered to see her on Saturday to work on her trauma, and will let me know what other care she needs and of course I will campaign for it to be available to her. Sima (the girl who had 3rd degree burns on 80% of her body and hospitals refused to admit her till I managed to get her case to the attention of the ministry) received the care she needed in hospital and the Minister of Social Solidarity called me and told me she will get a monthly allowance and a kiosk to be able to support herself and her little baby.

I may have been able to help and coordinate the healing of physical scars, only the surface of what the flames set to these children have marred, but what of their childhood? Their trust is humans? What of their very soul as they were tortured helpless and hopeless by the only people at those moments who were able to help them? It’s time Egypt, really, really, really, really it is, for alternative care in Egypt to step up and provide safe havens for children like Hannah and Amy and Sima – and the so many others we still haven’t reached. But I’ll tell you what, I kind of wont stop till I make their pains and their screams and tears, as the fires consume them, heard by you.

Fire picture from: http://thomaszinsavage.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/FIRE-2-GENERIC.jpg

Update on Taghreed – From Rape by her Father, to Street Gang Rape, to Torture in Institutions, To a Happy End

Good morning world… some good news…

The street girl who I went to visit last week in prison, is out! And it’s her first day at a new job today 🙂

I also arranged for her first three months and a deposit on a one bedroom flat to be paid till she starts getting her monthly salary to continue paying it herself. She will be taking her 18 month old to stay with her.

Nothing makes me as happy as working with the street girls into independent living 🙂

It’s often rare to get all the way to this, and it’s not easy… it’s taken years to get Taghreed this far with ups and downs and constant uphill struggles, getting rid of the abuse (emotional, physical and sexual) of her father, the abuse of the system that had her endure epic levels of physical punishment and torture in “correctional” institutions, never living in a home to know what it is we were trying to reintegrate her into, being slashed in the face with a knife to carry a rape scar when she offered herself to 6 rapists to spare a new girl on the street that was a virgin, to the hospital abuse she suffered when she went in to give birth to her son without a husband….

So in my eyes it’s understandable that she wasn’t really hot on joining this society in the first place and it’s understandable that she didn’t work hard with us at times, and I get it that she always thought we’d abandon her and let her down so she would leave us first, and it’s okay that she relapsed and went back to the street a thousand times.

But it’s about having people in your life that never give up on you and are always there… that’s what me and Shaymaa have tried to be to her. The tears she usually keeps so guarded – so guarded that only one escaped silently while she was getting the stitches out of her cheeks and wouldn’t hold my hand, but they flowed on the prison visits and despite her saying she was sorry she put us in a position to visit her in that horrible place, the force with which she hugged us and the gratitude she spoke with for having someone there, makes me prepared to make that trip a hundred times over.

But there are so many others that we call on for support…. so thank you Dr Hany Hamam for helping her get rid of the facial rape scar, thank you Nadia for sorting out the flat and a thank you to Shaymaa’s cousin who offered her a job when it’s terribly difficult to integrate the girls back into a society that’s always so scared, harsh, skeptical of them. What a great team effort that was done here…

And though my days and nights have been scarred by those prison visits over the last two weeks… it’s such a small price to pay that she knows that someone is ready to go to the pits of hell for her.

She starts a new life today.

Today I’m happy.

A Photo Essay: Street Children – The Achievements where Little is More than Nothing.

This post will be regularly updated to collect the happy moments that the children enjoy as a result of all your incredibly responses to this blog – thank you for being the alternative world, a world we’ve created to work parallel to the one that subjects these children to daily oppression and violence.

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One day I was accompanying a street girl to a doctor to see what we could do about her "rape scar" (a hanging piece of flesh under her right eye - a result of a knife wound she suffer after her first gang rape to mark her as no longer being a virgin). On this three hour bus ride, one of the stories she bravely shared with me was of her birthing experience. She was praising the cosmetic surgeon who had seen her before for this rape scar and who she said had "treated me like a human being, not an animal". When I asked what she was comparing him to she said the doctors that were there during her birth. She recounted the experience that included over 20 medical students checking her dilation without her consent, her horror as the fingers roughly forced their way through her vagina of both male and female students who never spoke to her or explained what they were doing. She told me about one midwife who kicked her because she was screaming too loudly when she was pushing. What seemed to hurt her the most though were the questions and accusations of why she was having a baby so young if she was unmarried and why was the father not with her. There are many horrifyingly painful stories that the street girls live and have shared with me; but this birthing one haunted me the most. The vulnerability and the fear that a child must feel giving birth, facing an unknown that even full grown, fully supported women find difficult was beyond my comprehension.... I went home and wrote in a simple blog about this conversation and about the state of the world in which we live. A beautiful medical student wrote to me, not an emotional email of how upset my post had made her, but a well thought of plan about what she was going to do about it to fix it. We went through her plan of who she was going to contact for access and permissions to admit the street girls to the hospital she was training at. We arranged meetings with shelter staff and she met the girls that would go in to give birth under her care. The photo in this post is of the first street baby to be born in dignity. The street girl arrived at hospital supported, respected, soothed and cared for and delivered her healthy abd beautiful baby in a caring environment, for the first time ever. Thank you Yara for being the change we want in the world, thank you for being part of a new generation of medical students who give me hope that there is still good worth writing for, worth fighting for. Nothing quite beats the sense of achievement this brings. Here's to academia and knowledge that matter. Xx

One day I was accompanying a street girl to a doctor to see what we could do about her “rape scar” (a hanging piece of flesh under her right eye – a result of a knife wound she suffer after her first gang rape to mark her as no longer being a virgin).
On this three hour bus ride, one of the stories she bravely shared with me was of her birthing experience. She was praising the cosmetic surgeon who had seen her before for this rape scar and who she said had “treated me like a human being, not an animal”. When I asked what she was comparing him to she said the doctors that were there during her birth.
She recounted the experience that included over 20 medical students checking her dilation without her consent, her horror as the fingers roughly forced their way through her vagina of both male and female students who never spoke to her or explained what they were doing. She told me about one midwife who kicked her because she was screaming too loudly when she was pushing. What seemed to hurt her the most though were the questions and accusations of why she was having a baby so young if she was unmarried and why was the father not with her.
There are many horrifyingly painful stories that the street girls live and have shared with me; but this birthing one haunted me the most. The vulnerability and the fear that a child must feel giving birth, facing an unknown that even full grown, fully supported women find difficult was beyond my comprehension….
I went home and wrote in a simple blog about this conversation and about the state of the world in which we live. A beautiful medical student wrote to me, not an emotional email of how upset my post had made her, but a well thought of plan about what she was going to do about it to fix it.
We went through her plan of who she was going to contact for access and permissions to admit the street girls to the hospital she was training at. We arranged meetings with shelter staff and she met the girls that would go in to give birth under her care.
The photo in this post is of the first street baby to be born in dignity. The street girl arrived at hospital supported, respected, soothed and cared for and delivered her healthy abd beautiful baby in a caring environment, for the first time ever. Thank you Yara for being the change we want in the world, thank you for being part of a new generation of medical students who give me hope that there is still good worth writing for, worth fighting for.
Nothing quite beats the sense of achievement this brings. Here’s to academia and knowledge that matter. Xx

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This photo will forever remain incredibly dear to my heart… It was taken this week after the SAFE team had delivered training to my street babies on how to protect their bodies from sexual abuse and had just received their certificates of completing the training Thank you Sara Aziz and your lovely team for agreeing to deliver the training completely free to the shelter… i love you xxx

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Perhaps nothing in the world that I have done, or will ever do, could feel as good as being able to facilitate this… This is the angel reconstructive surgeon who generously invited me and my street girls to remove the scars I often talk about… I have blurred the girls face for obvious reasons… He performs these procedures for free… these are my alternative communities and the reason why I don’t fundraise. Up till 2012 Dr Hany Hamam had performed 137 reconstructive surgeries free to Libyan and Syrian refugees… he has since then also honoured my requests that he extend his offer to children who get bitten by stray dogs in Cairo, but are not necessarily street children. The one glimpse of heaven on earth, is to fight a losing cause; and not lose it.

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The great Rugby club in Egypt, moved by the blog offered training, donations and access to their grounds for the street kids they met.

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Mia who once wrote to me saying: “Hi Nelly, I just wanted to say that I am a huge fan of your work with street children and I was wondering if there is anyway I can help.” Mia has since been a reliable and dedicated friend and art teacher not just to the one girl I was looking for a mentor for, but to the street girls at shelter more generally. The feedback from the girls has been wonderful. It always means so much to them to have volunteers. They told me knowing people helped them for no money was the closest thing they felt to having good family. Mia is another beautiful example of how skills, and not money, build a more beautiful world, how we have the power to create kinder alternative communities to the ones we sometimes find hateful or unsatisfactory. Thank you Mia for helping me still believe in this world and for not just reading the blog and thinking it’s a sad world but for getting in touch and giving your all. You literally made the world a better place xx

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I personally believe that one of the best things that we can give these children, beside the basic rights and services, is love. The comfort and love that Shariff shares with the children is next to none… You honour and humble me with your gentleness towards the children and it’s no wonder you are able to calm the most irritable and comfort the most distressed of them… I love you for this xx

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A beautiful photo of the hands of little children in Canada and the bracelets they have been making for me to give to the other beautiful street kids that I meet along the way… what a happy moment this is to know that little hearts across the continents are touched and giving to other little souls so far away… These little children were so touched by the stories of street children in Egypt that I shared and wanted to make something they could post and that would be easy for me to carry around… They have an afternoon club called HOPE (helping other people everywhere) and they make stuff to sell for local charities… their project this time was for the street kids

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When the coldest winter hit Cairo, I used the blog and social media to ask everyone to share their winter clothes with the street children… An incredible effort started and the people involved are too many to even start to mention here… but the photo shows where the clothes were collected in London (thank you Judy and Tara) and packed and organised in Cairo (Thank you Ahmed Nader)… and the getting them from one country to another involved strangers and friends and everyone was just incredible with this… special thanks to Rabia, Tom, Su Zee who carried luggage… and all those who donated their kids clothes!!!

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The night before my wedding party in Cairo, I was at the hair dressers getting my hair done (yes, the local one, the night before lol|). Afterwards, at around 11.30pm I was meeting Nawara, Roba and Shady for the first time three angels who had been reading my blog who I had never had the pleasure of meeting before. After a couple of hours sharing some stories of the street children I had known, after they were moved to both laughter and tears, we agreed they would visit the shelter to meet the street children. What they did not know at this point was that I always have a filtering session with people while I was in Egypt to make sure the children would not be “used” by anyone for their work and projects (a decision I had taken when I dedicated my time away from PhD research to make sure I could give back to the children and not use them as mere subjects for my PhD data). But I loved Nawara, Shady and Roba. I loved the passion with which they spoke of their plans. Caravan – the group of story tellers and performances these three were part of, planned to engage university students, amateur story tellers, with the street children to tell their stories. A few sessions were arranged at the boys and girl’s shelters. None of the children’s stories were changed or edit. 13 children’s stories were told with the exact words and expressions chosen by the children, creating a new avenue for the most marginalised voices to be given a window of expression to an audience that would normally not have access to it. It was only when Shariff came looking for me and said “we’re getting married in a few hours, do you wanna go home get some rest” that I had to leave and that they realised I had a wedding in a bit But I left my heart and passion with the three who did an incredible job and something I am so proud of having somehow contributed to just by writing a blog, and they took this, turning it, through their weeks of practice and hard work into something extremely real, extremely valid and credible. One of the beautiful reflections made by the team was team: “By the end of the rehearsals period and performance date, we were able to identify a conceptual change to the tellers personal commitment towards the kids and their stories, and to identify with the show as an ethically challenging responsibility towards those kids and the acknowledgement that by telling these stories we are only connecting dotes between the young boys and girls and an audience of not more than 150 attendees.”

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The ability and the opportunity to inspire people into action, is an incredible gift.. The photo below is of two 14 year olds in America that I have never met. The children have been reading my blog posts on street girls and were moved into action. Diana, one of these 2 girls wrote to me over the last few months on how her and her church friends spent their spring break baby sitting, doing yard work and “hiring (themselves) out” to raise enough money to buy feminine hygiene stuff to put these bags together for each one of the street girls at the shelter. They’ve asked me to find a way to get these bags across so the children I work with know that other children think of them, care about them and are working towards helping them in some way. In the midst of all the horrific statuses and news and pictures shared on Facebook these days, these photos and this status are equally important. This is a reminder that you can inspire and be inspired and that you have the power to do and not just be ‘done to’… There is still good in this world; if you can’t find it or see it, then do it and be it.

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This photo was drawn by a girl who has been raped by her step father since she was nine years old. The incredibly brave mother gave up the little security she had in the form of a home and husband and having no shelter to turn to, left to the streets with Amal and her 4 sisters. The sisters got separated in different shelters catering for different ages, while the mother searched for a hospital who would issue a report saying Amal was no longer a virgin due to rape, so she could be admitted to a shelter. Having been subjected to two virginity checks at their local hospital where her step father worked, he was able to bribe the administration to change the report. Amal’s mother did not give up and took her daughter to a different town and after the third virginity check, Amal was admitted to Hope Village for Young Street Mothers (a shelter that homes non virgin girls – and yes, this split is necessary in a culture where a woman’s value is hinged on a thin membrane between her legs). Each of the girls was at a different shelter and their mother had nowhere to turn to but the streets, highlighting another gap in services that vulnerable women in Egypt must face. After reading the post about this girl, an amazing human in Egypt paid a very long period of rent upfront and we bought the woman off the streets and she is now in her own home with her daughters around her again – I’m currently working with Esraa on getting her trained on a handy craft so she can generate her own income.

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I received a call about a girl in Alexandria that was burnt so badly her bones were showing through. 3rd degree burns in over 80% of her body meant she was a liability to any hospital. Added to that was the fact she was a street girl so had no papers or ID. After 6 hours of media pressure, I received a call from the Minister of Social Solidarity who assured me that in the morning, an ambulance would pick the girl up and take her to hospital for admission. True to their words, the girl was admitted, her daughter allowed to visit and she has been promised a kiosk to be able to live off once she’s recovered. Thank you Nesma for being affected to get the right people on board 🙂

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Donna Coyle is one of the beautiful souls who having read about the street girls in my blogs got in touch to offer to be a part of this parallel world we create Since being in touch, Donna has faithfully and regularly visited the street girls shelter, after getting her friends to donate shampoos and creams. She arrives with her gifts to pamper the girls, do their hair and also teach them the skill of hair dressing so that they may pick it up and maybe earn an independent living from it themselves… Thank yoy Donna for reminding me of the absolute beauty that humanity still has to offer us… and on a personal note, thank you for giving a very real meaning to the impact of the work I do that sometimes leaves me frustrated, heart broken and poor you remind me it’s all worth it xxx

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a few days before Eid, one of the older girls asked me what time I would be arriving on the day of festivities… then she stopped speaking and looked at me for a moment before saying “Of course you’re not going to come… you have family and friends outside of here that you’ll be spending the day with”… She had shamed me without knowing because I hadn’t thought about Eid or who I would be spending it with… but in the end, me, Shariff and Adelazim bought the kids gifts and balloons and spent the day with them… it was the best Eid ever!

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After a day out, the little ones in the shelter who are starting their first day at school, were trying on their school uniforms bought by the lovely May AbdelAzim. New starts and hopefully a new life where these little ones can be spared the pain of their mothers… Also… thank you for the IceCream trip that was made to the kids 🙂

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It’s such an incredible achievement that this blog is being read in over 172 countries by over 105,000 people… The amount of awareness raised and help shared through it has been incredible… thank you xx

Looking into Fairyland – Street Kids in Ankara

This was just a photo status I shared on Facebook, but decided to add it to my blog so it can be a cheerful post on Street kids documented alongside the other posts that often are far more painful…

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النهارده في تركيا…  الصورة الأولى 3 أولاد بيتفرجوا على الملاهي من بره… الصورة التانية بعد ما جبتلهم ايس كريم و تذاكر الملاهي 🙂 بحب اطفال الشوارع

So I took the photo on the left… three little street boys in Ankara looking from a telescope on the rides in “Luna Park” at the other children with their parents. From the outside you can hear a merging of children’s screams and laughter and the loud music of the rides.

Then the photo on the right is of the three of them on the way to the entrance after I bought them some icecream and tickets to the fair ground. I had waited till they were gone, but they turned around at that moment to smile and wave 🙂

Three little boys in Turkey are having a great day in dedication to you because I was inspired by Shady ‘ s #documenting_for_yara and on your wall of happiness in prison I wanted the smiled of the three boys to bring you joy…

A special thanks to the ice cream vendor who played magic tricks with the cones which had the boys giggling shyly… thank you, ice cream man for treating them like children xx

As for me… The moments spent with these three cheerful humans have been the best thing about my trip to Turkey 🙂

Never shy away from doing little… because little is more than nothing

This one is for you Yara… #FreeYara

Street Children: Courts of Law and not Courts of Justice.

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When I first saw her, she frightened me.

It wasn’t the line of flesh hanging from her cheek (that I later learnt was a rape scar), neither was it the deep coarse voice that took me by surprise as soon as she started to speak. She didn’t frighten me because she shoved me back a little when I reached in to kiss her on the cheeks like I had greeted the other girls, saying, “I don’t like anyone kissing me” – it was my second day at the shelter and I was still naïve. This pregnant teenager unnerved me, because she was everything opposite to what I had known children to be.

And maybe it’s because she was the one that frightened me the most, that two years later, after a series of events and moments full of stories, that she is today, one of the street girls who is dearest to my heart.

She’s the girl I travelled three hours with to the cosmetic surgeon, the first of many girls who had their rape scars removed by him. She was the girl who walked into his surgery proudly presenting a candle she had made from scratch and wrapped for him – her only way of saying thank you “not for taking away the wound”, she said, “but for treating me like a human being”. She was the girl who made us laugh when we were on a bus transferring donated clothes to the baby’s shelter by hanging out of the door showing me how she used to call out for passengers when she was a call girl on the microbuses – the days everyone thought she was a boy. She was the girl who stopped eating for three days because one of the shelter babies had been taken away by her mother to beg with. She was the girl, who over time would hug and kiss me every time I walked in or out of the shelter. She was the girl who asked me “Does Shariff hit you? You know if he does, I have your back”. She was the girl who, knowing no other way to express her affection, as we were watching TV together, lay on the floor with her head on my feet. She was the girl who cried after her scar was removed because “my friends who are still on the street wont have this opportunity”. She was the girl whose son at the shelter was never seen not smiling. She was the girl who taught me about loyalty and friendship and healing.

Today she is the girl who starts serving time in jail. Her offence: begging

I try hard not to be a hypocrite. You know, I think: Okay, begging and homelessness are criminal offences, so yes, she must pay for her crime and be punished. But are things so superficial that my questioning should be satisfied at this level, or else I be labeled a hypocrite?! Because if it really were about fairness and justice, if it were about social contracts and law and order, then many other people in her life, personal and official, should be behind bars instead of, or with her, for their part and their influence on the life events that make begging an option, let alone the “better” one.

These people would include her father and mother who gave birth to her on the street, whom she fears so much she wets herself at 16 years old, when she sees them. With them would be the man who fathered her son by having sex with a minor and then leaving her to her own devices, taking to responsibility for their child, who appeared two years later and convinced her to leave the shelter but abandoned her again once she was on the streets. I’d also like the doctor’s who delivered her child in those prisons too, for humiliating her during labour, for not asking if it was okay for 27 student doctors to check her dilation, for telling her not to scream and had she not thought about this before sleeping around. In there too would be all those who work at the governments “correctional institutions” where, serving time for being “vulnerable to delinquency” she experienced even more sadistic levels of abuse and violence than those she found on the street – from being tied to the beds and beaten with the wooden planks, to being kicked in the face by supervisors who told her they were doing her a favor by keeping her off the streets, to hours of police beatings that they would randomly carry out when they would come in, lock the doors and “serve justice” as they saw fit, when reports of virgin girls in the buildings being raped were made to them. Yes, I would like to see all those individuals and institutions charged and behind bars.

But the courts and prisons are about law (at best) and never about justice are they. And so the weak will continue to be the easy target for those whose job it is to demonstrate the system works. Those who really have offended, will continue to offend because it’s too much hassle to deal with them and because they are the ones in power translating justice into practices that the poor and the outcasts can’t comprehend or object to. So no reader, no I’m not hypocritical to be angry that she is serving this time in prison. I am not hypocritical to say she does not deserve to be behind bars – at least not alone.

She was waiting to see me when I went back to Egypt. Shaymaa was sorting out a job for her at the bakery; we were in conversations about how best to support her during that transition from shelter to independent living. But who are we in the system to make those sorts of life changing decisions? I’ll be visiting her in prison this time round… a prison in Egypt where, these days, seems full of the most beautiful people I’ve known.

(^Picture from http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/news/nr/prisoners-voting-rights-democracy-criminal-justice-workshop-1.180575)

David Maidment: Founder of Railway Children, Inspirational

This world is full of  amazing human beings. Yesterday I met David who is one of them for sure.

A gentle man in his 70’s, awarded an OBE for his services for British Rail, David meets me in the court yard of the British Library, enthusiastically handing me a signed copy of one of his books ‘The Other Railway Children’. The next 2 hours fly by. Animated and full of stories of his travels and what he recites as coincidences and luck, which are actually strokes of genius and dedication, David tells me many stories that leave me inspired and I wanted to just give you a glimpse of that world.

He says “so when I was looking for a partner in India they told me me, wait till you hear what Matthew’s been up to!”. David starts by telling me about how Matthew, as an 11 year old had crumbled under the academic pressure and expectation his father (a docror at the time), had placed on him. The little boy ran away from home, was in and out if trouble with the police for years, sleeping in railway stations and ended up as teenager going to India as a page boy with a band and stayed there. During his time in India he had made friends with many of the street children there, sharing with them a history that they had in common. One night two little boys came knocking at the door, one withered by malaria. Matthew took them in and saw the little boy better. A month later, he had 6 street boys living with him, a couple month more and he had welcomed over 20 street boys in his home.

A little over whelmed he spoke to the children and told them he would not afford to keep them all in his home and proposed they all move together to another city in India where he could afford a bigger place for less money. The 23 of them moved the next week. Speaking at a local community event, unaware the mayor was present, Matthew spoke of all the skills these young boys had and how helpful they had become to their local community. After the event, the mayor said he’d offer him land for a bigger place. This is when David was linked to him and a beautiful place for Street boys was built.

Matthew married the social worker that worked in his new home and with the profits of the products sold by the street boys, they all decided to build a similar home for Street girls. Matthew passed away three years ago, his wife runs the girls home and the boy who survived the malaria now runs the boys.

Perhaps among David’s biggest achievements in Railway Children is his work on creating CAB (Children’s Advice Booth).. very early on, maybe 25 years ago, David realised that most of the work being done with street children was after they had settled in their new environment. What he then advocated is the crucial moment that’s being missed, that of the arrival of children, the first few hours on the railways. Recently 2 of the biggest rail stations in India have created CABs where the police, the staff and even passengers are all made aware on how to report and deal with a lone child at the station. Follow the success this proved, 10 new stations will follow this success.

The banker in India who had grown close to the kids who cleaned his car while at work was offered a promotion in Hong Kong. He said he did not want to go because no one would look after the children he’d grown connected to. The bank gave him an ultimatum and he left. His previous customers found out and funded the rest of his work with the children.

David,  who jumps from stories of his midnight round with neighbours helping drunk teenagers get home safely, to what he feels has been the most helpful mentoring of teenagers in local schools who just need, he says someone to show them options and alternatives, his stories about his travels and his passions come to an end with his own conclusion … “I’ll tell you what they need, children need a good listening to!!”

Be Socrates – The First Street Worker

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Yesterday I met a 23 year old girl who has just finished her second year at university, she’s incredible. She used to be a street child here in the UK. She had parents who could no longer look after her and she fell through the social services and child protection net and ended up on the streets. It’s always hard isn’t it when something like this happens in your own back yard? You cannot so comfortably shake your head in disapproval towards those ‘primitive developing countries’ that don’t appreciate the beauty and innocence of childhood. But I’m talking about a child who slept rough in the UK that you and I have never met. I hate statistics, but just for context, did you know that a child runs away from home every 5 minutes in the UK? That’s 100,000 children under 16 a year, and 70% of those children are never even reported missing by those who are supposed to care for and protect them.

She spoke for a while about her experiences and the negotiations she had to make to ensure her safety during the nights. As a child in London, sleeping on benches, in parks, riding up and down night buses, asking to lay on a piece of carpet at friends who could sneak her in after their parents had gone to sleep. She spoke about the ‘interest’ that she succumbed to during her years on the street, interest that she was lured into because of her need to be loved and cared for.

She spoke too of the tiny gestures of genuine kindness from adults and people on the streets who she considered the best types of ‘street worker’ even though they did not realise that this is what they were being, often’,she said those acts of kindness saved her life. She said that sometimes even a smile would change how the day was for someone on the street.

There was so much that was remarkable and humbling and empowering about her story. One of the many things I took away though, was how great this country is, how forgiving. Despite the many battles we need to still passionately pursue for gender equality, we must also stop to celebrate the huge achievements we’ve made so far. The fact that this young woman was given a second chance, is admired for her resilience, encouraged on her path or rebuilding, and not made to cower in the shame of a past she did not chose, as my girls must suffer in Egypt, is definitely a cause of pride for this country.

The other thing is, each and everyone of you is a street worker, whether you chose to be or not, the very fact that you use the street and are in it make you one. You can be the act of kindness that help the homeless experience a better day, or indeed, save their life. All you need to do is remember how incredible powerful you are. Do not refrain from helping because you think your help is insignificant, you’re not. Hold on to, and use that power.

And remember Socrates, yes the philosopher. Socrates devoted his life to the poor and underprivileged spending a considerable amount of time in street markets: the prototype of the street worker at the time. Be Socrates.

الحل البرازيلى

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نشرت صحيفة «المصرى اليوم» مقالا لكاتب أرى أنه ينبغى إلقاء القبض عليه بتهمة استخدام خطاب يحض على الكراهية؛ تحت عنوان «أطفال الشوارع: الحل البرازيلى».

ويبدأ الكاتب مقاله، بسرد الأخطار التى يمثلها أطفال الشوارع على المجتمع؛ محددا الجرائم التى يحملهم مسئوليتها، ومن بينها فيروس نقص المناعة البشرية/ الإيدز، إلى جانب الاغتصاب والقتل وما إلى ذلك. وبعد هذا السرد، يذكرنا بـ «الحل» البرازيلى الذى، يقول إنه قد يكون مؤسفًا، ولكنه شجاع! فى ضوء ما تعانيه البرازيل من مصاعب اقتصادية.

وأشاد بالقرار الصعب الذى اتخذته السلطات البرازيلية، موضحا كونه لا إنسانيا ويائسا، ولكنه ضرورى! ويذكر أيضا أن السكان على الرغم من معرفتهم بما كان يحدث، قرروا غض الطرف، من أجل المصلحة الكبرى للعمل الجاد، والمواطنين الذين سوف يستفيدون من هذا «القرار المصيرى» لإعادة النظام الى المدينة. ويقول إنهم كانوا يدركون أن التصرف الأكثر أخلاقية هو مساعدة الأطفال على الاندماج فى المجتمع، ولكن هذا من شأنه أن يتحقق بتكلفة اقتصادية عالية لا يمكن تحملها. ويخلص نصار عبدالله إلى الزعم أنه بفضل اتخاذ تدابير «شجاعة» من هذا النوع، نجح الحل البرازيلى فى تخليص الشوارع الرئيسية من أطفال الشوارع، ودفع ما تبقى منهم إلى الأحياء الفقيرة، ويشير إلى أن ما يسمى «نجاح» لا يبرر هذا العمل، ولكنه يبرهن على وجود إرادة حقيقية لتصحيح علل المجتمع، ويربطه بما تلاه من ارتفاع معدلات العمالة.

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وبالنسبة لمن لم يتابعوا الأحداث التى يشير إليها المؤلف، إليكم ملخص الوقائع: أطلقت فرق الموت فى البرازيل النار على الأطفال بينما كانوا نائمين خارج الكنائس. وقتل 50 طفلا مشردا أثناء النوم على أرض كاتدرائية كانديلاريا فى وسط مدينة ريو دى جانيرو، عندما أطلق مجموعة من المسلحين النار على الأطفال العزل فقتلوهم. وتم خطف أولئك الذين لم يموتوا، وضربهم وتعذيبهم وأطلقت عليهم الأعيرة النارية، فماتوا بعد أيام قليلة.

ولست متأكدة من المستوى الذى يفيد فى التفاهم مع هذا الكاتب، ولكن اسمحوا لى أن أتحدث بشكل مختصر وبسيط: على الرغم من كونك أستاذا للفلسفة فى مصر لم تفعل المبادرات النازية على مر العصور سوى جلب العار على كل من القادة والأتباع ومن يغضون الطرف عنها، من أولئك الذين يعيشون داخل خطاب تلك المعتقدات. فليس أطفال الشوارع مرضا يتطلب علاجًا؛ وإنما عرض من أعراض علل؛ ليس فقط المجتمع ولكن الحكومات والدول الوهمية والضعيفة التى تعجز عن وقف هروب الأطفال المعرضين للخطر، من البيوت والكبار والبحث عن ملجأ فى مخاطر الشارع.

ولتعلم، أن الأطفال الذين تتحدث عنهم، وحملتهم مسئولية فشل المجتمع، هم نفس الأطفال الذين كنت أعمل من أجلهم، لأكثر من عامين. وهم الأطفال الذين هربوا من التعذيب؛ من تقييدهم وإلقاء الماء المغلى على أجسادهم، لعدم قيامهم بأعمال التنظيف جيدا، أو عدم الانصياع لأوامر الآباء جيدا، والأطفال الذين هم أصغر من أن يتحملوا الانتهاك الجنسى والعاطفى والنفسى والمالى. أدعوك، يا سيدى، أن تأتى ولتعمل معنا لبضع ليال، وتقوم بزيارة الأطفال الذين ينامون ويتجمعون معا ـ طلبا للأمان ـ تحت الكبارى، الذين يتعرضون للاغتصاب كل ليلة ولكنهم لا يزالون يشعرون بالأمان، أكثر مما كان عليه الحال فى منازلهم، أو فى المؤسسات الإصلاحية؛ حيث يتم تقييدهم فى السرير، ويتعرضون للضرب بأخشاب السرير. أدعوك لمرافقتنا، نحن الذين نعمل مع هؤلاء الأطفال، إلى أجنحة الولادة والتعرف إلى تعامل الموظفين هناك مع الفتيات اللاتى تتراوح أعمارهم بين 13 أو 14 عاما، المرعوبات، اللاتى نأخذهن للولادة لأنهن يحملن، وحدهن، عار الاغتصاب من قبل أحد أفراد الأسرة، أو رجل شرطة، أو موظف الرعاية، أو أى شخص فى الشارع. أدعوك، سيدى، أن تأتى معنا ونحن نحاول استخراج شهادات الميلاد أو الوفاة بالنسبة لأولئك الذين لا يعيشون كمواطنين من الدرجة الثانية حتى. عندها فقط، يا سيدى، هل يمكن أن تكون فى وضع يسمح باقتراح حلول «شجاعة»؟

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ولكن، دعنى أتحدث إليك، على نحو ربما يمكن أن تفهمه بصورة أفضل. نشكرك على اقتراحك لكيفية تحسين علل مصر، لكنه حل لم ينجح فعليا. ففى 30 أبريل 1996، صدرت أحكام بالسجن على الضباط الذين تورطوا فى إطلاق النار لمدد تصل إلى 309 سنوات. كما توضح الإحصاءات الأخيرة أن هناك نحو ثمانية ملايين من أطفال الشوارع فى البرازيل (800 ألف منهم يعملون فى دعارة الأطفال) وكان معدل البطالة فى البرازيل عام 1993 نحو 5.4 فى المائة، بلغ هذا العام (5.2 فى المائة (بعد مرور 21 عامًا). وأوصيك بالبحث قبل أن تعتبر أن سرقة حياة الأطفال، نصيحة لإثبات جدية الدولة فى اعتماد نهج إصلاحى لمشاكلها. وأنا أتفق معك فى شىء واحد: حاجة الحكومة لإظهار الشجاعة. ولكن، يا سيدى، نحن لسنا من أهل الكهف، ولسنا نازيين. يجب أن تبدى حكوماتنا الشجاعة فى الاعتراف بأنها لم تدرك منذ البداية كيفية حل المشكلات التى تدفع بالأطفال إلى الشارع. يجب أن تتسم بالتواضع وتعترف بحاجتها إلى مساعدة من الباحثين المحترفين والعاملين فى المنظمات غير الحكومية، للعمل معا ومعرفة ما يقود الأطفال إلى الشوارع، وأسباب بقائهم فيه، كما ينبغى أن تظهر شجاعة فى استثمار الأموال من أجل تجربة الرعاية البديلة الخاضعة للمراقبة، حيثما تسىء الأسر معاملة أطفالها خارج المنازل! ولاشك أن هذا الكاتب يمثل حلا مفرطا فى الشجاعة!

‘Hunting Street Children Like Dogs and Shooting Them” is NOT the Solution! My Response to the Horrific Op-Ed in AlMasry AlYoum Today

I am writing this blog post today out of pure and simple RAGE!!

 

An article published in Al Masry Al Youm (regrettably, but appropriately named “The Egyptian Today”), an Op-Ed contributor, whom I contest should be arrested for hate speech and locked up pending investigation of being a dangerous psychopath, wrote an article entitled “Street Children: The Brazilian Solution”.

 

In this article, the author starts out by listing the dangers to society that street children contribute to; naming HIV/AIDS among the ‘crimes’ that they are responsible for, alongside rape, murder, etc. After listing these, the writer reminds us of the Brazilian ‘solution’ which, he says may be regrettable, but bravely, in light of it’s economic hardship. He applauds the difficult decision the Brazilian authorities took, noting how inhuman and desperate the measure was, but how necessary. He also mentions that despite the population knowing what was happening, they decided to turn a blind eye for the greater good of the hard working, worthy citizens who would benefit from this ‘determined decision’ to bring back order to the city. He says they knew it would be more ethical to help the children reintegrate into society, but that this would come with a high economic cost that they could not afford. He concludes by saying, it is by taking brave measures such as this, that the Brazilian solution worked in ridding the main streets of street children and pushing what was left over from them in to favelas. He notes that the so called ‘success’ may not excuse the action, but what it does do is demonstrate a real will for correcting the ills of society and he links this to a following rise of employment.

 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the events the author is referring to, here is an unemotional, factual summary. Death squads in Brazil, shot children whist they were sleeping outside churches. 50 homeless children were sleeping on the grounds of the Candelaria cathedral in downtown Rio de Janeiro, when a group of gunmen drove past, shooting unarmed, sleeping children, to their deaths. Those who did not die, were abducted, beaten, tortured and shot. They died a few days later.

 

I am unsure as to the level I need to engage this author with but let me keep this brief and simple, as I am unsure he has the intellectual capacity of understanding much of what I will say – despite the fact that you are a professor of philosophy in Egypt (apparently). Sir, Nazi initiatives have done nothing over the ages but bring shame to both the leaders and followers and blind eyes of those who live within a discourse of those beliefs. Street children are not a disease for which you try to find a cure. Street children are but a symptom of the ills, not only of society but of delusional and weak governments and states that cannot stop the vulnerable children from escaping abusive homes and adults and finding refuge in the dangers of the street.

 

The children you speak of and whom you place the burden of responsibility on, for a failing society, are the same children I have worked for, for over two years. They are children who have escaped torture, ran away from being tied and scorched with boiling water for not cleaning well, for not giving blow jobs to step parents well, children who are too young to endure sexual, emotional, psychological, financial abuse. I invite you, Sir, to come and work with us for a few nights and visit the children who sleep huddled together for safety under bridges, who get raped every night but still feel safer than in their own homes or the correctional institutions where they are tied to beds and beaten with their wooden frames. I invite you to accompany us, who work with these children, to the maternity ward and see the abuse of the staff there towards the frightened 13 or 14 year olds who we take in to give birth as they carry the shame, alone, of being raped by a family member, or a police man, or a carer, or someone on the street. I invite you, Sir, to come with us as we try and issue ID, birth or death certificates for those who do not even make is as second class citizens. Only then, Sir, can you be in a place to suggest ‘brave’ solutions!

 

But let me speak to you, in a manner that you may understand a little better: Thanks for your suggestion of how we might improve the ills of Egypt, but it DOESN’T actually work. On 30th April 1996 those police officers involved in the shooting were sentenced to 309 years in prison – not so much of a blind eye after all. Also, the latest statistics show that there are almost 8,000,000 street children in Brazil (800,00 of them child prostitutes) and the unemployment rate in 1993 in Brazil was 5.4%, this year it’s 5.2% (21 years later). I recommend you do your research before suggesting that stealing the lives of children is the recommendation for demonstrating state seriousness in adopting correctional approaches to it’s problems.

 

I agree with you on one thing: a need for a government to show bravery. But, Sir, we are not cavemen, neither are we Nazi’s. Bravery must be shown by our governments in admitting they have not got the first clue on how to solve the problems that lead children to the street. They must be humble in admitting they need help from professional researchers and NGO staff to get together and find out what’s leading the children to the streets, why they stay there and they must be brave in investing money to trial solutions of monitored alternative care where families have abused their children out of their homes! This Mr Op-Ed writer is a far braver solution.

 

Below are a couple of photos of some of the street children I have met, none of them have committed crimes, none have raped anyone, none have HIV/AIDS, none are stealing anyone’s jobs. Does your suggestion for brave measures include ‘fishing’ and ‘shooting’ these little ones? Or will the cute ones escape the executioner?!

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Update: The article has been successfully taken down from the Newspaper’s online website!! Well done for the public outrage that made the newspaper bring it down!! For those who missed it… Here is a copy

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I’m going to start this post by telling you what criminals who traffic children into the UK do to them as soon as they arrive in the country. They dress up as British police, take them to abandoned buildings, beat and violently gang rape the children. They do this to scare the child from authority, so that they don’t trust anyone that approaches to help them. I’ve always believed that torture was never just about physical abuse. Torture is about that and about taking away any hope you have that this torture can stop, or that one day you can reach out to someone who can help make it all go away.

On the records, 10 children are trafficked into the UK every week, destined for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude or child labour – that’s over 500 children a year. Imagine who many more never come to the authority’s attention? 6 out of the 10 children, who are recorded eventually as trafficked, disappear. The authorities don’t find them and no one really ever knows what happens to them. But an even more audacious problem is that even when the children come to the attention of the authorities, they are often prosecuted for the offenses they have been forced to commit.

It’s an important moment for us in the UK. It’s important because we can DO something about it. Britain is publishing the world’s first Modern Slavery Bill under which perpetrators of the crime will be jailed for life. The Modern Slavery Bill is the first of its kind in Europe, and one of the first in the world, to specifically address slavery and trafficking in the 21st century. Though this is all excellent and great – we need children to be specifically referred to so that they are afforded legal guardianship to protect them and keep them in the system. The Netherlands and Scotland are GREAT at doing this.

We need to lobby for three things:

–       Every child should have a legal guardian – someone to ensure they get the support they need to stay safe

–       Trafficked children should not be prosecuted for crimes they have been forced to commit

–       There should be a specific offense for child trafficking and exploitation

To find out more about the Modern Slavery Bill:

http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/joint-select/draft-modern-slavery-bill/

I recently attended a UNICEF campaign training session and I want to share with you the following information on how you can help. Do this – it doesn’t take time, it DOES make a difference and it will make you feel amazing when something gets done… so here it is…

If you don’t feel up to meeting your MP… please write this letter to the Home Secretary, Theresa May. Make sure you include your own address in the letter. Here’s the address to save you time searching for it:

Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Secretary of State for the Home Department
The Home Office
2 Marsham St
London SW1P 4DF

And if you don’t know what to write – here’s a good template you can use:

To the Rt Hon Theresa May MP,

I’m devastated to know that at least 10 children are trafficked every week in the UK.

The Modern Slavery Bill has the opportunity to transform the lives of trafficked children by making sure law protects them. Please don’t let the Bill fall short of its potential. For every child who has been sold, sexually exploited or forced into slavery, I urge you to ensure the Modern Slavery Bill includes strong measures to protect children. Specifically:

  • Every unaccompanied child should have a legal guardian – someone who is there to look out for them, hold authorities to account and help children cope with any abuse they’ve experienced.
  • It’s shameful that trafficked children are prosecuted for crimes they have been forced to commit. The law must be changed to protect them.
  • Very few child traffickers are ever held to account under current laws. There needs to be a specific offence for child trafficking and exploitation, to ensure those responsible are prosecuted. 

If you are feeling up to it and want to do more than write the letter, contact your MP’s office to book an appointment. Try calling and follow up with an email. All you need to do is take the above letter and tell them you would like him or her to attend the next scheduled reading of the Modern Slavery Bill and would like them to represent your concerns in child protection and that the laws on prosecuting the children and not affording them legal guardianship needs to change.

Ask your MP to keep you informed about what is happening with the Bill – it’s your right to ask this. Remember the MP represents YOU.

To find your MP

http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/

Some General Information on Child Trafficking:

Trafficking in persons’ shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs (Palermo Protocol, adopted 2000)

  • Child trafficking differs from adult trafficking in that it need not involve coercion or deception
  • Any situation involving children being recruited and moved for the purposes of exploitation is considered trafficking as a child is deemed unable to give consent to their own exploitation

I hope you’ve found this post helpful. If you have and you write the letter or visit your MP, please write and let me know.

Picture from the UNICEF campaign website.

The Air that we Breathe… Too much for Street Kids?

As you clicked on this link to open it and read this post, you breathed, right? You just did it again. And again, right there, you did it again. Breathing, it’s so natural, so taken for granted.

Today a little 1 day old baby couldn’t find those breaths, and she couldn’t get the help other babies are afforded to find it.

The thing is, after I got the news that she had died, I stopped to think what went wrong? What had I not done? What wasn’t enough?

I received a message this morning at 07.18 saying: “Nelly quick, we need help. We need an incubator for a baby born yesterday or she’ll die.” Thankfully I was up early because I had to go with a family member to hospital as they were getting tests, and I saw the message 12 minutes later at which point I started tweeting and posted a Facebook status asking people to put me in touch with a doctor or hospital who could help us. At 08.26, less than an hour later, a doctor and hospital had been identified, a few minutes later, the exact needs were identified and an ambulance was on its way. But the hospital the baby was originally at, had no support, so from last night this little human was struggling for her life, with no life support machine, no incubator, no nothing. They didn’t even have a pediatrician who could accompany the baby on her journey so she had to wait some more till that was arranged.

What was incredible was that in the 56 minutes it took to get a volunteer doctor and hospital, I got offers of donations from around the world, people I know and those I don’t know. The one’s who knew me said they knew I don’t accept donations, but if I made an exception for an emergency, they’d be happy to help. But Shariff and I could have sent the money. The money was an issue of course, because that’s the reason the baby was born at that hospital in the first place, but I realised today that money cant even help the poor. We couldn’t find an incubator – that was the problem!! A friend tried to call three private hospital emergency numbers, they didn’t pick up. One charity, we were told, could only accept kids of a certain religion. The only movement we were getting was from people who value life equally. Why do I say that? Because I’ve been told that the street kids who die shouldn’t be mourned because of the suffering that life would give them. I swear someone said that!!

But what went wrong? Till now, Nada’s mother doesn’t know her baby has died, she’s not doing too well after the birth and everyone is too worried to tell her. What will we tell her? Won’t she, like every other mother want to know who’s to blame? Who’s fault was it? Was it my fault that there was a 12-minute delay? Was it Egypt’s fault because it lacked a fundamental infrastructure that could really and practically help the poor? Was it mere negligence on part of the hospital? And that’s the point I want to make in this blog? Who will fight for Laila’s right to find out what happened to her baby and who let her down? Who will make sure the hospital admits to its shortcomings and mistakes that led to the newborn’s death? Who, in the midst of the political hysteria and taking sides will take time out to make sure that the basic right to life that was stripped Nada and Laila is investigated, understood, reprimanded, compensated? Though even that is not enough?

This baby’s mother was very special to me. She was one of the girls from the shelter I had previously written about. The only virgin girl at the shelter who had sparked the controversy of whether the girls should continue to be divided according to virginity. Her presence in the shelter had aggravated the girls there, most of whom bore the scars of their rape, not only in their spirits, but in the form of a fleshy piece of meat hanging from their cheeks, a result of a carving with a pen knife street girls get after their first gang rape. Laila had escaped that fate, but her presence at the shelter bought her even closer to it. The girls, having convinced themselves that the staff there had more respect and love for her because she was a virgin, had planned that a taxi driver and some street boys kidnap and rape her. We found this out just in time and sent her to another shelter telling her we needed help with the younger kids there. She, in her sweet nature was unaware of the conspiracy and unaware of the efforts made to protect her from it.

After I’d written a blog about this, an interesting thing happened. I got help not only for her, but also for the girls who had planned this attack; after all they too were children who had others conspire against them. A reconstructive surgeon offered his services, clinic and staff for free to help my street girls have the rape scars removed and an incredible lady offered to pay what was left from Laila’s fiancé’s debts so they could get married and she could find a way out of the shelter and off the street. I remember how Laila found a way to call me from Cairo after I had returned to London, to tell me she was getting married on that day and that she was thinking about me even though she knew it wasn’t me who had paid the money. This gesture of gratitude was not only characteristic of Laila, but of street kids in general, you do one thing for them and they would happily lay their lives for you in return; one of the many things they taught me.

I couldn’t help compare the medical center we were in, the children’s pictures on the walls, the surviving children who came here no matter how rich or poor, no matter what class they were from, to the hospital little Nada was fighting for her life in. Can we not create a team of people who could dedicate a fraction of their time and hospital staff and efforts to taken care of these children as they give birth? Just like the reconstructive surgeon Dr. Hany Hamam who ended up a true part of our team and performed many procedures, not only on street kids but children who had been deformed by stray dog attacks. Laila was one of the “lucky” ones because she went there with a husband. The girls who’ve been raped get humiliated when they go there to give birth alone, usually used for training, as one girls said “because we know they’re doing us a favour, we can’t really say no to the 20 students they bring in to put their fingers in us to learn what it is for a woman to be dialated. You know, they have to learn and they can’t do that with daughters of real people (welaad naas)”. Can we not get together and have a place for these girls to go to give birth where they are treated with dignity and a respect for their life?

Though little Nada’s life was ever so brief, only taking with her the few breathes her tiny lung managed on it’s own, she was special in how she got people to work together from all sorts of backgrounds and places. She didn’t make it, but in a world where her breaths were not as valued as other baby breaths, then maybe this world didn’t deserve her after all.

 

 

Image from: http://www.sciencemediacentre.co.nz/2011/04/14/stillbirth-new-zealands-quiet-epidemic/empty-cot/

Des histoires… indicibles… Les “chanceux” enfants des rues.

 

 

Je viens de trouver par hasard cette photo, sur Facebook. C’est l’une parmi celles difficiles d’ignorer, n’est-ce pas. Cela fait longtemps, chaque fois que je ferme mes paupières, je vois cet enfant en guenilles dormir sur le coffre d’une Mercédès, parallèle à un chien errant, dormant par contre au-dessus d’une Kia. Mais cela ne dure pour de vrai que quelques jours; comme vous, lecteur, le reflet va disparaitre comme j’étais prise par la vie quotidienne, son va-et-vient ou probablement par la politique ou les désastres naturels. Je dirais que c’est normal…

Pourtant il y a une autre chose qui me vient à la tête lorsque j’examine la photo. L’histoire. Je n’ai jamais vraiment pensé a cela, mais en tombant sur cette photo, je me rends compte à quel point sont incroyablement chanceux, les enfants avec lesquels je travaille. Je n’arrive pourtant pas à croire que je viens de taper cela! L’ironie! Mais ils sont chanceux, ils sont plus chanceux que ce petit puisqu’ils ont, plus qu’un refuge, ils ont trouvé malgré tout une oreille a l’écoute de leurs histoires et une passerelle de leurs voix.

Cela m’a fait penser a quelque chose que Stephen King a autrefois écrit dans “Différentes saisons” alors qu’évidement il écrivait sur une autre chose : ” Les choses les plus importantes sont les plus difficiles à dire. Ce sont les choses dont tu as honte, parce que les mots les réduisent- les mots réduisent les choses – qui ont semblé sans limite quand elles étaient encore et seulement dans ta tête – a plus rien lorsqu’elles s’expriment. Mais c’est plus que ça, n’est-ce pas? Les choses les plus importantes se trouvent tellement proches de ton “cœur secret”, comme un point de repère à un trésor que tes ennemies aimeraient le filer en douce. Et il se peut que tu fasses des révélations qui te coutent très cher, rien que pour avoir des gens qui te regardent bizarrement, ne comprenant rien de ce que tu as raconté, ou pourquoi tu as pensé que c’était aussi important que tu as presque pleuré pendant que tu le disais. C’est le pire, je pense. Quand le secret reste enfermé a l’intérieur, non par besoin d’un conteur mais par besoin d’une oreille compréhensive.”

Je regarde de nouveau la photo et je vois les chaussons, gardées en une telle haute estime, bien supérieure à l’enfant lui-même. S’agit-il sans doute d’une possession de valeur dans l’impitoyable dureté de la rue qui est devenue leur premier nom – “Enfant de la rue”… Je vois la bouche ouverte et me demande quels mots s’évadent de ces souffles, et les pieds croisés et en raison de mon travail avec les enfants des rues je sais que cet enfant les a vu décroisés de force. Toutes les histoires racontées et jamais racontées dans ce seul paragraphe me tourmenteront comme celles que j’ai écoutées. Les histoires de ces fenêtres qui regardent cet enfant mais n’ont, semble-t-il, pas d’espace pour embrasser cette enfance.

Pourquoi suis-je en train d’écrire cela? Parce que j’ai réalisé qu’a défaut d’adopter ces enfants, de mener des actions de lobbying en leur faveur ou de leur fournir des alternatives, il y a autre chose que les gens puissent faire pour les aider; c’est au moins d’être là et de les écouter. Quand bien même que les enfants mentent, leurs mensonges ne sont souvent aussi sadiques que la réalité qu’ils cachent. J’ai bien appris cela au centre d’accueil quand Sarah nous imitait comment elle mendiait et racontait aux gens que son père fut tué et qu’elle était devenue responsable d’une mère handicapée et de 4 petits frères et sœurs. Cela m’a ébahi parce que sa vraie histoire, qu’elle s’est enfuie car son père avait l’habitude de verser de l’eau bouillante sur son corps, rien que pour les plaisirs de sa belle-mère, aurait secouée plus profondément les passagers. Rien qu’écouter les histoires qu’ils veulent raconter et voir une photo pareille, pour se rendre-compte qu’il y a des histoires manquant une oreille compatissante.

 

Article original: www. Par Nelly Ali. Titre: Stories… Untold… The “Lucky” Street Children

Traduit par: Nourhane Agamawy

 

Child Street Mothers – Being the Best Mothers They Can Be.

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“She works at a sugar factory 28 days a month and she comes to the shelter to stay over 2 days a month. On her way here, she spends every penny she has earned buying food, toys and clothes for Noor.” Shaymaa was telling me about 14 year old Basma because she was due to the shelter today to spend those precious two days with 14 month old Noor. Basma suffered from schizophrenia, fell pregnant in Upper Egypt, and was abandoned by the boy who repeatedly raped her once she was with child. At 12 years old she tried to convince her parents to accept her new born, and had called Shaymaa three days after taking the baby to her home, telling her to come save the little child who had been locked in the chicken den by her grandfather in an attempt to ‘hide the shame’ that would come to the family if their neighbours came to know of her. Shaymaa had made the nine-hour journey to save Noor from the neglect that she so bravely endured and which Basma has so bravely took action against.

That day at the shelter, Noor was in her element and would not leave her shy mother’s lap. Basma had a way of saying Noor’s name; which elongates the vowels in a melodic tone that only those from upper Egyptians know how to utter and Noor recognised the difference in how her name was said by her mother in contrast to all of us and would always smile after its utterance and quickly drop her head on Basma’s shoulder or bosom. Basma would start feeding Noor from the moment she entered the shelter, till the moment she left, very obviously trying to make up for the nurturing she believed Noor would find in the food and that which she feels she has deprived her of during her absence.

In the group therapy session, the girls were talking about being mothers and what their children meant to them. Some shared their fears of responsibility and of having to let go of certain hopes of a changed future because now they had a child that tied them to their past. Others said it was the only beautiful thing that happened to them and that it was a chance to give someone a certain type of love that they had been denied. Basma said, “I was just really happy with Noor was born, I was so worried that something was going to be wrong with her, the doctors were worried something would be wrong, but look at her, she’s perfect.”

This day was like any other day for the shelter and the ups and the downs. Maya who had been kept in an imaginary circle for 3 years by her step mother till she was 6-years-old in which she had to sleep, play, excrete, wee and eat, and who had been violent towards not only Summer, but the other under fives came and confided in me telling me that she was violent towards Summer because she wants her to grow up into a tough woman and not to be afraid. She told me that life is violent, full of bad people who hurt weak people, that there were only those two categories, that she didn’t want Summer to be part of the latter group and end up being hurt like she was before she became strong. It was the first time Maya had opened up to me about strength and weakness and what she thought of them. It’s always hard as a researcher not to share what I thought, or advise, but I was a human before I was a researcher and Maya was talking to “that” me. I explored with Maya the other ways Summer could grow with the violence, that it may leave her physically disabled, that she may become scared of loud sounds, just gentle reminders to Maya that she was not in control of how her intentions could pan out. Maya got up saying, “I hadn’t thought about that, I need to think about that because I don’t want bad things for Summer”.

Taghreed, the 16-year-old who would wet herself every time her father walked into the shelter to find her there since she was 8, who I am ashamed to have judged on the first meeting as cold and quite scary, would stop eating when 12-month-old Rana, whom she had socially adopted at the shelter would be taken away for family visits. Taghreed travelled a brave journey to remove a rape scar from her face, counting the stitches as the surgeon was taking them out, tears welling up in the corner of her eyes, fighting the pain. She had asked for a cream to hide it before I managed to organize this reconstruction for, but she had always refused to tell me why it was so important to her. On our journey back after the last visit to the doctor, she told me I could bring my camera in tomorrow because she was now ready to have a picture with her 6-month-old son.

Little snippets of a tender motherhood can be recorded in every on of my visits to the shelter, from laughter of the children in their child mother’s arms, to the horrific moments when you enter a child’s bedroom at night and within seconds she grabs her baby and cowers of her/him in a corner for safety. Children who become mothers before they have grown are children who try the best they can with what they have. This is why I tore up my university business card and replaced it with my own that reads: I go to university to teach and I go to my street children to learn.

Happy Mothers Day to all the child street mothers, all over the world.

Street Girls and the Female Stuff: On Toilets, Periods and Sanitary Towels

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I always try to hold my pee until I go home. Not just in Cairo, but in London, in Germany, in the USA, wherever I am. I have this feeling that my pee needs to pass somewhere clean, somewhere, where I know the people who own the pee that passed before mine. Yes, sometimes that meant bouncing between legs, jumping up and down holding it in. It also meant at times a few drops would escape betraying my control. That didn’t matter, because at home, there was a clean shower next to the toilet and laundry basket and clean clothes. It’s because of this, pretentious need, that I had not had to use any of the shelter toilets till that day.

I had developed a urinary tract infection while I was in Cairo and holding in my pee was more difficult than usual and so, in the spirit of sharing the experience, being the “real” participant observer I was trying to be at the shelter, I excused myself to use the toilet. I knew where it was because I had stood outside it once trying to calm a girl who was self harming inside, trying, along with others to reassure her she was loved. It didn’t smell, but it was dirty, everything was broken, the tiles, the mirror, the toilet seat and there were drops of blood on the sink and the walls. As soon as I closed the door, I gagged. The cockroaches that scurried in such a hurry from between the hinges, or where ever it was they were coming from made me gag. I hold cockroaches, I gently place them outdoors when I see a someone holding a slipper to attack one, so don’t get me wrong, reader; I wasn’t gagging because I was scared of spiders. I gagged because the blood, the cockroaches and the broken everything where the shelter that the children ran to – what then, I wonder, of the circumstance that they were running from?

It was in Germany, while on an exchange programme that I was invited to a shelter for girls and young women. This safe haven was set up for them to escape the violence of the neighbourhood in which they lived. The vibrant colours were so welcoming, I was deciding on taking a few ideas for my future study one day. The smell of baked cookies warmed the air, the pot of tea, the ceremony of opening a library upstairs that a 12 year old had been guided and encouraged to open for the other girls; all so inspiring. I felt so happy and optimistic and prayed so hard one day I would walk into somewhere like this for our girls in Egypt. But when I went into their bathroom to wipe some of the milk that I had spilt on my top, I closed the door behind me and I cried. By the wall, there was a hanging toiletries bag with three types of sanitary towels and tampons. There were posters on the back of the door about female hygiene and numbers the young women could call anonymously if they had any questions or just wanted to talk about the changes that were happening to their bodies as they were growing up. And as my friends had so many dreams for Egypt, to fight for freedoms and rights, I was in a bathroom praying for period pads for the girls I had grown to love.

I remembered the first time I had retracted from my decision not to give money to the shelter. I dug into my bag on an impulse and gave Sarah 100LE and told her to go and get as many pampers for the babies as the money could get her. I am amazed at how judgemental and naïve I was when I first arrived to the shelter. I had such a fixed idea of how things should be run that I got so angry at everyone so quickly not realising the repercussions if things were to be done the way I thought they should be. This was one of those times. I had given the money in anger at hearing that nappies for the babies were rationed to 2 nappies a day. I found this out when I asked the child mothers what they needed from the pharmacy and they all, without exception asked for nappy rash cream. I started a pompous talk about hygiene and how they should wash and change the babies often and it was then they told me that they would, if they could. But later I found out that the reason the nappies are rationed is because the mothers, also children themselves, use them for their periods.

The day I needed to use the toilet at the shelter, I had just finished talking to one of the girls that I later found out was pregnant. I hadn’t realised it then, but I guess she was trying to get advice from me on how to abort a baby without having to go to a doctor, or dying. During this conversation she told me how one of her friends trying to abort a baby that she’d conceived after a gang rape fell very ill after drinking 25 bottles of castor oil as suggested by the street leader. She also recounted how one of her friends on the street had died because she had been advised to remove the foetus with a metal hanger via her vagina. According to her, the hanger went past her tummy and grabbed her soul instead and she bled to death. All the girls and boys that were around her ran away because they were scared the police would think they killed her. Was it the cockroaches that made me gag? I sat on the toilet seat, my body losing more fluid than just the pee, I cried for the things that we don’t notice and the needs that we can fulfil but don’t even know we can because we are so acutely unaware of what needs doing.

I am not writing to change the world or to inspire big changes, but to talk about the small changes that create an amazing ripple affect. How many people, who are good enough to think of the trials of street children, or their resilience, think beyond finding ways to raise money for shelter, food and clothes? It’s time we realise we can build our own small community in a world bent on ridiculing those who believe in utopia. It’s time that someone who works at, or owns a pest control company should go visit these shelters and spray them for the kids, someone who owns a pharmacy or works for P&G should get on to request they provide a monthly supply of period pads for the girls shelters.

We can create alternative realities, redefine utopia into something we can live; a cathartic moment, a moment that eases suffering. So for the mother who offered her breast milk, for the doctors who offer their clinics and staff, for the teachers who go over to read and nurture, for the dancers who go and give aerobics classes, for the lawyers who ran from police station to another making sure our street kids don’t disappear, for the other teacher who makes bracelets of hope with the children in Canada to send to the kids on the street in Egypt, to the hair dresser that goes every week to each the girls the craft and for all the others still figuring out how they can embody change, not out of their purses, but out of their entire being, it is you that give me strength to carry on and it’s you all who have created the utopia I live in. Thank you.

Laura, 11 years old writes her 6th grade project on street children, inspired by this blog.. Thank You!

A beautiful 11 year old girl by the name of Laura was inspired by my blog to write her 6th grade project on street children.. Thank you Laura for having a heart that cares, that seeks to understand the pain of others and from such an early age being engaged in their worlds… your love has honoured and humbled me… your direct, simple and sincere message of hope and change are real and the world would be a better place if we could all remember how easy and simple it is to help..

I am proud to share your little project on my blog…

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Grandchildren of the Street: Crawling in the Shadow of Charity

nellyali

I hadn’t seen Reem before. I had only heard of her when Shaimaa was telling me about strange names some of the children are given and how the shelter gives them nick names while they are there. Five-year-old Reem’s name on the birth certificate is Om Hammed. Reem watched me with eyes that shone with intelligence. Having lived on the street all of her five years, she was trained to eye up strangers and judge how dangerous or harmless they were just a few moments after meeting them; this is a talent most of the street kids you will meet have. She saw me playing with the others and watched as a few came to hug and be hugged. Out of the corner of my eye I saw how attentively she listened as they recounted their morning at the shelter and told me how Sally was punished for swearing at…

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BISR Postgraduate Conference: Inside/Outside/In-Between: Perspectives on Space, Power and Subjectivities – CALL FOR PAPERS

Proud to be part of the team organising this…

BISR Postgraduate Conference: Inside/Outside/In-Between: Perspectives on Space, Power and Subjectivities – CALL FOR PAPERS
Friday 9th – Sunday 11th May 2014  Birkbeck, University of London

Organisers
Nelly Ali (Department of Geography, Environment and Development)
Mayur Suresh (School of Law)
Ceren Yalcin (Department of Psychosocial Studies)

Confirmed Keynotes: Veena Das and Gail Lewis

Overview
Where are you? What is it like there? These mundane questions invite reflection on how we provide an account of the spaces we inhabit, how we engage with the world and make it our own, or escape it to forge our lives elsewhere. The central theme of this conference is the idea of “space”. To exist inside a space conjures images of confinement, or conveys the notion of being at home. Being on the “outside” invokes ideas of exile or freedom. “In-between” conjures ideas about the ability to traverse different spaces, or to live in perpetual no-where-ness. We are interested in not only how spaces may come to define and confine us, but also how we come to inhabit these spaces, and the range of movement that these spaces enable.

This conference provides the opportunity for PhD students from a range of disciplines to present and discuss their on-going work. We invite panels and papers from postgraduate students on issues raised by the conference title: Inside/Outside/In-between: Perspectives on Space, Power and Subjectivities.

Issues and questions that proposals might address include:

• Prisons may enclose us, jails may confine us. National boundaries may attempt to box us into discrete identities, forcing us to choose between belonging and alienation. Some spaces can be imagined as disciplinary projects. How might we imagine life in these situations? And what can such visions of life help us reimagine our relationship with sovereign power.

• Other spaces may provide us with comfort, and the warmth they engender may protect us from the harshness outside. Intimate spaces sometimes allow us to articulate more delicate sensibilities of love and affection. How might we politically imagine intimate spaces?

• Moving out of one space and into another involves crossing a frontier. At the border, we are often asked, why are you here? Where are you going? We produce our passports, saying as little as possible. Since the border is often policed, with armies facing off on each side, this space between spaces is often a point of conflict, rupture, revolutions and restorations. Yet crossing a border may signal a new life, or an escape from an old one.

• We also want to think of the body as a space in which people act. People tattoo and pierce themselves or may refashion their bodies in particular ways through gestures or medical procedures. What do such bodily practices and performances say about how we conceive of ourselves? People transition from one sex to another and allowing us to imagine the body itself as a border that can be crossed.

• From the Occupy movement to the Arab spring, and now to Brazil and Turkey, people have taken to the streets, and claimed cities for their own. What are these new forms of protest? What do they tell us about how the state imagines spaces?

• The internet has often been imagined as a space of freedom and has provided a new space of political activism. With Wikileaks and Edward Snowden’s revelations, our imagination of this online space has been irrevocably altered. What is the role of digital space in political activism? What kind of place is the internet?

Please note the above is only a guide and not exhaustive – all papers that focus on space, power and subjectivities will be considered.

Papers, Panel and Poster Sessions
The BISR Postgraduate Conference is an opportunity for PhD students from any university in the UK or beyond to either present an individual paper or organise a panel or poster session. If you are interested in organising a panel or poster session, you may put out a call for papers and email the organisers with the final selection or abstracts. Each abstract should be about 300 words. We ask that you try to ensure that there be at least 3 and at most 4 presenters for the panel that you put together.

Posters/Exhibits
We are running two poster sessions during the conference and you are welcome to present your research at this event to generate discussion or publicise your findings. If you would like to contribute to this session, please send us a 100-word summary of your poster.

Deadline for submission of abstracts is 21st December 2013. Notification of acceptance will be sent by the end of January 2014. Please submit proposed titles and abstracts of not more than 300 words to BISRpgConference@gmail.com by 21st December 2013.

For more information and updates on the conference please visit bisrpgconference.wordpress.com

Charity Starts At Home: A Young Man Carving a Charitable Home in the UK

It is too often forgotten that it is not always the global South that benefits, learns from or receives from the global North. This complex binary is translated globally, nationally and locally. We are not surprised to see British NGOs raise funds for a relief effort after a natural disaster abroad, or to provide services to migrants in the UK; however, it is rare to come across a charity founded and supported by British Muslims serving 80% of its beneficiaries from outside the Muslim community.

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Stories… Untold… The “Lucky” Street Children

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I came across this picture on Facebook today. It’s one of those that are hard to ignore isn’t it. For a long time, every time I close my eyelids, I’m going to see that child in rags sleeping on the boot of a Mercedes car parallel to a stray dog sleeping on top of a Kia. But that’s for a few days and after that, like you, reader, the image will disappear as I get caught up in my own life, the worlds ups and downs and perhaps in it’s politics and natural disasters. That’s only normal.

But there is something else that passes my mind when I look at this picture for a while. The story. I had never really thought of this before, but having stumbled on this photograph I realised how incredibly lucky the children I work with are. I cannot even believe I just typed that! The irony! But they are lucky, they are luckier than that child because they have, more than finding refuge, have found a listening ear to their story and a bridge for their voice.

It reminded me of something Stephen King had once written in “Different Seasons” though of course he was writing about something different: “The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.”

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مصر: الاعتداء الجنسي على الاطفال : وتغيير فى المناهج

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(Extremely grateful to the lovely Mohamed Ateya for translating this post – thank you!)

و ارتفع ذراعها الصغير فى الهواء و هتفت بشجاعة و حماس : “لقد فعلها والدى!!” سلمى _طفلة صغيرة تبلغ من العمر أربع سنوات_ قالتها و لم تكن تعلم حجم الصدمة و الالم التى خلفتها كلماتها بالمتدربين ربما لسنوات قادمة . فجاءت ردة الفعل المتحمسة لاحد المدربين قائلا “لا يحق لاحدهم ان يمس المناطق الخاصة فى جسدى” بينما قاموا بشجاعة (بالطبع شجاعة , فقد كنا بمصر فى النهاية ) بالاشارة الى أثدائهم و مؤخراتهم ليوضحوا للصغار أمامهم عن مقصدهم . و بعد جلسات خاصة لاستشارى الاطفال مع الطفلة تبين انه كان يتم التحرش بالطفلة من قبل والدها لفترة من الزمن . و بينما كانت الفتاة الشجاعة مع فريق العمل الشجاع الذين كانوا يؤدون دور رائد مع الاطفال قرروا ان يشركوا والدة الطفلة بالامر . و لكن انكرت الوالدة قول الطفلة و هددتها ان تصمت و قالت لها ان الاطفال الذين يكذبون تكون نهايتهم نار الجحيم , ولا تزال سلمى تعانى حتى الان . Continue reading

Egipto: El acoso sexual de menores y un cambio de curriculum

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(A huge thank you to the incredible Zaha Kheir (zaha@kheir-translations.at) for translating this post)

Su pequeño brazo se alzó con valentía y entusiasmo cuando dijo “¡mi padre lo hace!” La pequeña Salma, de 4 años de edad, no tenía ni idea del impacto y el dolor que sus palabras iban a causar en sus entrenadores durante los años venideros. Esta viva respuesta le vino a la entrenadora mientras decía “ningún adulto puede tocar las partes privadas de mi cuerpo” al tiempo que con valentía (por supuesto con valentía, pues estamos hablando de Egipto) tocaban sus pechos y apuntaban a sus vaginas para indicar a los pequeños que se encontraban enfrente de ellos a qué se estaban refiriendo. Continue reading

Egypt – Sexual Abuse of Children: A Change in Curriculum

Her little arm flew up in the air with courage and enthusiasm as she said, “my daddy does that!!” Salma, the little 4 year old, did not have a clue of the shock and pain that her words were to cause the trainers for the next few years. This eager response came to the trainer saying “no adult can touch the private parts of my body” as they bravely (of course bravely, were in Egypt after all) touched their own breasts and pointed at their own bottoms and vaginas to indicate to the little people in front of them what they were talking about. Continue reading

Street Children: She was rosy cheeked and bright eyed. But she was raped at 9.

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“A faraway place… where there are no people, only the sea and trees. Where people live very far away, because people are bad and they hurt each other and those who are good aren’t able and don’t know how to do anything about the bad people and they can’t help me”. This was Amal’s description when we asked the children at the shelter to draw a picture of what the best place they could think of (her picture is above). Continue reading

Because THEY are OUR Children – Egypt

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To get involved: https://www.facebook.com/clothesforEgyptsChildren

Right so this is the dream:

We set out collecting for Hope Village street babies and then realised what potential humans working together outside bureaucracy can have  Continue reading

Straatkinderen en de grote droom over Burgerschap.

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This post has been kindly translated into Dutch by Maja Mischke <@majamischke> and can be found in English: Street Children and the Big Dream of Citizenship http://wp.me/p1sf3y-9Y

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Het was duidelijk dat het 6-jarige meisje doods- en doodsbang was. De warme gele vloeistof die langs haar korte beentjes vol littekens naar beneden liep, voorbij haar knikkende knieën, sprak boekdelen. Haar heftige ademhaling en hartslag deden haar borst schokkend op en neer gaan terwijl haar smalle gebarsten lippen begonnen te trillen.

Ze keek naar de ingang van het inloopcentrum voor straatkinderen, waar ze zich op dat moment bevond. Een boze man met een lege blik in zijn ogen staarde haar daar vandaan aan. Haar vader was er achter gekomen waar ze de dag doorbracht.

Er is niet veel dat de staf van zo’n inloopcentrum kan doen om vaders of moeders tegen te houden als ze hun kinderen mee willen nemen, zelfs als ze op schrift toestemming hebben gegeven om ze daar permanent te laten verblijven. De wetten van Egypte belemmeren diegenen die kwetsbare kinderen willen beschermen tegen gewelddadige ouders.

Dus de staf moest toekijken hoe Taghreed zichzelf onderplaste van angst, terwijl ze aan haar pols de shelter werd uitgesleurd waar ze op een middag bescherming  had gezocht tegen de brandende zon. Het enige dat ze konden doen was bidden dat ze haar ooit weer zouden zien, maar dan hopelijk zonder littekens en blauwe plekken waarmee ze al eerder bij hen was gekomen.

Taghreed is geen straatkind dat helemaal alleen is. Ze heeft haar hele leven op straat geleefd met haar vader, moeders, broertjes en zusjes. Ze zijn ‘travellers’ en leven in de straten van de steden waartussen ze heen en weer trekken, synchroon met de religieuze festivals die er plaatsvinden. Want dan valt er wat te verdienen voor vader: hij laat zijn kinderen klein plastic speelgoed verkopen of –als dat niet lukt- bedelen. Natuurlijk is de aalmoes in de Egyptische samenleving van groot belang, maar je druk maken over waar die aalmoezen heengaan of je afvragen wat er effectiever zou kunnen zijn dan wat geld weggeven, gebeurt maar zeer zelden.

Taghreed vond het helemaal niet leuk om die spullen te verkopen waarvoor haar vader al haar geld afpakte. En heel begrijpelijk: ze vond haar vader ook helemaal niet leuk. Toen ze na een paar weken weer was teruggekeerd naar de shelter, vroeg de psycholoog haar waarom ze zo bang was voor haar vader terwijl ze zelf zo’n klein krachtig meisje was. Zonder enige schaamte vertelde Taghreeb over de manieren waarop haar vader haar vastzette in metalen kettingen, met de ketenen om haar enkels en polsen op slot, waarna hij haar net zo lang sloeg tot hij totaal was uitgeput. Veel straatkinderen liegen om sympathie op te wekken en zo wat geld los te peuteren. Maar Taghreed wist dat Shaimaa haar geen geld zou gaan geven. Bovendien namen de littekens op haar lichaam elke twijfel over het waarheidsgehalte van haar verhaal weg.

Uiteindelijk liep het uitgebuite meisje weg. Ze schoor haar haren, bond haar borsten af en leefde op straat als een jongen, in een poging om zichzelf te beschermen. Ze vertelt me dat ze diegenen die haar onrecht hebben gedaan op straat makkelijker kan vergeven dan haar ouders, waarvan ze altijd heeft geweten dat die haar juist daartegen hadden moeten beschermen.

Taghreed is één van de meest speciale en mooie meisjes die ik ooit heb gekend. Ze is betrouwbaar en loyaal en vergeet het nooit als iemand iets goeds voor haar heeft gedaan. Ze zit tegenover me, houdt haar vijf maanden oude baby vast en vertelt me over haar droom om een eigen ID te hebben voor haar en haar kind. Dat is het;  dat is waar ze van droomt. Maar het is een droom die geen van ons, die van haar houden en om haar geven, makkelijk voor haar kunnen realiseren. De ouders van Taghreed zijn niet getrouwd; haar vader slaat haar elke keer in elkaar als ze hem ervan probeert te overtuigen met haar mee te gaan om zo’n ID te bemachtigen en de bureaucratie schrijft voor dat het niet voor elkaar komt zonder zijn medewerking.

Er zijn vrouwen in Egypte die vechten voor gelijke rechten, voor het recht om te werken, om de voogdij voor hun kinderen, om te kunnen scheiden. Taghreed is een jonge vrouw die vecht voor het recht om te bestaan in de ogen van de staat, het recht om erkend te worden als burger, het recht om (in haar eigen woorden) te bestaan als mens. Dit zijn geen problemen die wij als samenleving kunnen oplossen door in het voorbijgaan wat geld te geven aan een straatkind waar we medelijden mee hebben. Of een paar pond vlees tijdens Eid (Offerfeest) zodat we aan onze religieuze verplichtingen voldoen.

Wij, als de eerzame burgers die we zeggen te zijn, zouden verontwaardigd moeten zijn over het feit dat sommigen ervoor moeten vechten om gemist te worden als ze overleden zijn, om een papiertje vast te kunnen houden zodat ze basale zorg krijgen als ze een ziekenhuis worden binnengebracht of basale scholing kunnen krijgen ook al levert ze dat uiteindelijk misschien helemaal niet veel op.

We moeten zo verontwaardigd zijn dat die woede verandering teweeg brengt. We moeten de sociale akkoorden weigeren te ondertekenen als zij diegenen buitensluiten die te arm, te zwak, te bang zijn om zichzelf onze wereld binnen te vechten. Onze wereld waarin we zó blind zijn geworden dat we verbaasd zijn als we horen dat iemand geen ID heeft.

Ik ken iemand die in het buitenland een ID kreeg op de dag van aanvraag omdat ze geld en connecties had. Taghreed is nu al tien jaar lang misbruikt en geslagen en heeft heen en weer gereisd met geld dat ze heeft verdiend op een manier die ze haat. En het heeft niets opgeleverd. Ze heeft nog steeds geen ID.

Als u dit leest en u weet een manier om Taghreed te helpen en ervoor te zorgen dat ze een ID krijgt zonder bemoeienis van haar vader en zonder dat haar ouders moeten trouwen, stuur me dan een email: nelly.ali@gmail.com Taghreed en ik willen daar allebei heel graag meer over weten.

En als u het ook niet weet, vertel dan iedereen erover die u kent- en vertel ze dat voordat we ons druk maken over met welke hand te eten zodat de duivel ons niet zal bezoeken, we een hand moeten uitsteken naar diegene van wie de polsen in kettingen en ketenen zijn. Voordat we ons druk maken dat we nooit met onze linkervoet een toilet binnen stappen, moeten we ons eerst eens druk maken over de voeten die op de zwakkeren stappen omdat hun stemmen onze oren niet bereiken.

Taghreed heeft zichzelf ooit aan een gewelddadige groepsverkrachting gegeven om een jong meisje, nieuw op straat en nog maagd, te beschermen. Zulke loyaliteit verdient op zijn minst een ID.

أطفال شوارع و الإعاقة وبيع الجسد للنجاة.

prostitutionThis post was translated from the original post: http://wp.me/p1sf3y-gH by Aziz Arafat (@MikoBello8) and edited by Ahmed Fouda (@Fouda_) – many thanks to your generous efforts.

كانت ثالث زيارة لى إلى الملجأ, كانت الأجواء سعيدة ذلك اليوم وهو ما علمت به لاحقاً باقتران ذلك بوصول مولود جديد. فقد عادت شادية ومعها مولودها الجديد إلى البيت بعد يوم من عملية قيصرية أَجريت لها. طَلَبت اذا كان من الممكن لى الدخول لرأيتها , فانا لم ارى شادية من قبل , دخلت إلى غرفة النوم والتى كان بها ثلاث أسِرّة بطابقين و ستة خزانات كل منها مقفل بقِفل على حِدَ. شادية مستلقية على السرير وهى ترتجف. شعرت بالفزع , فلم يسبق لى وان قابلت شخصاً مصاب بمرض باركنسون ( وهو مرض يسبب ارتعاش في اطراف الجسم ). فجهلى لكلٍ من المرض وأطفال الشوارع لم يجعلنى مستعدة لرؤية طفل مصاب بذلك المرض. كانت شادية تبدو جميلة على الرغم من أنه بدى على عينها اليسرى من انه تم اقتلاعها.

كنت جديدة  في العمل ببحثى مع اطفال الشوارع وأيضاً كنت غير مهيأة للشعور بالألم الذى كان يجلبه لى هذا العمل ولكن على الرغم من ذلك لطالما كنت جيدة بإخفاء مشاعرى ورد فعلي , لذلك ابتسمت وسألت شادية اذا كان من الممكن لى بلمس طفلتها هانّا. ابتسمت لى . كم كانت هانّا رقيقة ! كم واثقة وهادئة بدَت لى تلك الطفلة الصغيرة  وهى ملفوفة ببطانية صفراء اللون مُتبرَع بها. كانت مستلقية بسعادة بجانب والدتها غير مدركة لما كانت تفقده في ذلك الحين. اخبرتُ شادية كم جميلة بدَت ابنتها وتمنيت لها بان تنشأ ابنتها بحياة سعيدة. الان استرجع ما قلته في ذلك اليوم وتصيبني القشعريرة .

خَرَجتُ من الغرفة لأتحدث مع شيماء فهى أخصائية نفسية رائعة , والتى شعرت بانى أرتجف فحاولت طمأنتي. أخبرتنى بأن هانّا هى المولودة الرابعة لشادية كمحاولة منها لإقناعى بان شادية معتادة  على مثل هذا الشيء. شعورى بكونى متطفلة لوجودى هناك بالإضافة إلى صورة شادية التي كانت تراود ذهنى وهى مستلقية مع انعدام الحس الأسرى والتي كانت بحاجة له حولها. علمت بأن ذلك الشعور سيطاردنى مدى العمر ولكنى لم أدرك بأن هناك المزيد لقصة فتاة الشارع تلك بالتحديد سيكون مصدر أرق لي، مسبباً ندماً مؤلماً مثيراً للكثير من الأسئلة في ذهنى عن القيمة الحقيقية للعمل الذى ذهبت هناك لأقوم به (أو عدمها).

تركت الملجأ وأنا أقوى مما كنت اعتقد. تذكرت من هى شادية, فتم اخبارى بشكل بسيط عنها وعن ظروفها, هى شابة صغيرة تعيش في الشارع بعد أن تركت والديها المتعسفين تبيعجسدها مقابل مأوى . اعتادت شادية المجيء إلى الملجأ لتلقى الرعاية الضرورية عند كل حالة حمل لها بحيث تتركه ومعها رضيعها أو رضيعتها بعد أربع أشهر من وضع جنينها. أنا لست من هواة الإحصاءات ولكن عاملى الملجأ يقولون لى بان 20% فقط من الفتيات اللواتى يقدمن إلى الملجأ يتم اعادة تأهيلهن مجددا داخل المجتمع ولكن بقية الفتيات كشادية يعدن إلى حياة الشوارع , فلا يوجد فهم كامل لتلك المشكلة لقلة الابحاث التي تتناول هذه المشكلة الاجتماعية.

كانت شادية قد هربت من منزل ابويها وذلك بعد تحمّل رهيب لسوء معاملة اهلها تجاهها كإبنة تعانى من إعاقة حركية ومنذ ذلك الحين وهى تعيش لسنوات في الشارع (وهو ما علِمت فيما بعد أنه شيء مكروه أو تابو). ثقافة تملك الأطفال تلقى بظلالها الخطيرة على الصدمة التي يعانيها اطفال الشوارع ذوي الإعاقة في مصر وشيء كهذا عادةً ما يُنسب إلى الفقر والجهل , ولكن ذلك ليس صحيحاً , فأنا أعرف مهندساً ناجحاً يعانى من إعاقة حركية وهو من عائلة ثرية جداً معظمها من الأطباء , فخلال طفولة هذا الشخص كان يتم تجاهله وإخفائه من قِبل عائلته امام الزوار والضيوف علاوة على استبعاده من الانشطة الاجتماعية كالزيارات إلى اصدقاء العائلة ولكن بخلاف قصة شادية , لم يكن يُعتدى عليه جسديا من الأهل. فلا تزال قسوة وسوء معاملته العاطفية والنفسية التي تسبب بها والديه كرد فعل على إعاقته تسبب له المشاكل في الكثير من مجالات حياته حتى هذه الأيام.

انا اعتقد بان شادية اكثر حظاً من غيرها من الفتيات الفقيرات واللاتى لديهن إعاقة ويشعرن بالضعف الذي يجعلهن غير قادرات على تخيل حياة بديلة أجمل. سبق وأن اتخذت شادية العديد من القرارات التي أدت بها إلى الاستلقاء بجانب طفلتها الرابعة والتى تعرفها بأنها لن تحتفظ بها. ولكن على من نُلقى نحن اللوم ؟ ففي مصر, لا يوجد نظام رعاية واهتمام بديل لاطفال الشوارع, فاتجاه شادية لحياة الشارع كان الخيار الأسهل لها, كذلك الحال للكثير من الأطفال الآخرين على الرغم من المخاطر التي يواجهوها. شادية تبيع جسدها مقابل بعض الطعام. أنا اتعجب وأسأل نفسى, من يقبل على نفسه ان ينام مع فتاه لديها اعاقة مقابل ساندويتش او توفير مسكن مؤقت لها ؟, هل هم نفس الرجال الذين أتطلع إلى ان يقوموا بالمساعدة في ادارة الحملات معنا لإحداث التغيير وتوفير الأمن للأطفال المحتاجين، الأكثر تعرضاً للمخاطر؟

كانت جميع محاولات الملجأ قد فشلت لإعادة تأهيل شادية , كانت أولها إعطاء شادية قرض صغير لتفتح كشك للبيع ولكنها قد فشلت في إدارته, أيضا حاول الملجأ ان يُزوج شادية لرجل أيضا محاولة إقناعها لترك طفلها في ملجأ يسمى  ملجأ الأحلام وهو للأطفال تحت سن الخامسة بحيث يتركن الفتيات اطفالهن هناك ويزرن أطفالهن متى شئنَ , على الرغم من ذلك, باءت جميع المحاولات بالفشل مع شادية .

على الرغم من عدم قدرتى على معرفة قصتها بالكامل منها , اختارت شادية على أن أقدم أنا لها بعض المساعدة , طلبت منى ان احضر لها بعض الأشياء كمزيل العرق, شامبو وسماعات لمشغل الموسيقى لها. كان ذلك أقل ما يمكن أن اقدم لها . طلبت منى شادية خلال زيارتى لها في فترة العيد ان أقدم لها مساعدة لم أتوقعها , طلبت منى ان آخذ هانّا , قمت بحملها وضمها إلى صدرى ظناً منى انها تريد اخفاء ما تلقت من نقود يوم العيد في مكان ما, ولكن لا لم يكن ذلك ما خطر ببالى. هى أرادتنى أن اخذ أبنتها.

حَمَلت “هانا”، ظنا مني أن شادية تريد الذهاب لتضع نقود العيد (العيدية) بعيدا، فوضّحت أنها تريدني أن آخذ إبنتها معي، لأربيها، مدى الحياة

قضيت ساعة كاملة وانا أُحدث شادية عن مدى براعتها باعتنائها بطفلتها, كنت صادقة بذلك , فقد كانت هانّا وامها دائماً تفوح منهن رائحة جميلة  , وبدى لى مدى اهتمام شادية بطفلتها فهى دائمة هادئة لا تبكى ودائماً ما تكون مستلقية بالقرب منها, أخبرتها عن مدى حب هانّا لها وهو ما كان واضحاً بالنسبة لى، وكيف أن هانا ستكبر لتقف بجانبها وتكون سندا لها . كان قد بدى علىَّ مدى سذاجتى بعد أشهر من وجودى معهن, ولكن في المرة اللاحقة التي زرتهن بها, كان شادية وطفلتها قد إختفيتا.

لاحقاً وبعد بضعة أشهر, خلال جولتى بصحبة تغريد التي استغرقت 3 ساعات إلى الجرّاح   , وجدت أن شادية قد باعت طفلتها مقابل 500 جنيه لزوجين, وان ذلك الزوجين قد أخذا هانّا ولكنهما لم يدفعا لها مقابل ذلك.

بطريقة ما… شعرت بأنى قد خذلت شادية وشعرت بأننى السبب لما حدث لشادية لعدم قبولى باخذ طفلتها. ولكن المجتمع والحكومة محاسبين ايضا لجعله من المستحيل قانونياً لى أخذ هانّا. أُدرك أيضاً ان المسؤولية تقع على عاتقنا جميعاً بأن بلدنا لا توفر نظام رعاية بديلاً ومُرَاقباً افضل من الحالى للعناية بالأشخاص كمثل شادية. هانّا سوف تظل تطارد افكارى، وأتمنى أن تطارد أفكار كل مصري كان في إستطاعته وفي سلطته توفير بديل افضل لشادية وأطفالها وسلامتهم، ولم يحرك ساكناً

أطفال الشارع الذين يستعطفون الهبة مننا اليوم، سيتحولون للخارجين عن القانون الذين يضعون رقابنا تحت أنصالهم، وهذا ما نستحقه [إحقاقاً لتجاهلنا لهم]

Street Children, Disability and Prostitution for Survival.

It was my third visit to the shelter. There was a happy atmosphere today which I later learnt always accompanied the arrival of a new baby. Shadia had come home with her new born after a C-Section the day before. I asked if I could go in to see her. I had never met Shadia before. I walked into the bedroom that housed 3 bunk beds and 6 single wardrobes, each padlocked. Shadia lay shaking in the middle of the well made bed. I panicked. I had never met someone with Parkinson’s disease before. My ignorance, both of the illness and of street children hadn’t prepared me that a child with parkinson’s could end up here. Shadia also had her left eye gauged out. But Shadia was beautiful.

I was new to my research with street children and still very unprepared for the heart ache that this work brought with it. I am, however, great at covering up my reactions so I smiled, asking Shadia if I could touch her new born baby Hannah. She smiles as her whole body convulses and nods that I can. How soft Hannah was! How content and calm this little pink human, wrapped in a clean yellow hand me down blanket, she lay next to her mother blissfully unaware of all that she was missing already. I told Shadia how beautiful her daughter was and wished her a life of happiness bringing her up. I look back at what I said that day and cringe.

I went out to speak with the incredible psychologist Shaimaa, who having realised I was shaken, tried to reassure me. She told me this was Shadia’s fourth baby. In her attempt to explain this was something Shadia was used to, I knew that this image of her laying there, me as an intruder, the lack of family around her, would be one that would haunt me for lifetimes to come. What I did not know, was that there was more to this particular street girl’s story that would plague my dreams, cause aching regrets and raise so many questions about the true value, or lack of, the work that I had gone there to do.

Leaving the shelter, stronger than I anticipated, I remembered who Shadia was. I had very briefly been given a summary of her circumstances; a street girl who left her abusive parents and prostitutes herself on the street for safety. Shadia has come to the shelter to receive care during each of her pregnancies and leaves four months after she gives birth, taking her baby with her. I am not a fan of statistics, but the shelter staff tell me only 20% of the girls that come to them are rehabilitated back into mainstream society. The rest, like Shadia leave back to the street and research is acutely lacking so that there is no comprehensive understanding as to why.

Shadia, in her incredible resilience to her parent’s abuse of their disabled child, ran away and has been living on the street for many years. This too is something I have found to be taboo. Again, the culture of ownership of children sheds an extraordinarily dangerous and disappointing shadow on the trauma disabled children in Egypt suffer. It is also frequently misattributed to poverty or illiteracy. This is not true. I know an outstanding engineer who suffers from a disability who comes from an extremely wealthy family of doctors. During his  childhood he was “hidden” away from guests, not allowed out on family visits to friends and though not physically abused like Shadia, the emotional and psychological abuse that resulted from his parents reaction to his disability is still crippling in many areas of his life.

In extremely difficult circumstances, I say that Shadia is much luckier than many other poor, disabled children who are so vulnerable they are unable to imagine an alternative life. Shadia made a series of decisions that led her to lay on this bed with a fourth child she knew she would not keep. But who is to judge her for this? In Egypt, there is no alternative child care system worth the letters typed and turning to the street that is more bearable to her, as it is to many children with all it’s risks and dangers, Shadia prostitutes herself for food and shelter. I wonder who it is that would sleep with a disabled child in exchange for a sandwich and safety? Are they the same men I am hoping will campaign with us for change, for protection of our most vulnerable children?

The shelter’s attempts to rehabilitate Shadia have been many, from giving her a micro loan to open a kiosk which she was not able to run, to trying to marry her to a man she bought back, to trying to convince her to leave her child in the Dreams shelter for under fives which other street girls leave their babies and come to visit them. All of these attempts had failed.

Despite my not having got to know most of her story from her, Shadia picked up that I could be a useful source to her, so she would ask me for deodorant, shower gel, mp3 headphones. I would oblige; the least I could do. But it was during my visit in Eid that Shadia surprised me with an unexpected request. She asked me to take Hannah. I lifted her into my arms thinking Shadia wanted to go put away her Eid money. But no, Shadia wanted me to take Hannah, for good.

I spent an hour talking at Shadia, telling her how well she takes care of her daughter. It was true, little Hannah and Shadia always smelt delightful, she was so well taken care of, always calm, always close to her. I told her how much Hannah obviously loves her, how she would grow to be her support. I was still so naive, months after living amongst them. The next time I visited, Shadia and Hannah were gone.

It was a few months later, on my three hour ride to the reconstructive surgeon with Taghreed that I find out Shadia had sold Hannah for £50, and that the couple who took her took Hannah and never paid Shadia.

Somewhere in all this, Hannah’s blood is on my hands for not taking her when Shadia asked me to. But society and government too are accountable for making it legally impossible for me to take her. And we are all responsible that our country does not offer monitored alternative care. Hannah will continue to haunt me and I pray that she weighs heavily on all Egyptians who have the power to have provided an alternative for Shadia and safety for her babies and did not.

It’s the same street babies that pull at the strings of our heart today, that grow into the thugs that pull the trigger to our heads tomorrow. And we would deserve it.

I Hugged a Homeless Guy. We Didn’t Have a Choice.

homelesspatriot.blogspot.com

homelesspatriot.blogspot.com

I walked out of the station today on my way to an event on the future of feminism. I wondered as I was making my way there why I and others come to such events. I thought perhaps, we were like those of us who read literature in the illusive attempt to become “better people” or build an ethical moral system or whatever. I wasn’t entirely sure.

I saw a homeless guy sat by the railings before I crossed the road. I dug into my bag for some change as I approached and he said, “if you stop just for a few words that’ll be good”.  Ashamed at my crass gesture I said “how’s it going?” And we started to talk.

Lee started to tell me about his evening the day before when he fell unconscious and the paramedics had feared he had a heart attack. He complained that no one had stopped by to check he was ok before he “went out of it”. I offered him an explanation that perhaps people were uncomfortable with their fortune and it was easier not to see the truth, the result of their silence towards injustice. He replied, now with a tear rolling down his cheek, “If they feel embarrassed, imagine what it feels to be the homeless guy.”

I, a little more broken by this world of limited choice, offered “it feels like you’ve had a pretty rough night, you could do with a hug?” to which Lee got up and accepted. He hugged me, at first reservedly, then, when he realised I was not gagging from the smell of what it is to be homeless, that I did not flinch at the possibility of “catching” whatever it is that must be crawling on him, he hugged me. He hugged me like he had lost a child I had found for him, like I was a father he was making amends with, like I was hope that had decided to come for a visit. And I, I hugged Lee like I do all the street children and the homeless men and women I’ve hugged before him. I hugged him as an apology for all the love that missed them, I held him as if imprinting some sort of love that could stay a little longer than the physical embrace would. I hugged him, that was all.

He was now sobbing and he told me that it was the first hug he had since his wife died three years ago in his arms. Snippets of Lee’s life unfolded… from his time in the army where he was “happy to take a bullet for this country”, to his wife’s battle with cancer, which meant he had to leave work to care for her, to her family taking the house that she had just bought in her name, to not knowing how to get his rights from the system, to his ex street girl friend who bought him a guitar that a guy at the hostel stole, whom he beat up and ultimately was banned from there and ended up on the streets again… and so it went on.

It didn’t really matter what the details of Lee’s story was. But, two things burned at my core as I walked away. The essence of this encounter. My crippling shame that even I, who is passionate about street kids walked by a homeless adult, not seeing past the dirty nails to the snapshots of all his beautiful memories, his picture in his army uniform beaming with pride, his clean shave in wedding pictures with a wife that left him too soon. I did not smell past the urine to the smell of freshly cut grass running under his feet as a child, or that baby skin that must have bought his own family lots of cooing and smiles. If he was still any of those things we consider “normal” many more would have stopped to see what was so terribly wrong. We would have been appalled that this young man was out here, putting out his hat waiting for our charity and putting up with our arrogance. I remembered how often I had said that the street babies we feel sorry for today are the same street kids that irritate us tomorrow and the same adults that we fear their thuggery in the next few years.

The other thing I went away with was how we have fallen prey to the neoliberal lies of choice of which we really had nothing of. We do NOT have a choice. There are no jobs. The government has no capacity or willingness, to absorb you if you are not part of what makes it able to govern you more tightly and like Lee said “if you fall off the net, nothing’s going to catch you.”

We must come together to think how we will deal with this? How can we live letting our governments get away with treating ex army men this way? I hate the army, I hate everything about it, but what I do know is that while it exists, it will need to treat those it lets go better. It’s a recurring theme that the homeless have served their country and that they leave with mental health issues and are therefore more vulnerable to homelessness. We need to come together and talk about why charities like Shelter have to operate on a priority housing system that means Lee who is physically fit has to brave sleeping rough.

Or of course, we have the choice, don’t we, to ignore every Lee, walk a little bit faster wherever he is. We have the choice to comfort our conscious by wondering why the hell he doesn’t just engage in exploitative waged labour like the rest of us.

Crianças de rua: os grilhões da Vulnerabilidade

Este blog é para Farah, cuja coragem e força incrível permanecem inigualáveis em minha mente.

 

Uma das coisas que estou mais surpreso com o meu trabalho com crianças de rua é a forma como eles são articulados. Eles muitas vezes surpresa e humilde me com o quão bem eles podem expressar-se na narrativa. Enquanto fala com Maya, a quem eu agora tinha conhecido há alguns meses, eu senti que eu poderia forçar um pouco mais “Eu sei que sua mãe passo foi cruel e seu pai sempre teve o seu lado, mas às vezes parece que a vida que você levou na rua era muito mais cruel. Muitas pessoas me perguntam por que as crianças gostam de você escolher a rua, se não é tão perigoso em casa? “, Ao que ela respondeu:” porque é mais fácil de perdoar a rua, você não espera que ele te amar do jeito que você faz com o seu família “.

 

A vida de Maya tanto dentro como fora da rua é uma cheia de motivos para fazer você perder a fé no mundo e da humanidade, sua capacidade de resistência e risos, o suficiente para fazer você recuperá-la. É uma das coisas que aprendi com Maya, o poder de escolha entre dois males, entre os dois piores cenários. Crianças de rua, como Maya pode e geram respostas diferentes de pessoas que conhecê-la e ouvir a história dela, porque em uma série de escolhas, ela é muitas vezes feito as coisas erradas. A menos tolerantes vai deixar de ver que a negligência e abuso que sofreu em três anos de idade, não pode ter o seu equipado com o que é preciso para fazer melhores. Para outras crianças, a rua não é uma escolha entre dois crueldades lamentável, mas a única opção para a sobrevivência.

 

A pobreza é muitas vezes injustamente fez culpado como a razão pela qual as crianças de primeira linha são empurrados para as ruas. Desagregação familiar e violência são os verdadeiros culpados. Abuso é a culpa. Por que outra razão Farah estar na rua?

 

Farah é uma incrivelmente bela 14-year-old girl. Quando ela fez 12 anos, seu tio materno, Medhat, decidiu que era hora de Farah para participar de sua rede de prostituição. Ele ofereceu-lhe nenhuma proposta, ela era apenas a seguir os passos de sua mãe. A mãe de Farah foi trazendo dinheiro para seu irmão há anos e Medhat tinha grandes esperanças para o jovem Farah para acrescentar mais a este resultado. Admirável em todas as suas decisões, Farah recusou. Cliente após cliente iria reclamar Farah sendo arrastado para onde estavam e, eventualmente, Medhat teve de recorrer à violência audição.

 

Farah foi preso durante 8 meses a partir do teto. Neste mundo solitário que se tornou sua nova casa, e nesta posição, Farah foi estuprada diariamente por seu tio. Ela foi alimentada enforcamento, foi ao banheiro enforcamento, dormiam em suas algemas, e em sua capacidade de resistência, a menina se recusou a dar dentro.

 

É aqui foram precisa considerar as vulnerabilidades ao falar de resiliência. O corpo de uma criança, é fraqueza, é limitação, que apesar de tudo agência e de voz pode fazer para mudar posicionamentos, a vulnerabilidade física das crianças é a mesma coisa que o mundo adulto tem o dever de proteger. É esta falta de proteção, o que decepcionou a coragem de tomar decisões Farah ela não podia viver. E foi quando o corpo tornou-se ainda mais fraco, quando as amarras se tornou mais apertado, o roer de metal é muito além de sua pele até os ossos, ela fez sua próxima decisão.

 

Farah disse a seu tio que ela desistiu, que tinha ganhado. Ela disse que seria a “boa menina” que ele queria e ela fazer o que ela quiser. Desencadear-la, transformando as fechaduras das correntes que aprisionam os tornozelos e os pulsos finos, sua fuga foi planejada. Farah correu para a janela e se jogou do quarto andar.

 

Como ela sobreviveu é desconhecido para todos nós no abrigo. O número de ossos quebrados era manifesto de o desespero eo preço esta menina pago por essas vulnerabilidades físicas e escolhas resistentes. Ela foi levada para o hospital mais próximo, não só para os ossos, mas também para a pele desgastada em suas coxas e nádegas de ter molhado e sujo-se todos os meses, das queimaduras, onde foi amarrado. Mas, o que dizer do estupro? O que o trauma? E sobre o futuro? Cuja responsabilidade era para curar isso?

 

Quando ela estava bem o suficiente para ir embora, ela saiu para a rua. Foi então que a polícia encaminhou para o abrigo. No momento em que ela entrou em um momento em que todos os que estavam lá nunca vai esquecer. Shaimaa me diz que ela ainda pode ver os pulsos da garota de seus sonhos.

 

Por que eu disse que essa história, leitor? Você está enganado a pensar que é apenas para quebrar o seu coração. Eu nem sequer escrito como um lembrete das histórias individuais de cada uma das meninas na rua, como costumo fazer. Eu escrevi isso para que possamos começar a fazer perguntas diferentes. Eu estou compartilhando isso para demonstrar que a tentativa de convencer muitas crianças que a rua é ruim para eles é ineficaz. Para as crianças, como Farah, e, infelizmente, há muitos, a rua é a esperança, é liberdade, é amizade, é imprevisível. Até entendemos o significado da rua para as crianças, até que a primeira coisa que fazemos com eles não é reintegrá-los com suas famílias como prioridade para garantir mais financiamento, até que possamos oferecer alternativas, então podemos estar fazendo mais mal do que bem.

 

Street Children: Resilient Decisions and The Shackles of Vulnerability

Slave-trade-shackles-001

This blog is for Farah, whose incredible courage and strength remain unmatched in my mind.

One of the things I’m most taken aback by with my work with street children is how articulate they are. They often surprise and humble me with how well they can express themselves in narrative. Whilst speaking with Maya, whom I had now known for a few months, I felt I could pry a little further “I know your step mother was cruel and your father always took her side, but it sometimes sounds like the life you led on the street was so much crueler. A lot of people ask me why kids like you choose the street if it’s not as dangerous at home?” to which she replied “because it’s easier to forgive the street, you don’t expect it to love you.”

Maya’s life, both off and on the street, is one filled with reasons to make you lose faith in the world and humanity; her resilience and laughter, enough to make you regain it.

It’s one of the things I learnt from Maya, the power of choice between two harms, between two worst scenarios. Street children like Maya can, and do, generate different responses from people who meet her and hear her story because in a series of choices, she’s often made the wrong ones. The less tolerant will fail to see that the neglect and abuse she suffered as she spent years in an imaginary circle since 3years old, may have not equipped her with what it takes to make better ones. For other children, the street is not a choice between two unfortunate cruelties, but the only choice for survival.

Poverty is often unfairly made guilty as the prime reason children are pushed to the streets. Family breakdown and violence are the real culprits. Abuse is to blame. Why else would Farah be on the street?

Farah is an incredibly beautiful 14-year-old girl. When she turned 12, her maternal uncle, Medhat, decided it was time for Farah to join his prostitution ring. He offered her no proposal; she was merely to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Farah’s mother had been bringing in money for her brother for years and Medhat had high hopes for the young Farah to add more to this income. Brave in all her decisions, Farah refused. Client after client would complain hearing Farah being dragged to where they were and eventually Medhat had to resort to violence.

Farah was chained for 8 months, hanging from the ceiling, supported by a chair, with wrists tied behind her back. In this solitary world that became her new home, and in this position, Farah was raped daily by her uncle. She was fed hanging, went to the toilet hanging, slept in her shackles; and in her resilience, the little girl refused to give in.

It is here were need to consider vulnerabilities when talking of resilience. The body of a child, it’s weakness, it’s limitation, that despite everything agency and voice can do to shift positionalities, the physical vulnerability of children is the very thing the adult world has a duty to protect. It’s this lack of protection, which let down the courage of Farah making decisions she could not live through. And it was when that body became even weaker, when the shackles had become tighter, the metal gnawing it’s way past her skin through to her bones, did she make her next decision.

Farah told her uncle that she gave up, that he had won. She told him she would be the “good girl” he’d wanted and she’d do as she pleases. Unchaining her, turning the locks of the chains that had bound her thin ankles and wrists, her escape was planned. Farah ran to the window and threw herself from the fourth floor.

How she survived is unknown to all of us at the shelter. The number of broken bones was manifest of the desperation and the price this little girl paid for those physical vulnerabilities and resilient choices. She was carried to the nearest hospital not only for the broken bones, but also for the skin infections on her thighs and buttocks from having wet and soiled herself all those months, from the burns where she was tied. But; what of the rape? What of the trauma? What of the future? Whose responsibility was it to heal these?

When she was well enough to leave, she left to the street. It was then the police referred her to the shelter. The moment she walked in is a moment all who were there will never forget. Shaimaa tells me she still can see this girl’s wrists in her dreams.

Why have I told you this story, reader? You are mistaken to think it is merely to break your heart. I have not even written it as a reminder of the individual stories of each of the girls on the street, like I often do. I have written this so that we can start asking different questions. I am sharing this to demonstrate that trying to convince many children that the street is bad for them is ineffectual. For children like Farah, and unfortunately, there are many, the street is hope, it is freedom, it is friendship, it is unpredictable. Till we understand the meaning of the street for children, till the first thing we do with them is NOT to reintegrate them with their families as a priority to secure more funding, till we can offer alternatives, then we may be doing more harm than good.

Personal Post: Frustration of Working with “Be Grateful” Charity Mentality

“A Kind Word is Better than a Charitable Deed Followed by Harm” The Holy Qur’an

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” The Holy Bible

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.” Mother Teresa
——————————-

Many of you would have been following my excitement about getting Taghreed a birth certificate. Let me tell you what happened:

A couple got in touch after this blog was posted telling me they were happy to pay for the costs that would see Taghreed through the legal system. This was exciting for the chance this offered us to set a precedence of getting ID for children on the street without the presence of abusive parents. An appointment with the lawyer was set. Taghreed turned up with a social worker and one representative from the couple. Taghreed turned up with no documents, no idea of when/where she was born, what her parents marital status was, what her mother’s real name is and they faced the first hurdle; she could not sign a power of attorney because she had no ID! This caused great frustration to the lady paying for the lawyers time.

I realised a week later that I was “unfollowed” on twitter by the man who got in touch and when I wrote to him saying I hope all was well, this is an extract of what he wrote back:

“You associate yourself to a sad bunch of people…  [the meeting] went extremely bad because of you dealing with the matter in such an unprofessional way. When I originally contacted you, I felt a sense of importance in the case you presented. When my wife explained what happened in the meeting, I realised it was just smoke and mirrors and we both felt being lied to. There is no excuse for not bringing the file that was on the girl to the meeting. The fact that you have lawyers there and no one bothered to meet but the worker coming totally unprepared… well I’m speechless.”

I first want to talk about this very specifically, and then try and deconstruct some “myths” about working with street children.

I do not “associate” myself with anyone. I am a random person who did my research fieldwork in an NGO in Egypt with street children. This NGO, like others, does amazing, incredible, extremely valuable work with children who have endured incredible amounts of disadvantage. They are DEFINITELY NOT a “sad bunch of people”. They are, in fact, an incredibly dedicated, under valued, under paid, under trained bunch of people who believe in a cause that is unfashionable, disappointing and down right dangerous, often putting their lives at risk protecting the children they work with. I found this highly offensive.
The NGO do not have LAWYERS. They have one lawyer who works for the NGO’s legal affairs, not the children. Had you spent some time asking, this is  what you would have found out. I do understand it may be hard when you are a CEO of an international company, living in the most affluent parts of Cairo, to understand that local NGO’s, especially after Jan 25 are working against incredible odds to just feed their dependents and many months “owe” their staff their salary. When help was offered for this girl through the legal process, it was my fault, perhaps, to have not highlighted it was not about the money alone!
From the very first email I had with the lady who went to this meeting, I asked to follow up with the shelter manager, to which I was told off in an email and told that she was offering us a favour and would not chase! I definitely should have stopped at this point.

In a way, I am glad this has happened. It has highlighted the need to critically consider the idea of “charity”, of doing good, of getting involved, and of my responsibility to make sure I do not subject the children that have trusted me to encounter experiences that further victimise them. But before I move on, there is something that baffles me… The person writing said they felt lied to. I am so amazed by this. The complexity of the case, the contradictions, the insecurities and uncertainties of the lives of these children are so out of the ordinary that those who come into contact with them are so uncomfortable that they want to dismiss them as lies? Why would anyone lie to you? I am not sure I understand this bit – what is there to gain from you? What street child would want to go through the legal process just for fun?!

Let me now deconstruct some myths around my work with street children:

Myth Number One: Charity

Street children are not waiting for bread crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table. It is important to note this very well before ever working with street children: if you are NOT going to be kind in your dealings with the kids, then it is far better you direct your charity elsewhere. I should have trusted my feeling from the start when the lady told me she was doing us a favour and would not chase. Working with street kids is a struggle, you are fighting for them, against them, with them, despite of them. That’s the reality you should come to them armed with, or like this couple, you will find an excuse to run away from them at the first disappointment.

Two amazing examples of this are my favourite Dr Hany Hamam, the generous and kind cosmetic surgeon who offered Taghreed free cosmetic surgery  a real example of the exact opposite of what these people were. He contacted me to offer his services, chased me with a few emails and every time Taghreed is due for a checkup or a followup operation, he tries to contact the shelter, emails me while I’m out of the country to chase. Someone who really wants to help. Then there’s Dr Ahmed who offered to help the kids who were bitten by the stray dogs. We organised an appointment with someone he asked a favour of, a top doctor in the field and the parents of the kids injured just didn’t turn up. Even though it was not my fault, I emailed him apologetically, his graceful response was “Anytime!! It’s important that the option for them is there”. This gracefulness, I realised, was something not to be taken for granted, and I am honoured that my path has made me encounter these people who feel responsible for the part they should play in a society.

Myth Number Two: Working with street children is gratifying/fulfilling

One of the hardest realities about working with street children is the bitter, painful statistic, that all who work with them try hard not to think of, there is only a 20% success rate in rehabilitating street children. I write about her a lot, Maya… a great example of how society, all parts of it, has deeply let her down; as a child and as a teenager. The NGO has been working with her since she was 7 years old. Maya too was a great disappointment to the social workers who invested so much time, hope, energy, belief in her to wake up one day and find her stir up a scene at the shelter, the same evening gone, now working in prostitution, abandoning her child. I spoke to many of the people working with Maya over the years. Most of them shrugged their shoulders and told me that what was important was that during her time in and out of the shelter, she knew she had them, that she knows, still, that they will be here. That it’s about what they can offer the kids, not what the kids offer them in terms of gratitude. It’s true that all over the world, rehabilitation of street children almost never works. Does that mean we should give up on them? Does that mean we should not give them the little we can afford them of the skills, love, material stuff that we can?

What did they expect Taghreed would turn up with? Taghreed trusts no one, she has never known her mother’s real first name!!! Yes, of course it’s disappointing. But to expect her to turn up suited up for your up market lawyer, with a team of her own lawyers and files and paperwork is naive.

Myth Number Three: Being a Professional

I am NOT a professional. I was quite taken aback by the claim that the couple who had offered their help had decided to withdraw it because of how “unprofessional” I had acted. I had to mull on this for a while. I wondered at which point I was ever deemed a professional in getting a case to the legal system. I am, after all, just an interested academic… an “expert” on street children that happened to write about my experiences working with them that has made this blog popular. I had left the “professional” world in 2010 when I left my role as Project Manager in a risk consultancy company.

While doing my research, I had to pass an ethics committee board to ensure that my work with vulnerable people would be done ethically and cause them and myself no harm. It took seven months to do this. When I finally got the ethics clearance and went to work with the children, I realised that my own ethics clearance would come if I were able to help these children in some way. I could not “pass” my PhD, get a job and then leave them and their stories behind. I am not a professional! I am not employed by anyone, I have not been paid to do my research, I have gotten myself into debt working with street children and I refuse to get paid for anything I write about the kids I have worked with – so definitely that description of me is inaccurate.

The other thing I want to mention is that I am totally thankful and overwhelmed by the response of people and every day I get many, many emails from offering help. I have to admit that I am not as good at dealing with this as I hoped I would be. Many of the people who have written have been able to help, one way or another, they just needed some contacts and got on with the helping themselves. I am not a professional volunteers manager, organiser or anything else of the sort. I have just used my accessibility to channel help towards the kids as it came in – at this point it’s all I can offer in an administrative sense. I am involved in academia and grass root work with the children themselves rather than a administrative professional associated with anyone/thing.

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All being said and done and off my chest, I have to say that I have walked around today with the biggest lump in my throat. The irony is, I received this email of blame at the same time as my last class in a module on childhood where students wrote me a card, mostly calling me “inspirational”. When I spoke to a few of them about what that meant, they said it was about helping them discover what they could do for the children they work with. This is key. That is all I am trying to do here. That what I have set out to do is to raise awareness, to highlight the fact that we are lacking a sense of social, collective responsibility. I am not here to hold anyone’s hand while they do a good deed, to applaud them or to beg from them. At no point was this my intention and it will never be.

I owe Taghreed an apology for letting her experience another event of being let down and abandoned. And I guess for now I have no other way to help her but to bribe her father to come in and help us get her the ID.

She was only 5 years old at the time and her little legs weren’t long enough to jump after her mother from rooftop to rooftop after the last violent beating her mother had received, tied up from a father high on drugs. She’d managed to jump six roof tops, but the distance of the seventh jump, was just too hard, she would have fallen and died if she had even tried. She tells me that she should have tried, she might as well have been dead than go back the six rooftops she’d managed, back to her father who sat in the corner, crouched over, crying in regret for what he had done to his wife…

It was three days before Eid, I sat, now casually after the group therapy session and the TV was on playing Sha’abi songs in the background, amused at the affect the music had on the little ones, 5 year old Maher bent on the wooden, loose legged coffee table, drumming out of beat, as 1 year old Noor bobbed up and down in her nappies – both blissfully enjoying what little life had afforded them. There was a good spirit in the shelter today, the special Eid clean was well under way and there was talk amongst the girls of new clothes they’d saved up for, what they’d do and where they’d go.

Sarah asked me what I would be doing for Eid. The truth was, I hadn’t really thought about it, my celebration of all religious festivals (and yes, I try and celebrate as many different ones as I can) was something that was decided on the day, spontaneously. So, with the honesty I had learnt to deal with the girls with, I told them I wasn’t sure yet. Maya, for the first time since I had come to the shelter, looked sad, though she was smiling. She told Sarah while looking at me, “she’s going to spend the day with her family of course, ya Sarah, that’s what children of people (welaad elnaas) do” and she jokingly slapped Sarah on the back and swore at her saying that bastard children like them should be grateful that they had each other. To which Sarah, of course, got up and hit her back till they ran around the whole room and made it back to their seats so composed, it was almost like this conversation didn’t happen. And I, as casually as they had acted, said, I will come one of the three days here for sure. I could not hide how touched I was at the excitement this promise was met with.

And I did come to them in Eid. I was thinking most of Sarah who had said she wished she had been in the shelter long enough to save money like the other girls to afford new clothes for Eid. She had only been there for a week and had 20 LE (£2) to her name. Shariff and Abdelazim had both given me lots of money to share amongst the girls for Eid. We went and bought toys, balloons, masks, sweets, fruits and cakes for the children and we were already enjoying this Eid more than any other – and we hadn’t even got there!

We walked in and the squeals of happiness and hugs and kisses we were met with are something that will stay with me forever. It was like the children, all ages, were taking this one day out in time to truly enjoy themselves. I was so grateful that they had wanted me to share it! I quickly gave the money out equally and got in trouble (just as quickly) by management who said it should go through them! But nothing was going to dampen today.

Except that Sarah wasn’t there. Maya told me she had a fight over the babies milk and… I didn’t hear the rest of Maya’s recollection of the incident, I was devastated she wasn’t there to share the day with us, to take the money and buy her and her baby some Eid clothes, to eat the mangoes and make an absolute mess with us… I couldn’t get over that she was missing today. It’s the way it is in the shelter, one day a girl is there and you get to know her, love her, build a future for and with her, but one day you’ll go and she’s gone and you know that more likely than not, you wont see her again. Often, you may only hear about her again if she’s been arrested, or has passed away. This thought made me achingly uncomfortable for the rest of the day. I worried for her, for her daughter that she was begging with.

I didn’t have to wait long though, three days after all the Eid festivities, Sarah was back with her little baby Lamees at the shelter, laughing at herself and how the week at the Sayeda Zainab was just too much for her this time under the “supervision” of Hafeeza, the infamous street leader who most of the children in the area beg and sell paper tissue for and are absolutely terrified of. None of what she was saying is funny, but she and the girls all sat on the floor around me cross-legged laughing, in tears laughing. I force myself off the chair to sit on the floor with them; something they’ve been resisting for fifteen minutes now out of respect. Sarah tells me “ya Miss!! You wont believe it, but I held a dollar!! I swear on my daughter’s head!! I held a dollar and when Hafeeza saw me she ran after me and I ran and ran but had to go back because I’d forgotten Lamees and had to go back for her and when I went back for her, she told me if I don’t give her the dollar she’d cut my hair”. To which, all the girls laughed. She then started to act, changing her voice – a skill all the girls had, to show how she begged from passersby retelling all the stories she’d been using to gain their sympathy.

It was amazing she had to think of stories to make people sorry for her. I was sitting in front of her by this stage and I could see the wrinkled, burnt skin covering the full length of her ankles and two feet. This was a scar; which had been there for ten years now. Sarah had gone shopping and came home late, her step-mother had convinced her father he needed to teach her a lesson she’d never forget, so she held her for him in the bath and watched the drugged father pour boiling water from the kettle over the little tender skin till it burnt.

One thing you’re trained to do when working with the street girls is to not show emotion as they recount their stories, but to this I could not but cry. Listening to her speak about it, about all the reasons she had to forgive him when he, sober the next morning, held her and cried and begged her forgiveness, this articulate, pretty, well spoken 16 year old street mother that she is today, the only thing out of all her contradictions that I am finding hard to not be surprised about, is how much she forgives her father. At the end of every recount of abuse, she ends with, “I hate how weak he is, and I feel sorry for him that he often can’t stand up straight, probably like his willy”.

She told me she was sorry she missed Eid, passed me Lamees and told me to look after her for an hour, it was her turn to go out and buy the babies their rationed nappies.

INTERVIEW: Nelly Ali: Fighting for Cairo’s street children and mothers – Bertelsmann Future Challenges

Nelly Ali: Fighting for Cairo’s street children and mothers – Bertelsmann Future Challenges.

Bertelsmann Future Challenges

Nelly Ali: Fighting for Cairo’s street children and mothers

Egyptian Journalist - Nelly Ali. Credit: Sara Elkamel.

Egyptian Journalist – Nelly Ali. Credit: Sara Elkamel.

Nelly Ali sometimes carries a magic wand in her bag. She uses Twitter to fundraise for clothes for those kids (Cairo street children and mothers).

She’s a strong woman tirelessly fighting for the rights of street children and young homeless mothers to physical, sexual, emotional and psychological safety.

An International Childhood Studies PhD candidate at Birkbeck, University of London in the department of Geography, Environment and Development, Ali is currently working on an ethnography of street girls and child street mothers in Cairo, Egypt.

Her research interests are the prevalence of violence in the day-to-day life of street children and their experience of resilience, vulnerability, gender identity and sexuality.

Nelly Ali has recently been volunteering at Hope Village, a shelter for young street mothers in Cairo, where she developed deep relationships with the girls. She has been writing and tweeting about their stories and fears, keeping a promise that she would put a human face on the “problem” of street children and mothers living on the city’s streets, swiftly marginalized by society. Nelly Ali is a dreamer, and she now shares her dreams with the girls at Hope Village.

In an interview with Future Challenges, Ali speaks of the challenges she faces, and the hope that keeps her going in this battle for the rights of street children and young mothers.

FC: You are a strong advocate for street girls and young street mothers in Cairo. When was the moment you decided you would fight for this cause?

NA: I started by doing my PhD research. My fieldwork was with street kids in general and so I found an NGO that would let me work under their supervision – it’s hard to just take to the streets as the kids are managed by a whole community of street adults that don’t take kindly to researchers. It was during the fieldwork that I got to know the street girls and realized that very little academic or social work was being done with this marginalized group of young women and as I built my friendships with them, I realized that I was being read and listened to about other issues I was commentating on, on Egypt at the time and so I took this opportunity use social media and blogging as a channel to which they could be heard.

FC: As an anthropologist, how can you explain the ailing situation of street children in Egypt today?

NA: The children have developed their own language, terminology, defense mechanisms, dress codes, survival strategies and society seems happy with the “otherness” this creates. It was interesting too to learn how the government upon being offered 17,000,000 LE for the street kids “problem” they did not consult a single NGO that works with street kids and instead decided they would build a city where they would move all street children to. This highlighted how marginalized this group of kids are, how they are perceived as a threat to society and also highlights that their situation worsens by mainstreams perception and lack of understanding.

FC: Can you describe the plight of street children in Egypt, particularly girls and women?

NA: This is a really hard question to answer in just a few words, but I’m going to try. I think it would be useful to talk about the plight of street girls and young women in terms of the different stages of their life cycle, so to speak.

These girls come from families who have been violent to them in one way or another and have found no support at the time, before migrating to the street in an attempt of reconciliation and of course, where inappropriate, then a lack of appropriate alternative care.

Then they move to the streets; which are even harsher than their home circumstances at times where they are subjected to a whole new range of violence and abuse and deprivation. One extremely articulate street girl answered me, when I asked her why she wouldn’t go home if the street was worse: “you can forgive the street because it’s not supposed to care for you, but how can you forgive your mum and dad who are supposed to be nothing but love and care”. This really threw a new light on the issue of rehabilitation and why it is, often, unsuccessful.

Then the violence and struggle at correctional centers and institutions where the monitoring of staff is catastrophic and lacking to say the least.

And then to the challenges they face when they fall pregnant, lack of antenatal care, humiliation at the hospitals they go to give birth in, lack of support with the paper work and the huge emotional and practical responsibility of having a child when they are children themselves.

FC: You are a volunteer and project manager at Hope Village, a day-shelter for young mothers in Cairo. What are the biggest challenges you face at the shelters?

NA: The biggest challenge is fighting the feeling that I just want to take them all home with me! But there are more challenges of course, treating them all fairly, listening without surprise – remember these kids have more experience in their small number of years than we have in a lifetime. One of the greatest challenges is standing around helpless as a parent of one of the children comes in to take his/her son/daughter and we know they will bring them back in a very bad state, but we have our hands tied by the laws which allow abusive parents to take their children away to beg with them for instance.

FC: Encountering the agony of homeless children day after day, you must often be overcome by a desire to stop. What keeps you going?

NA: I need to keep going because I realize on the days I don’t tweet and blog about them, no one is. When I went to speak to the girls about my research, I told them I had no questions for them, all I would report on was what was important for them that the world knew, the stories they wanted others to hear and know. If I stop that, all they will have are the sensational stories and numbers and statistics that totally dehumanize them. Many other things keep me going, the way they hug and kiss me when I come in through the door, the same girls that flinch at the slightest gesture from a stranger.

FC: In one of your articles, you revealed the story of Taghreed, a girl who ran away from her abusive father and now lives alone with her baby on the street. You wrote she only dreams of issuing a national ID. How have your dreams as a person changed, in light of the unorthodox stories you encounter everyday?

NA: Yes, definitely. I’m glad you asked this question because it’s been playing on my mind for a while. I was wondering recently where my “future plans/dreams” were and couldn’t find any… I realized that after working with the girls I have started to dream “collectively” so to speak, every dream is for a group of people, for families, for nations, etc. I find this really interesting and I am still figuring out what it’s about.

It isn’t just my dreams that have changed, though. Working with the street girls has changed me as a person. I try and write in all my bios now “I go to university to teach and I go to the street kids to learn”. They have taught me the most important lessons in friendship, love, maternal matters, struggle, resilience, resistance and they have also taught me the power of dreaming, that without holding on to dreams, you wouldn’t have the way to carry on.

I feel like I am so privileged to live these girl’s lives with them for many reasons. One of the things I’ve learnt is that once you start living for a cause, your personal problems aren’t an issue anymore, you learn to let go and be far more reasonable, forgiving and willing to compromise – you are armed with the “bigger picture” through their stories.

FC: If there is one human right you are fighting for, what would it be?

NA: The right to sleep with both eyes closed: the right to physical, sexual, emotional and psychological safety.

FC: Let’s dream for a minute. If you had a magic wand, what would you change/fix in order for those street children and mothers to lead normal lives? 

NA: I love magic wands… do you know that I actually carry one in my bag often! If I had one that would work for the girls, though, I would wave it at two things, the first would be their parents to push them to the street and the other at society who cannot embrace their misfortune.

Street Children: Reem and the Four Year Old Eyes that Haunt Me

She looks at me very seriously every time I walk through the door to the children’s room on the third room. As the other under fives come crawling or running towards me, depending on which they can do, Reem stays where she is looking me, piercingly. It’s hard not trying to interpret and analyse Reem’s looks, her tone, her words. She looks at me as if she is waiting to see if I have delivered a justice she is expecting. I ache at these looks and I want to tell her to stop looking at me. I want to tell her the burden she is expecting me to carry is one too heavy. But when she eventually joins the other children to either fight to hold my hand or crawl up on my lap, the warmth of her small body balances out the cold with which she had looked at me.

She never speaks till she is spoken to – a lesson; I imagine she has learnt a hard way. Heba who speaks with a vulgarity that is shocking to those who come for visits for the first time and endearing to me for it’s unpretentious spontaneity, tells me “mama, Reem was holding a glass and she was going to cut herself and the Miss took it off her, she wanted to do it because she was angry”. Calmly, but with a hint of defensiveness, Reem tells me, “No, I’m going to do it because I want them to know I want to be with me sisters!” Not having the slightest idea how to deal with the issue of self-harm with a four-year-old, despite years working in a child helpline, I say, “you must miss them very much… you only have one more year Ya Reem to join them in the big girls shelter, did you know that?” She nods once, not humouring my attempt at making her feel better.

But I’m not going to give up. I am here for Reem as well as all the other little ones. Despite the way she looks at me and questions me, her little fingers wrap around mine, her little head rests in competition with the others over the parts of my body that they fit themselves on and around. I’m amused by a thought that jumps to my head: for a moment I am grateful that I am fat so there is more of me they can sit on! I laugh and Reem asks me if I’m laughing because I’m happy to be with them. I tell her I am. I tell her that I am happy because I am around children that I love. She responds without compliment, “I am happy when I am with my big sisters. They cry when they know what Hassan does to me”. I ask her who Hassan is and she tells me that’s her father’s name. “Hassan did this the last time, look” and her little fingers leave my hand and she jumps off my knee to give me her back as she lifts her little hand-me-down t-shirt and shows me some bruises.

Is it because Reem’s story is so fresh, so current that I cannot deal with it the same way I am able to absorb the older girl’s stories that they relay from their past? Or is it because Reem, unlike them, has not had the years to teach her to accept it, deal with it, and sometimes laugh about it? I’m not sure, but when Reem is at the shelter I know that for nights to come I will not be able to sleep, I will call my mother and cry about injustice and I will hear her little voice and see her beautiful, accusing black eyes stare right at me asking me what have I done since the last time we spoke. I will her those frightening words she says in the little innocent four-year-old voice that will keep ringing in my ears and which I cannot shut out.

Without having asked for anything else, Reem says “Om Ashraf came in and kept saying “leave her ya Hassan, she’s only small, leave her and God will be pleased with you if you leave her,” and when he didn’t listen to her, she came in and pulled him off me and she carried me and hid me in her house till she bought me here.” I pulled her back up on my knee and 1-year-old Maria passed her a crisp right into her mouth; which Reem took. Reem rested her head on my chest and said “one day the police will come and get him and put him away so my mum can rest and if they don’t I’ll grow and be strong and kill him.”

Why am I writing this? Because I want to you, reader, to be outraged like me that there is nothing that the shelter can do to protect Reem from her abusive father. There are no laws implemented that can stop us handing over Reem when he comes to take her on “family visits”. We are campaigning and we are fighting for children’s rights… all battles so they can access services and are afforded protection they are entitled to. Money isn’t going to help us save these kids; rather, having a rights based understanding of how to help them will. Funding won’t ensure their inclusion in society, a will to include them, will.

Nelly Ali – International Women’s Day #TakeTheFloor 2013 #UNWomen event

UN Women in collaboration with IFMSA (International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations) and AUC Heya Club are celebrating International Women’s Day for 2013 on Wednesday March 6th, 2013. The event is entitled “Take the Floor” to host inspirational talks and videos that encourages behavioral change and creates awareness about this year’s theme; “A Promise is a Promise — Time to take Action on Ending Violence against Women and Girls”.

Street Children and the Girls who were Once Loved by God

empty cot

“Go say hello quickly and bend down to kiss her hand, she’s one of the people that takes care of your daughter”. As soon as the short, fair skinned, green eyed, toothless man with a small white cloth hat fitted tightly on his head, had finished instructing his daughter to hurry towards me, she moved in my direction faster than I had time to retreat, grabbing my hand trying to kiss it. I pulled my hand away and stroked her head asking her how she was today. She stares at me but doesn’t respond.

There had been great commotion half an hour earlier when we got word that Lucy’s mother and grandfather had come to see her. Only yesterday we were discussing the one year old and wondering why she was so scared of sounds unlike her other “brothers and sisters’ at the shelter. She had been bought in the day she was born, but unlike others, she did not enjoy or seek physical affection, cried at the slightest sound and was almost always found laying awake, still, in any one of the cots.

We’d been discussing Lucy specifically because she had acted very much out of character the day my husband came to the shelter to visit. Lucy had demanded his attention, accepted being carried by him, allowed him to rock her to sleep the hour he stood and held her. None of us had commented at the time so as not to disturb the natural bond being experienced by the pair, but as soon as my husband had left and Lucy had returned to her isolation, Shaimaa and I were so joyous to have seen her so emotionally responsive that Shaimaa said she’d have to note this on the little girl’s records.

It was during that conversation that I learnt that no one from Lucy’s family had been to see her since she was born. I wondered whether the lack of any maternal contact contributed to her insecure attachments – even though the other one year olds were often abused and hurt and used by their mothers on the street, when they came back to the shelter they were affectionate and always seeking physical attention from those they were familiar with.

So this visit was very timely. Except, after learning of our visitors arrival, Mama Madeeha took Lucy down to meet her mother and a few moments later we heard a piercing scream and cries of a girl desperately trying to convince someone “She’s not my daughter, she’s not my daughter!! My daughter is only a few days old, this is a big girl, I want to see my daughter, my daughter is small and soft, don’t try to trick me.”

I watched from behind the door not wanting to intrude or to scare the fragile girl any more than she was distressed. Mama Madeeha spoke to her gently explaining how her baby had grown up and had to become bigger and that this was good and she should be happy to see her grow. The sweet, calming reassurance of mama Madeeha seemed to calm the girl back into her detached, blank state. She sat back down. Mama Madeeha slowly placed the one year old into her mothers lap and the girl held Lucy without looking at her and started to gently rock her. Lucy, like a fish in water, accepted being held like the daughter she had missed out on being.

I watched for a few minutes. She handed her daughter back with an angry voice that matched neither the apathetic eyes or the caring grip she had of Lucy “I’ll only hold her if you feed me! Feed me, I’m hungry!” I could tell that Mama Madeeha was running out of resources; her role in the organisation was “alternative mother”, she was there to cuddle, feed,  wash, tuck into bed all the under fives. At times her job description was stretched to incorporate new training for children found on the street abandoned like Maha (5), Mahmoud(4) and Maher(3). The three young siblings have never since had anyone come to ask after them. The three little children, when in need for the toilet, would find a private spot between wardrobes or any other furniture and pull down their trousers and get it done. It would be at those times that Mama Madeeha, according to a special training plan provided by the shelter social workers and psychologist would patiently try to alter these behaviours while looking after four one year olds, three four year olds who have escaped very abusive backgrounds and her own three children. Dealing with Lucy’s mother was not part of neither her job description or her training, or her capacity. So she just laughed at the request of food and went to the kitchen to see what she could offer her.

It was then I  walked in; when Lucy’s mother seemed a little calmer. It was then that the man ordered her to come kiss my hand. When I started stroking her head, continuing to do so when she showed no objection and seemed to be calmer, he tells me this:

“She’s a good girl really, wallahy (I swear by god) she’s a really sweet girl, she used to be my favourite. But look at her, she’s mad, she’s crazy now. I just picked her up an hour ago from Al Abasseya” Al Abasseya is the most infamous mental health care institution in Cairo and he whispers the word. He goes on “she’s been there since she gave birth to Lucy, she went mad you know after they raped her, they did what they did to her and there’s nothing a poor father like me can do. It would have been easy to report it to the police, but one of the men is a police man. What is a poor man to do? We must accept our fate and ask God for compensation. God is the greatest prosecutor of the evil.”

I told him he’d done well to bring her to see her daughter. He suddenly looked ashamed and in an apologetic tone said “I’d bring her every day if I could, I’d even take her out of the hospital but I am poor and cannot feed myself and my wife to be able to feed her and her daughter. I bought her to see the girl because I don’t want God to judge me for not doing the right thing. You know, my daughter, she is really good, God used to love her so much before this happened to her, she used to hear the prophet speaking to her, that’s how pure and good she was. But God  has turned angry with her after they did what they did to her.”

Throughout his story telling, the girl looked ahead of her, only moving once to encourage me to carry on stroking her hair when I had paused for a moment. This tiny move she made with her head made my heart ache, ache for the affection she was craving behind those stone cold eyes. I ached for her, for her father who thought God, if God indeed existed in all his loving compassion, would stop loving his child that had been violently gang raped. My heart ached for little Lucy who had become a living, breathing reminder to her mother and grandfather of, in his own words “God’s spell of anger towards the family”.

Mama Madeeha returned with some food. The girl refused it and reached out for her daughter. She sat holding her vertically by her heart, stroking her hair just the way I had been stroking hers moments earlier.

قتل «عمر» برصاص اخترق القلب.. وهل لأطفال الشوارع قلوب مثلنا؟

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This post was originally posted in Al Masry Al Youm and has been beautifully translated by my dedicate friend Mohammed Esmat Farag

يعرف كثير جدا من الأطفال الذين في الشوارع تماما ماذا تريد أن تسمع منهم. فهم يتفحصونك، ويقيمون شخصيتك، وفي دقائق يكونون قد جهزوا لك القصة التي من أجلها أتيت إليهم. إنهم يجب أن يكونوا بهذا الذكاء، لأن هذا ما يعتمد عليه بقاؤهم.

أتذكر حديثي مع إحدى الصحفيات التي ذكرت لي دهشتها من الطفلة التي أخبرتها بأنها انضمت للاحتجاجات في يناير 2011بسبب اهتمامها بالبلاد، ولأنها أرادت أن تحدث تغييرا سياسيا واجتماعيا – أعرف جيدا هذه الطفلة التي كانت تتحدث عنها – ولكن الطفلة لم تتمكن من الحديث حول «التغيير السياسي» الذي ذكرته، لأنها ببساطة لم تكن تعرف ماذا تعني هذه الكلمة.

لقد عملت على أن أتعرف على البنات على مدار شهور طويلة، لا من خلال زيارات أو مقابلات «النصف ساعة» الرسمية، لكنني عملت على التعرف عليهن بحق، بتصفيقي لهن عندما كن يرقصن، بتعاطفي معهن حينما كن يتحدثن في جلسات العلاج الجماعي، بضحكي معهن لسماع قصصهن عن الشارع، بتنظيفي لجروحهن بعد أن يؤذين أنفسهن لأي سبب. ولأني عشت هذه القصص شعرت بأنني يمكنني أن أسأل «تغريد»، إحدى البنات اللاتي في الشارع، عن السبب الحقيقي لوجود هؤلاء الأطفال هناك في الميادين.

وعلى هذا بدأنا نلعب أدوارنا في المقابلة: «تغريد» تمسك في فرحة بمسجل صوت إم-بي-ثري بيد واحدة وتتفحصه، وهي تشعر بالدهشة أنها في خلال لحظة واحدة سيكون بوسعها أن تسمع أفكارها (طلبت مني أن أشتري لها مسجل صوت إم-بي-ثري حتى تتمكن من الحديث إلى نفسها فيه، لأنها رغبت في تدوين يوميات لنفسها، لكنها لا تقرأ ولا تكتب)، وأخذت أنا الأخرى دوري في المقابلة، حاملة طفلها الجميل ذا الأربعة أشهر، والذي لم يعرف سوى الابتسام طوال الوقت.

حينما أسرد قصص بنات الشوارع يعلق كثير من الناس بأنني يجب أن أكون قوية حتى أعيش هذه القصص وأسمعها. كلما سمعت هذا أستحضر ذلك الألم الذي تحدثه ابتسامات المواليد الصغار بقلبي.. لا شيء يؤلمني مثل الابتسامات. هذه الانحناءات الصغيرة على الشفاه، هي المظهر العظيم الدال على حقيقة: كم نحن متساوون، وكم هي متشابهة بداياتنا جميعا بشكل عظيم، وكم هي ثمينة بشكل غير عادي بعض الابتسامات عند آخرين؛ لأن الحياة صممت لتكسرهم، ولتعطيهم لا شيء.. مزيدا عن ذلك.. ليبتسموا من أجله.

وأسمع «تغريد» وهي تحكي لي عن الثورة وعن الانتقال الذي قام به الأطفال الذين كانوا يبيتون في ميدان رمسيس إلى ميدان التحرير. إنها تتحدث عنه على أنه هجرة، وكأنما هذه المساحات الخضراء من الأرض، أو التي يفترض أن تكون خضراء، تمثل مدينة قائمة بذاتها، مدينة بمواطنيها الأطفال، هؤلاء الصغار الذين هم بلا بطاقة هوية، وبلا مأوى، وبلا الأسر التي أنجبتهم، وبلا حماية.

تخبرني «تغريد» بأن أحد الأطفال جاء راكضًا إليهم في مدينة «ميدان رمسيس» العظمى قائلا لهم إن هناك ملايين الناس في التحرير. وحينها قرر اثنان «زوج وزوجة» من أصدقائها (وهما طفلان في سن الرابعة عشرة، ويختلف الزواج وتكوين أسرة في أطفال الشوارع عما نعرفه نحن) أن الأفضل هو الانضمام إلى هناك، حتى لا تفوتهما الفرصة العظيمة لسرقة الهواتف المحمولة. تضحك كثيرا جدا وهي تخبرني بذلك وهي تقول: «ماذا كان سيكون رد فعل الصحفيين لو علموا السبب الحقيقي لوجود بعض الأطفال هناك!».

لكنها تستطرد لتقول: «ليس كل الأطفال كانوا هناك من أجل السرقة! لقد كانوا هناك أيضا لأنها تجربة شيقة لهم! وذلك لأن الناس كانوا يقولون لنا دوما إن الشارع شيء سيئ، وأننا يجب أن نترك الشارع، ولكن فجأة كل واحد كان هناك، كل واحد في البلد كان في (التحرير)، ولهذا انتقلنا إلى هناك من (رمسيس). كان الناس هناك يتحدثون إلينا، يطعموننا، ويمزحون معنا، ولدرجة أن بعضهم حاول أن يعلمنا القراءة والكتابة، بل إننا حتى كنا ننام بجوار كل هؤلاء الناس أصحاب الرائحة الجميلة. وقد ساعدناهم نحن أيضا، فقد كنا ندلهم من أين يشترون أرخص الطعام حينما نفد الطعام منهم، وعلمناهم أفضل الطرق للهروب من البوليس، وهذا لأن أحب لعبة إلينا هي الأتاري». وحينها رأت علامات الاستفسار على وجهي، أوضحت: «عربات الشرطة»، نحن نسميها «أتاري» وطوال اليوم نلعب بالجري والاختفاء منهم، لكننا نعلم جميعا أن الشرطة التى في «التحرير» مختلفة، فهي لا تضيغ الوقت جريا وراءك، لكنها بدلا من ذلك تقتلك بالرصاص.

لقد كانت كل قصصها وتحليلاتها حول الأسباب التي دفعت الأطفال إلى المكان الذي دار فيه الحدث كله غير مريبة. جميع الأسباب، حتى سرقة الهواتف المحمولة، كان يمكنني تفهمها، وأمكنني تفهم ذلك لأنني بدأت أتعرف على الأطفال أكثر. لكن، بعد مرور عامين،صارت إجابات الأطفال عن السؤال: «لماذا كانوا هناك بالتحرير» مريبة وتصيبني بقلق حقيقي. فقد كان الأطفال يتحدثون إلى زميلي «عادل» الذي كرس ثمانية عشر عاما من عمره حتى الآن للعمل مع الأطفال حين بدا مهموما وأخبرني إن نغمة الأطفال في الكلام تغيرت، وإن أحدا ما قد يكون تحدث مع بعض منهم، فتغيرت أفكارهم.

فالأطفال الذين يجرون حوله بزجاجات المولوتوف يسألونه «ماذا تساوي حياتي من دون قيمة؟ أنا أريد أن أموت شهيدا فيسامحني الله على جميع الأشياء السيئة التي عملتها في هذه الدنيا. أريد أن يكون لموتي معنى لأن حياتي لم يكن لها أي معنى. أريد أن أموت فيتحدث عني كل هؤلاء الناس الذين في (التحرير)، ويمشوا في جنازتي. أريد أن أموت ويكون هناك أحد ما يتذكرني، ويرسم وجهي على الحائط مثل كل الآخرين، لا.. إذن.. يا (بابا)، أنا لست خائفا من أن أموت».

لقد تغيرت علاقة أطفال الشارع بالثورة في بحر عامين. ولكن، سيظل هذا نوعا من المثالية أن نتجادل حول ما إذا كان الأطفال يذهبون إلى صفوف المواجهات الأمامية مع الأمن لأنهم يفهمون معنى التمرد كوسيلة لنهاية. إن الأطفال – لأنهم أطفال – ينبغي ألا يكونوا محل لوم على الوضع الفكري الذي يكونون عليه حينما يذهبون إلى صفوف المواجهات مع الأمن.

ماذا عن موت عمر ذي الثلاثة عشر عاما؟ عمر، تم قتل الولد الصغير برصاص اخترق القلب بواسطة الجيش الذي أنيط به حماية حدوده أمام الأعداء. هل كان هناك ليسرق الهواتف؟ لا. هل كان هناك لأنه أراد لوجهه الصغير أن يحفر في جرافيتي على الحوائط المحيطة بالميادين؟ لا. قتل عمر بالرصاص لأنه كان هناك. قتل عمر بالرصاص وهو يحاول الحصول على عيش شريف من الشوارع التي صارت مقرا لكثير من الطبقات، والأديان، والأعمار، والأيديولوجيات. قتل عمر بالرصاص لوجوده في طريقهم. قتل عمر بالرصاص – أكثر من أي سبب آخر- لأنه لن تلقى مسؤولية قتله على أحد. استقبل قلب عمر الصغير الرصاصة لأن البعض كانوا شديدي الجبن عن أن يحاسبوا هؤلاء المسؤولين عن ذلك. هذه المقالة لكل «عمر»  اعتقل وقتل بالرصاص، فقط لمجرد تواجده هناك؛ لأنه لم يكن هناك مكان آخر أكثر أمانا يذهب إليه

Street Children and the Big Dream of Citizenship

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There was no mistaking the horror this six year old girl was experiencing. Nothing more telling of the fear than the warm yellow fluid running down her short, scarred legs as her knees started to visibly shake. There was little mistaking the heaving chest as her heartbeats escalate while the quiver of her small, cracked lips began. Following her gaze to the door of the drop in centre for street children she was at, an angry man with blank eyes stood gazing right at her. Her father had found out where she was spending the day.

There is little the staff at day care centres can do to stop fathers or mothers coming to take their children, little they can do even if they had signed them in to permanent shelters. The law handicaps those who are trying to protect vulnerable children from abusive parents. Staff had to watch Taghreed be pulled by the wrist as she wet herself leaving the shelter which she had escaped one afternoon’s scorching sun to. All they could do was pray that they would see her again, minus the scars and bruises she had returned to them with previously.

Taghreed is not a lone street child. She has lived all her small number of years on the street with her father and mothers and siblings. They are travellers living on the streets of the cities they migrate back and forth between depending on which had a “mowlid” that the father could use his kids to sell little plastic toys or to beg if that didn’t work. Our society is one of alms, of course, but to care about where those alms went or what would be more affective than giving a few pounds, rarely is the case.

Taghreed didn’t like selling stuff for which her father took all her money; she didn’t like her father either – understandably. And when she found her way back after a couple of weeks to the day care centre, the psychologist asked her why she was so afraid of her father when she was such a strong little girl herself. Without shame, Taghreed recounted the ways in which her father ties her up in metal chains, locking the shackles at her ankles and wrists and beating her till he can no longer lift a finger. Many street kids lie to gain sympathy in hope for a pound or two. But Taghreed knew Shaimaa was not going to give her money; her body also bared witness to the genuineness of her account.

Eventually, the exploited girl ran away. She shaved her hair, bound her breasts and lived as a boy trying to protect herself on the streets. She tells me she could forgive those who did her wrong on the street far more than the parents she knew were meant to protect her. Taghreed is one of the most special and beautiful girls I have known. She is trustworthy and loyal and never forgets a good deed done for her. As she sits holding her cheerful 5 month old baby, she tells me her dream is to get ID for her and her child. That’s it – that is what she dreams of. But it’s a dream none of us who love and care about her have found easy to realise for her. Taghreed’s parents are not married; her father beats her every time she goes to try to convince him to go with her to get an ID issued and bureaucracy means she cannot get it done without him.

So unlike women fighting for equal rights, for employment rights, for child care rights, for divorce rights, Taghreed is a young woman fighting for the right to exist in the state, the right to be recognised as a citizen, the right, in her own words “to be human”. These are not things that we, as a society, can cure with giving a few pounds to passing street kids we feel sorry for, or a few pounds of meat during Eid to satisfy religious obligation.

We must, as the “honourable” citizens we like to think of ourselves as, be outraged that some are still fighting to be missed when they are dead, to hold pieces of paper that ensure the basic treatment at hospital if they fall ill, a basic education even if wont take them anywhere. We must be so outraged that this rage brings about change. We must refuse the social contracts we are in if they do not embrace those too poor, too weak, too scared to fight their way into our worlds – worlds in which we have become so blind that we are surprised to hear that some do not hold ID. I know someone who had their ID issued the same day it was requested while they were in a foreign country because they had the money and connections. Taghreed has spent ten years of her life being beaten and abused, travelling back and forth with money she has hated making and to no avail.

If you are reading this and know any way to help Taghreed get her ID without her father having to be there, without her parents having to be married, email me: nelly.ali@gmail.com – Taghreed and I need to hear from you. If you can’t, then tell everyone you know – tell them that before we concern ourselves with which hand to eat with so the devil doesn’t join us, we must extend that hand to those whose wrists are tied in chains, before we concern ourselves with never entering the toilet with our left foot, we must first concern ourselves with lifting the feet that step on the weak because their voices don’t make their way to our ears.

Taghreed once gave herself to a violent gang rape to save a new virgin on the street – the least that sort of loyalty deserves is ID.

Omar was shot through the heart? Street kids have hearts like us?!

So many of the kids on the streets know exactly what you want to hear from them. They eye you up, suss you out and in minutes they conjure up the story you are there to hear. They have to be this clever. Their survival depends on it.

I remember speaking with one journalist who told me she was in awe at a child who told her she had joined the protests in January 2011 because she cared about the country and wanted to bring political and social change. I knew the girl she was speaking about well. She didn’t give a crap about political change, simply because she didn’t understand what the word meant.

I got to know the girls over many months — not formal 30-minute visits or interviews, but I’d really got to know them, by clapping while they danced, sympathizing when they spoke in group therapy, by laughing at stories of the street, by cleaning wounds after self-harm. It was because I lived those stories I felt I could ask Taghreed, one of the girls on the street, why the kids were really there in the squares.

So we took our interview roles: Taghreed happily holding the mp3 recorder in one hand turning it over and amazed that in a bit she would be able to hear her own thoughts (she had asked me to buy her an mp3 recorder so she could speak to herself in it because she wanted to keep a diary but couldn’t read or write), and I took my interview position, holding her cheerful four-month baby who knew nothing but to smile all the time.

Many people to whom I tell the stories of the street girls comment that I must be strong to live and hear these stories. Every time I hear this I recall the ache in my heart at the smiles of the little babies — nothing pains me as much as the smiles. These little curves on the lips, the greatest manifestation of how equal we are, how painfully similar our starts are, how incredibly precious some smiles are to others because life is set out to break them, to give them nothing more to smile about.

And I hear Taghreed tell me about the revolution and the move the children who slept in Ramses Square made to Tahrir Square. She speaks of it as a migration, as if those little green, or what should be green, patches of land represent a city in their own right; a city with its children citizens, those kids without IDs, without shelter, without biological families and without protection.

Taghreed tells me that one child had come running to them in the great city of Ramses Square telling them that millions of people where in Tahrir. Two of her “married” friends (these are children who are 14, marriage and family makeup to street children are different to how we know them) decided it was best to join so they didn’t miss the greatest opportunity to steal mobile phones. She tells me this and laughs for ages saying she wonders what the reaction of journalists would be to the real reason why some children were there.

But she goes on to say “not all the children were there to steal though! It was just so fun! For so long people were telling us that the street was bad, that we had to get off the street, but suddenly everyone was on it, everyone in the country was in Tahrir, so we moved there from Ramses. People there spoke to us, fed us, joked with us, some even tried to teach us to read and write. We even slept next to all these people with their good smells. And we helped them too. When food ran out we told them where the cheapest places to get food were. We taught them the best ways to run away from the police. That is because our favorite game is Atari.”

When she saw a look of confusion on my face she explained: Police cars, we call them Atari, and we play all day running and hiding from them. But we all realized that the police in Tahrir were different, they didn’t waste time running after you, they just shot you instead.”

Her stories and analysis of what led the children to the place where all the action was weren’t sinister. All the reasons, even stealing mobile phones, were understandable and I could relate to having started to know the kids. However, two years later, the children’s answers to why they were taking part started the chills down my spine. The kids were speaking to my colleague Adel who had dedicated the last 18 years of his life working with the children. He looks down and tells me there’s been a change of tone, that he doesn’t know who’s been speaking to some of these children, but someone different has. The kids running around with Molotov bottles are asking him, “What worth does my life have? I want to die a martyr so that God could forgive me for all the bad things that I have done in this world. I want my death to mean something because my life didn’t mean anything. I want to die and have all those people in Tahrir talk about me, walk in my funeral. I want to die and have someone remember me, draw my face on the wall like all the others, so no, ‘baba’, I’m not afraid to die.”

The relation of the street children with the revolution has changed in the course of two years. However, it would still be a kind of romanticism to argue that children were at the front lines because they understood the meaning of revolt as a means to an end. The children, because they are children, are not to blame for the state of mind they are in when they take to the front lines.

What about 13-year-old Omar’s death? Omar, the little boy shot through the heart by the army that was meant to protect his borders against the enemy. Was he there to steal phones? No. Was he there because he wanted his little face etched in graffiti on the squares surrounding walls? No. Omar was shot because he was there. Omar was shot trying to earn an honest living off the streets that have become home to so many classes, religions, ages and ideologies. Omar was shot because he was in the way. But more than any other reason, Omar was shot because no one would be held accountable. Omar’s little heart took the bullet because some are too cowardly to hold those responsible accountable. This article is for all the Omars arrested and shot, just for being there because there was nowhere else safer for them to be.

“Red Square”. Painting by the incredibly talented Mohamed Negm – mo*star art http://www.mostarart.com

“Red Square”. Painting by the incredibly talented Mohamed Negm – mo*star art http://www.mostarart.com

This post was originally translated from my original blog into arabic by Ekram Khalil for Shorouk News

قرأت فى الصحف وعلى مواقع الإنترنت، عن الاعتداءات الجماعية على المتظاهرات فى الشوارع، ولو لم أكن قرأت العناوين، لظننت أن الكتاب اهتموا فجأة بالحياة اليومية لأطفال الشوارع. وكان من المنطقى أن افترض أنهم أصبحوا مراقبين حريصين على المتابعة، نزلوا إلى الشوارع لتسليط الضوء على مدى انتشار وطبيعية ثقافة الشارع التى يحياها كل طفل صغير فى كل ليلة. ولكننى قرأت العنوان؛ الذى تشير مفرداته إلى أنه يتعلق بالفتيات، والشابات والسيدات الأكبر سنا من «ولاد الناس»، والطبقتين العاملة والمتوسطة (لأن أطفال الشوارع هم الطبقة المستبعدة). وقد تم تدبيج هذه المقالات لأن «المواطنين» تعرضوا للضرب، وتعرض شرف «المواطنين» للانتهاك، وانتهكت حقوق الإنسان الخاصة بالمواطنين. أما أطفال الشوارع؟ فهم ليسوا بمواطنين، بل إنهم حتى لا يحملون بطاقات هوية. وعندما يتعرضون للاغتصاب، والقتل بالرصاص، والموت، على أبواب الملجأ، فليست هناك جريمة، لأن الأمر لا يتعلق بمواطنين. وهكذا، لا يتعلق هذا الطوفان من المقالات بشأن التحرش، والاعتداءات الجنسية، وعصابات الاغتصاب فى الشوارع، بأولاد الشوارع.

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ولكن، لأن هذا هو الواقع اليومى لأولئك الأطفال، فقد عرفت بنفسى الشوارع على النحو الذى اكتشفه الآخرون مؤخرا. ومن ثم، أعتقد أننى أستطيع أن ألقى ضوءا مختلفا، أو نظرة من زاوية مختلفة، على ظاهرة تثير فزع الكثيرين للغاية، ويشعر كثيرون بغرابتها. وأرى أن هذا أحد الأوجه القبيحة للشارع. وكما أن لكل إنسان ولكل صديق، وجها قبيحا، لا تراه، أو تعرفه، أو تزدريه، إلا إذا أمضيت معه وقتا طويلا كافيا. فلا يمكن إخفاء حقيقته، وفجاجته إلى الأبد، كما أن نشوة الصورة المتخيلة، عن التضامن الذى يحققه الشارع خلال فترات الثورات، يبدأ فى التآكل، ويصبح الشارع وجميع سكانه غير المواطنين حقيقة، لا يمكنك أن تهرب منها، وهى الحقيقة التى شاركت بنفسك فيها والتى أثارت مخاوفك أيضا.

وبمناسبة الحديث عن الفزع، فقد بدا الكثير من الاهتمام والرعب، إثر الاعتداء بشفرة على أحد ضحايا هذه الاعتداءات. وقد تعجبت للمفارقة فى توقيت هذا الاعتداء. ففى الشهر الماضى، كنت قد اصطحبت احدى فتيات الشوارع اللاتى أتعامل معهن إلى جراح تجميل كريم، عرض على فتياتى، إجراء جراحة مجانا لمعالجة الندوب التى عانين منها، فى أثناء مثل هذه الاعتداءات فى الشوارع. ويعتبر الرعب جانبا من جانب ثقافة الاغتصاب فى الشوارع؛ حيث تسجل علامة على وجه كل طفل أو فتاة تعرض للاغتصاب. وتكون هذه العلامة عادة على شكل منحنى تحت عين الضحية، تعنى أنها لم تعد عذراء. وسوف يتم تسجيل الاعتداءات اللاحقة وهى كثيرة عبر ندوب أصغر، فى أى مكان آخر على الجسد. ولا ينسى أى منا فى الملجأ فتاة كانت محظوظة؛ حيث فلتت من الجرح فى الوجه، لكنها احتاجت لخياطة 16 غرزة أسفل ظهرها، حيث تم طعنها بالسكين عندما كانت تهرب من مغتصبيها.

وأنا لست خبيرة بنظرية المؤامرة، لكننى مستشارة فى مجال أولاد الشوارع، ومخاطر الشوارع. ومن ثم، عندما قرأت التفسيرات حول أن الحزب الوطنى الديمقراطى والإخوان المسلمين هم من دفعوا الغوغاء إلى هذه الاعتداءات الجنسية، كنت مترددة. فقد تذكرت أنه ما من أحد دفع أجرا للرجال الأربعة فى الثلاثينيات والأربعينيات من أعمارهم لاغتصاب مايا ذات السبع سنوات، والتى كانت تعيش فى الشارع منذ أيام قليلة فحسب. حيث يعتقد المعتدون أنه كلما كانت الطفلة صغيرة فى السن؛ قلت مخاطر الإصابة بالإيدز.

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ويجلب العيش فى الشوارع معه الكثير من المخاطر، وكلما عشت فى الشارع، كلما زادت احتمالات تعرضك للخطر. فهل يجعلنا ذلك نوافق على ما يحدث؟ بالطبع لا، ولكنه يلقى الضوء على محنة الأطفال الذين لا يلقون نفس الاهتمام، والرعب عندما تقع عليهم هذه الاتهامات، يوميا. كما يركز على أن الشوارع أصبحت تثير الرعب، لأننا سمحنا لها بألا تكون آمنة. ويوضح كيف يتم دائما تجاهل القانون وإنفاذه فهل يستحق هذا الرعب أن يعامل بقدر أقل من الغضب لمجرد أنه صار واقعا يوميا؟ لا، ولكن الغضب، والدعم الذى ينبغى أن يأتى بعده الإصلاح، يتعين أن يمتد إلى أولئك الذين لا يحظون بالاهتمام الرسمى فى هذه الاعتداءات لأن الاعتداءات فى الشوارع منذ بداية العام لم تكن 25 اعتداء فحسب. وقد شهدت للمرة الأولى الرعب من الاعتداء الجنسى فى التحرير، وكنت أشعر بالغضب مع كل قصة أسمعها. وقد حان الآن الوقت كى نستيقظ على حقيقة الشوارع، فبينما أصبحنا سباقين إلى الحفاظ على الشوارع آمنة من أجلنا «نحن»، نحتاج أن نوسع كل هذا ليمتد إلى الأطفال الذين ليسوا ضمن حساباتنا، من يحتاجون أن ينقل الكبار ألمه وتجربتهم، لأنهم يحظون باهتمام بالغ.

وسيقول لكم أولاد الشوارع، إن الاغتصاب الجماعى ليس سوى مجرد البداية بالنسبة لهم، ويأتى بعد ذلك مباشرة الدعارة وتهريب المخدرات والمواد الإباحية. وما تشهده الطبقة الثورية الآن، ليس سوى بداية ما يشهده آلاف الأطفال فى شوارعنا، بنين وبنات، هل تتخيلون ذلك؟

•••

ومازالت بوصلة اللوم مختلة، فكما يوجه الناس اصبع الاتهام إلى أطفال الشوارع، لأنهم فى الشوارع وليسوا فى البيت، متجاهلين كل الأسباب التى دفعتهم إليه، يوجهون الآن نفس الإصبع إلى الإناث اللاتى يتعرض للاعتداء فى التحرير وغيره من الأماكن، بدعوى أن خطأهن أنهن لم يقرن فى بيوتهن آمنات. القضية هى المساءلة؛ فبمجرد أن نتعلم معنى هذه الكلمة، ريما يكون الشوارع أثر أمانا بالنسبة لنا جميعا.

Mob Sex Attacks and the Everyday Reality of Street Children.

Painting by the incredibly talented Mohamed Negm - mo*star art www.mostarart.com

“Red Square”. Painting by the incredibly talented Mohamed Negm – mo*star art http://www.mostarart.com

I read the papers and online testimonials of mob attacks on women in the streets protesting and if I had not read the titles, I would have thought that the authors had suddenly taken a keen interest in the every day life of street children. I would have justifiably concluded they have become avid observers who have taken to the street to highlight the prevalence and normality of sexual violence in street culture that very little children live every night. But no, I have read the title; the words indicate this is about other girls; younger and older women, “welaad naas”, of the working and middle class (because remember street kids are the “excluded” class, second class citizens if that!). These articles are written because “citizens” have been struck, “citizens” honour has been violated; “citizens” human rights have been wronged. But street children? They aren’t citizens – they don’t even hold ID. When they come raped, shot, dead, and left in front of shelter doors, there’s not been a crime, because a citizen hasn’t been involved. So no, this flood of articles about harassment, sexual attacks and gang rape on the street, are not about the street kids.

But because this is the every day reality for those children, I have come to know the streets as what they have been recently discovered by others. So I thought that maybe by writing this, I could shed a different light, a look from a different angle on a phenomenon that many are so horrified by, so unfamiliar with.

I am arguing here that this is one of the ugly faces of the street. And, just as each human, each friend, has an ugly face, you only get to see it, know it, get scorned by it, once you have spent long enough with it. It’s reality and it’s crudeness cannot hide forever and the euphoria of the imagined utopia of solidarity that the street brings during revolutionary times, begins to crack and the street and all it’s non-citizen inhabitants become a reality that you cannot escape and one whose reality you have shared, one which has scarred you, too.

Talking of scarring, a lot of attention and horror has been expressed following the attack where a blade was used on one victim to these assaults. I wondered about the irony of the timing of this. Just last month I took one of my street girls to a generous plastic surgeon who had offered my girls free reconstructive surgery for the scars they suffered during such attacks on the street. The scarring is part of the street rape culture – any boy or girl who has been raped on the street, will be “marked”. This mark, usually a curve under the eye of the victim, will mean they are no longer virgins. Subsequent sexual attacks, and there will be many, will lead to smaller marks anywhere else on the body. One girl, none of us at the shelter forget, was lucky. She escaped the scarring on the face, but needed 16 stitches on her lower back where she was knifed as she escaped her rapists.

I am not an expert in conspiracy theories, but I am a consultant on street kids and the risks of the street. And so, when I read the musings that the NDP, the MB, the who ever else is organizing these mob sex attacks, my better judgment makes me tentative. I remember that no one paid the four men in their thirties and forties to gang rape seven-year-old Maya who had been living on the street just four days. The younger the child, the attackers think, the smaller the risk of contracting HIV.

Being on the street brings with it much risk, the longer you stay on it, the more likely you will be exposed to that risk. Does it make it ok? Of course not! But what it does, is highlight the plight of the children who do not conjure up the same attention and horror when these attacks happen to them, daily. What it does do is emphasize the terror that the streets have become because we have allowed them not to be safe. How the law and it’s enforcement is,  and always has been neglectful of the sphere, that in our country, is home to many. Does it deserve to be treated with less fury because it’s an every day reality? No, but the anger, the support, the reform that needs to come after it, has to be extended to those who are not on the official count of these attacks – because there has not just been 25 attacks on the street since the start of the year.

As street kids will tell you; gang rape is just the start for them – prostitution, trafficking and pornography come shortly afterwards. What the revolutionary class are experiencing now is only the initiation of what thousands of children on our streets, boys and girls experience. Imagine that?

The dysfunctional compass of blame is at work. Just as people point a finger of reprimand at the street kids for being on the street and not at home, ignoring all the reasons that have pushed them on it, now the same fingers point at the females getting attacked in Tahrir and elsewhere suggesting it’s their fault for not staying safe at home. Accountability. Once we learn the meaning of this word, perhaps the streets might be a little safer for all.

This is a girl trying her hardest to appear like a boy to stay safer on the street…this article was originally posted in Al Shorouk Newspaper here

girls

أهدي هذا التدوينة إلى الدكتور هاني حمام، شاكرة له أن اراني الجانب الأفضل من الحياة، وتقديرًا لمعاملته لإحدى “فتياتي” من بنات الشوارع، بأمانة ورقة

خلال الساعات الثلاث التى تستغرقها المسافة حتى وصولنا، تخبرنى تغريد عن المرات التى كانت تنظر فيها إلى المرآة، وتتذكر كيفية حدوث هذه الندبة. وبدلا من أن تنفق وقتا طويلا فى الحديث عن هذه الكيفية، تحكى لى بحماس كيف تعامل معها الطبيب بلطف. وكان الدكتور هانى كتب على تويتر يبلغنى انه يريد مساعدة الفتيات اللاتى يعانين من ندبات الاغتصاب، وعرض إجراء هذه العمليات مجانا. ولم أكن فى مصر فى ذلك الوقت؛ وعدت لأجد تغريدا أجرت الجراحة وهى ذاهبة اليوم لفك الغرز. وحكت لى عن نظافة العيادة، وأن الدكتور كان يعاملها كما لو كانت «السيدة تغريد» وعندما سألها عن اسمها، أجابت «اسمى الحقيقى أم اسم الشهرة»؟ وعندما سألها عن اسمها الحقيقى مازحته قائلة «أبو لهب» وضحكت.

•••

وقد لا يبدو الأمر لافتا لك عزيزى القارئ أن يعامل الطبيب تغريدا باللطف والاحترام. فإذا كان كذلك، دعنى أوضح: أثناء الرحلة، كانت تروى تجربة ولادة طفلها على سبيل المقارنة؛ وتحكى أنها بمجرد دخولها إلى العيادة وهى تتألم، سألوها عن زوجها، وعن الندبة التى على وجهها، ومن الذى سيضمنها. ونظرا لأنه لم يكن معها رجل، استخدمها الأطباء من أجل تعليم صغار الأطباء من دون موافقتها؛ وبمجرد أن فحصها الطبيب، امتدت 20 يدا داخلها. وكانت تروى لى هذه القصة وهى تهز رأسها مع ابتسامة خفيفة، وتقول إنها واثقة من أنه إذا كان الدكتور هانى شاهد كيف تعاملوا معها، لكانوا جميعا فى مشكلة! وحكت لى تغريد أثناء رحلتنا قصصا أخرى، وقالت لى إنها لا ترغب فى تناول الطعام حتى تعود لينا. وتحدثت عن المرة التى أخذت أم لينا ابنتها لمدة أسبوعين، ثم أعادتها إلى الملجأ عارية تعانى من الجديرى المائى، وفى رأسها قمل أكثر من كل القمل الذى شاهدته طوال حياتها. ولاشك أنه من المؤثر أن تستمع إلى تغريد وهى تتحدث بتلك الطريقة. ودهشت لأننى كنت مخطئة عندما شاهدتها للمرة الأولى؛ فقد حكمت عليها بأنها قاسية. ومن المؤلم أن ترى حنوها وهى تحتضن طفلها، وتتحدث بهذا القلق والإحساس بالعجز، عن طفل لأم أخرى. وكانت تقفز من موضوع لآخر: من قصص تعرضها للضرب على أيدى أهلها، إلى تقييدها وضربها فى مؤسسات الأحداث، إلى الحرية فى الشوارع، والأصدقاء الذين نامت معهم بجوار السكك الحديدية، إلى الإخصائيين الاجتماعيين الذين أخذوها إلى مطعم كنتاكى. أما القصتان اللتان تعود إليهما دائما، فعن أصدقائها الذين لا تستطيع العثور عليهم، وعن قلقها من اليوم الذى لاتستطيع فيه الإنفاق على تعليم ابنها!

•••

كانت تغريد تتوقف عن الحديث أثناء مرور السيارة عبر مدينة السادس من أكتوبر، لتشير إلى المبانى وتتساءل، كيف يتسنى أن يكون هناك العديد من المبانى الخالية، بينما ينام العديد من الناس فى الشوارع. وتقول إنها لم تكن تفكر فى أول رحلة لها إلى هنا، إلا فى العيش فى إحدى تلك الغرف مع ابنها. وكانت تفكر فى أنها تود لو تزرع التفاح، مثل التفاحات الست التى سرقتها ذات يوم من أجل أصدقائها، الذين لم يكونوا قد تناولوا الطعام لثلاثة أيام، وعندما حصلوا على بعض المال، عادوا ليدفعوا الثمن إلى بائع الفاكهة (الذى رفض تناول النقود، وأعطاهم ست تفاحات أخرى لقاء أمانتهم). وقبلت طفلها قائلة له إنه سوف يتعلم، ويكسب مائتى أو ثلاثمائة جنيه شهريا، ولن يجوع أبدا.

ونصل إلى مستشفى الجراحة، لتقودنا تغريد. ونصعد الطوابق الثلاث، وهى تحمل طفلها بيد وفى اليد الأخرى هدية للطبيب شمعة مما تنتجه الفتيات فى ورشتهن تم لفها بشكل خاص من أجل هذه المناسبة. وقوبلنا بحفاوة فى المستشفى كما لو كنا أصدقاء قدامى، وقدمت تغريد هديتها بفخر. وأحسست بدهشة فى حضور الرجل الذى التقيناه فى الداخل مع تواضعه الذى لا يمكن وصفه.

•••

ودخلت إلى حجرة العمليات، معتقدة أننى يمكن أن أقدم لها دعما. ولكن مرة أخرى، أدهشتنى بمرونتها وقوتها. فلم تجفل مرة واحدة، عندما كان يتم إزالة الغرز، على الرغم من الدم الذى كان ينز من الجرح، والدموع التى تجمعت فى ركنى عينيها. حاولت أن أمسك بيدها، لكنها سحبتها لأنها كانت تعد الغرز. كان التغيير مذهلا فى وجهها؛ فقطعة اللحم التى كانت تتدلى سابقا، تذكرها دائما بصدمتها، وضعفها، وقوتها، وتاريخها، لم تعد موجودة. وعلى الرغم من الصدمة النفسية التى تمثل ندوبا أعمق، لا ترى بالعين والمسئولية فى صورة ابنها، لم يعد التذكير اليومى بالنظر فى المرآه قائما. تركنا العيادة بعبء أخف، وتذكير أقل بحياة ملآى بالتحدى، والعنف والمعارك.

وبينما ندلف إلى السيارة، التفتت تغريد، وطلبت منى أن أحضر الكاميرا معى إلى الملجأ غدا، لأنها الآن لم تعد تخجل من التقاط صور لها مع ابنها.

Girl Trying to Sleep – فتاة تحاول النوم

Girl Trying to Sleep

One of our street girls, in her own words:

“This is a picture of a girl sleeping in the street. The girl is cold and no one feels for her and no one helps her. No one even thinks to give her something to cover her at all. The only reason people look at her is to try and find out if she is a girl or boy. No one in these buildings took notice of her. And when they saw her, they got very scared of her and didn’t notice the man that was around her, putting his hands on her. They didn’t notice that she couldn’t sleep because the man wouldn’t leave her alone.”

واحدة من فتيات الشوارع، بكلماتها الخاصة:

“ده صورة بنت نايمه فى الشارع ساقعانه محدش حاسس بيها ولا بيساعدها ولا حتى بيفكروا يدويها حاجه تستغطى بيها خالص محدش فالح يبص عليها غير عشلت يشوف هى ولد ولا بنت محدش فى العمارات ده بيفكر فيها ولا حتى خد باله منها وبص عليها ولما لاقوها خافوا منها اوى ومخدوش بالهم ان فى راجل عاملى يحوم حولها ويحط ايديه عليها وان هى كل ما تيجى تنام مش عارفه عشان الراجل مش سايبها فى حالها”.

(Thank you to the psychologist Shayma2 for sharing the story.)