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.

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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”.

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

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

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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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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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.”

Continue reading

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

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]

Straatkinderen: de ketenen van kwetsbaarheid

Street Children and the Shackles of Vulnerability: translated kindly by Maja Mischke (original post in English here  http://wp.me/p1sf3y-ge )

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Deze blog is voor Farah. Haar ongelofelijke moed en kracht blijven voor mij onovertroffen.

Eén van de dingen die me steeds weer frapperen bij mijn werk met straatkinderen is hoe uitgesproken ze zijn. Ik ben iedere keer weer verrast, zelfs met stomheid geslagen door hoe goed ze zich uit kunnen drukken met woorden, met een enkele zin.

Terwijl ik met Maya sprak (ik kende haar al een paar maanden), voelde ik dat ik een stapje dichterbij durfde te zetten: “Ik weet dat je stiefmoeder wreed was en je vader altijd haar kant koos. Maar soms klinkt het alsof het leven dat je op straat leidde nog veel wreder was. Veel mensen vragen me:  waarom kiezen kinderen zoals jij voor de straat als het thuis minder gevaarlijk is?”

Waarop ze antwoordde: “Omdat het gemakkelijker is om de straat te vergeven: je verwacht niet dat de straat van je houdt, zoals je dat van je familie verwacht.”

Maya’s leven –zowel op straat als daarbuiten- is vervuld met redenen om alle geloof in de wereld en de menselijkheid te verliezen; haar veerkracht en lach is voldoende om het te herwinnen. Het is één van de dingen die ik van Maya heb geleerd: de keuze tussen twee nadelen, tussen twee slechtste scenario’s. Straatkinderen als Maya roepen verschillende reacties op bij de mensen die haar ontmoeten en haar verhaal horen, omdat ze in een opeenvolging van keuzes vaak de verkeerde heeft gemaakt. De minder toleranten zal het ontgaan dat de verwaarlozing en het misbruik waaronder ze heeft geleden sinds ze drie jaar oud was haar mogelijk niet hebben voorzien van de vaardigheid om het beter te doen. Voor andere kinderen is de straat niet een keuze tussen twee onfortuinlijke wreedheden, maar de enige manier om te overleven.

Het is een misverstand dat armoede de voornaamste oorzaak is voor het feit dat kinderen op straat leven. Het opbreken van gezinnen en geweld zijn de echte valkuilen. Misbruik. Waarom zou Farah anders op straat zijn?

Farah is een ongelofelijk mooi 14-jarig meisje. Toen ze 12 werd vond Medhat, haar oom van moeders kant, het hoog tijd dat ze deel ging uitmaken van zijn prostitutienetwerk. Hij deed haar geen voorstel: ze werd gewoon geacht in de voetstappen van haar moeder te treden. Farah’s moeder had jarenlang geld in haar broers laatje gebracht en Medhat verwachtte dat Farah flink aan zijn inkomen zou kunnen bijdragen. Zo moedig als ze was, weigerde Farah. Klant na klant klaagde erover hoe Farah naar de ontmoetingen gesleept moest worden en uiteindelijk nam Medhat zijn toevlucht tot geweld.

Farah werd gedurende 8 maanden aan een ketting geklonken die aan het plafond was vastgemaakt. In deze eenzame wereld die haar nieuwe thuis werd, in deze positie, werd Farah dagelijks door haar oom verkracht. Ze kreeg hangend te eten, ze deed hangend haar behoefte, ze sliep in haar ketenen. En in haar opstandige veerkracht weigerde het kleine meisje toe te geven.

Nu moeten we het in verband met veerkracht even over kwetsbaarheden hebben. Het lichaam van een kind, de zwakheid ervan, de beperkingen die het heeft, maar ook het vermogen een stem te laten horen en keuzes te maken om de eigen realiteit vorm te geven, alsook de fysieke kwetsbaarheid van een kind: al dat is juist hetgene dat door de volwassen wereld dient te worden beschermd, als was het een dure plicht.

Het ontbreken van die bescherming heeft ertoe geleid dat de moed van Farah afnam om beslissingen te nemen die ze niet vol kon houden. En het was toen haar lichaam nog verder verzwakte, toen de ketenen nog strakker waren gemaakt, het metaal door haar huid heen knaagde tot op haar botten, dat ze haar volgende beslissing nam.

Farah vertelde haar oom dat ze het opgaf, dat hij had gewonnen. Ze vertelde hem dat ze het ‘brave meisje’ zou zijn dat hij zich gewenst had en dat ze zou doen wat hij wilde. Terwijl hij haar losmaakte, terwijl hij de sloten opende van de kettingen die haar polsen en dunne enkels gebonden hielden, plande ze haar ontsnapping. Farah rende naar het raam en gooide zichzelf naar beneden vanaf de derde verdieping.

Hoe ze het heeft overleefd is voor ons allen bij de shelter onbekend. Het aantal gebroken botten was het bewijs voor de wanhoop en de prijs die dit kleine meisje betaalde voor die fysieke kwetsbaarheden en veerkrachtige keuzes. Ze werd niet alleen om haar gebroken botten naar het dichtstbijzijnde ziekenhuis gedragen, maar ook voor de doorgesleten plekken in de huid bij haar bovenbenen en billen, veroorzaakt doordat ze zichzelf maandenlang had bevuild. En voor de brandplekken daar waar ze was vastgebonden. Maar hoe zat het met de verkrachtingen? Hoe zat het met het trauma? En met de toekomst? Wiens verantwoordelijkheid was het om dat alles te helen?

Toen ze voldoende hersteld was, vertrok ze. Naar de straat. En toen verwees de politie haar naar onze shelter. Het moment dat ze binnen kwam lopen is onvergetelijk voor iedereen die daarbij aanwezig was. Shaimaa heeft me verteld dat ze soms nog over Farah’s polsen droomt.

Waarom ik u dit verhaal vertel, lezer? Het is niet alleen om zomaar even uw hart te breken. Ik heb het niet eens geschreven om u eraan te herinneren dat achter elk meisje dat op straat leeft een individueel en persoonlijk levensverhaal schuilgaat. Ik heb dit geschreven zodat we andere vragen kunnen gaan stellen. Ik deel dit om te laten zien dat het ineffectief is veel kinderen ervan te proberen te overtuigen dat het leven op straat slecht voor ze is. Voor kinderen zoals Farah, en helaas zijn er velen zoals zij, staat de straat voor hoop, vrijheid en vriendschap en onvoorspelbaarheid. Totdat wij begrijpen wat de straat echt betekent voor deze kinderen, totdat we NIET meer als eerste proberen ze te verenigen met hun families zodat we onze subsidies veilig stellen, totdat we ze alternatieven kunnen bieden…zouden we wel eens meer kwaad dan goed kunnen doen.

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.

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
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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.

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.

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.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

كونك فتاة يدفعك للشارع أحيانًا

This little girl ran away to the street after refusing to give sexual favours.

This little girl ran away to the street after refusing to give sexual favours.

This post was translated by Al Shorouk and was published by them on 19 Jan 2013 and can also be read here

يشير العديد من التخمينات والإحصاءات والكثير من الأبحاث الأكاديمية والتطوعية إلى أسباب مختلفة تدفع الأطفال للعيش فى الشوارع. وتراوحت الأسباب بين ما إذا كان فقر أسر الأطفال المدقع هو الذى يدفع بهم إلى الشارع، أم مثلما اكتشف بعض الباحثين أن العنف والأسرة المحطمة يفضى بهم إلى الانتقال إلى حياة أكثر عنفا وتحطما فى الشوارع.

ولعل ما لم يشر إليه كثيرون أو لم يلحظه، أن مجرد كونك فتاة يكفى لدفعك إلى الشارع. «اكسر للبنت ضلع يطلع لها 24»، هذا قول شائع بين أبناء الطبقة العاملة فى مصر. وهى أيضا عبارة، نسمعها نحن العاملين فى مجال خدمة أطفال الشوارع عندما نحاول التوسط بين هؤلاء الفتيات الهاربات وأهاليهن. وغالبا ما تكون الفتاة التى تنام فى العراء، ولدت لأسرة كانت فيها والدتها ضحية عنف من رب الأسرة، وقد دخلت هذه الدائرة لمجرد لفت النظر إليهم.

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ويمثل كونك فتاة، تحديا فى كل مكان. ولكن، الأمر يزيد سوءا عندما تكون الفتاة مصرية، من الطبقة العاملة الفقيرة، نشأت فى عائلة تتسم بالعنف، وتعيش مع أحد الوالدين. وليس هذا تعميما شاملا، وإنما هو تصوير ديموجرافى لمعظم الأطفال الذين أتعامل معهم. حيث تنام الفتيات تحت الكبارى، وفى منعطفات الشوارع، أو بجوار السكك الحديدية، وهذه الأعين الواسعة، اللاتى تراها وتسبب لك غالبا اضطرابا، أو تخيفك، هى عيون لأطفال مذعورين، جياع، وحيدين. وربما يسهل علينا أن ننسى ذلك. لكنهن مسحوقات فى سن الطفولة.

وغالبا ما تهرب فتيات الشوارع من الأسر التى عرضتهن للسفاح أو الاعتداء الجنسى من الإخوة والآباء وأزواج الأمهات. ومن بين الفتيات العشر النزيلات حاليا فى الملجأ، تعرضت فتاة عمرها 14 عاما، للاعتداء الجنسى من قبل زوج أمها منذ أن كانت فى التاسعة من عمرها، وعندما اكتشفت والدتها ذلك، أخذتها إلى المستشفى لإجراء فحص العذرية بعدما نفى زوجها الاعتداء. فقام بدفع رشوة للعاملين فى المستشفى، لإصدار تقرير وهمى. وفى القاهرة، خضعت لاختبار عذرية آخر، فصدر تقرير بأنها لم تعد عذراء، وبموجب هذا التقرير تم إدخالها إلى ملجأ «الأمهات الصغيرات».

أما الطفلة لمياء ذات العام الواحد، فهى ابنة سميرة ذات الثلاث عشرة سنة، التى تعرضت للاغتصاب من قبل كل من والدتها ووالدها. وقد تركت سميرة طفلتها فى الملجأ خشية المسئولية، ولا يعرف أحد إلى أين ذهبت. وربما كان من أكثر الحالات المؤلمة التى تتعامل معها قرية الأمل منظمة غير حكومية حاليا، حالة هايدى، الفتاة فائقة الجمال ذات الأربعة عشر عاما؛ فقد قام عمها بتكبيلها فى نفس الوضع لمدة ثلاثة شهور، وكان يغتصبها يوميا. ولم يطلق سراحها إلا عندما وعدت بالانضمام إلى شبكته للدعارة، التى أجبر أمها وشقيقته على العمل بها. وما أن فك قيودها، حتى جرت وألقت بنفسها من النافذة. ونقل المارة الفتاة التى تكسرت عظامها إلى نقطة الشرطة، فحولتها إلى الملجأ.

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ولا يتوقف العنف الجنسى فى البيت ضد الفتيات. ويعتبر الاغتصاب والتعامل بعنف مع الفتيات جزءا من ثقافة الشارع. ويحمل معظم فتيات الملجأ ندبة مقوسة على أحد جانبى الوجه، أو تحت العين؛ وفقا لتقليد معين للاغتصاب فى شوارع القاهرة، لم يستطع أى من العاملين مع الأطفال فهمه تماما. فبمجرد أن تغتصب فتاة للمرة الأولى، يتم عمل جرح عميق منحن فى وجهها، بواسطة مطواة أو قطعة من زجاج عادة، لتسجيل إنها لم تعد عذراء، ويتم تسجيل وقائع الاغتصاب التالية بواسطة جروح أصغر مساحة على وجهها. ويحدث نفس الشىء عندما يتم اغتصاب صبى. ويسجل مدير الملجأ، وهو يدير الإسعافات الأولية فى مركز استقبال الرعاية اليومية المزدحم بالسيدة زينب، أن هذا النوع من العنف هو الأكثر شيوعا بين ما يتعاملون معه، حتى إنه يتم تسجيله أكثر من مرة يوميا. وقد أجريت لفتاة كانت تسعى للالتحاق بالملجأ خياطة 16 غرزة لجروح فى ظهرها، نتجت عن محاولتها الهرب من مهاجميها لإنقاذ وجهها.

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وفى جميع قصص الفتيات التى تعاملنا معها، كان مجرد كونها فتاة يجعلها إما عرضة للمعاملة بعنف فى المنزل، والتسرب من التعليم للمساعدة فى أعمال المنزل، أو أن تصبح مسئولة عن العناية بإخواتها، أو الاغتصاب فى الشوارع بسبب انعدام وسائل حماية نفسها، أو تحمل عبء ما يترتب على الاغتصاب، حيث تصبح مسئولة عن طفل، بينما هى نفسها مازالت طفلة، وتحمل عار كونها أما غير متزوجة.

وربما لا يكون هناك ما هو أكثر تعبيرا عن العنف الذى عانت منه فتيات الشوارع، أكثر من مشاهدتهن يقفزن من فراشهن إلى ركن الغرفة ليجثمن على أطفالهن عند فتح الباب من قبل أحد الإخصائيين الاجتماعيين. ويصعب التعامل مع هذا ومع ارتعاد الأطفال من أى حركة مفاجئة أو سريعة، حتى بالنسبة للإخصائيين الاجتماعيين الذين يعرفون قصص الفتيات ويشاهدون ذلك يتكرر فى كل مرة. وتهدف قرية الأمل إلى مساعدة هؤلاء الأطفال على النوم بعينين مغمضتين.

Who Let The Street Kid Down?

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This picture is drawn by one of our street girls, our artist. All her drawings feature a child crying, except one, a girl in a wedding dress smiling. But, in our society, will a fifteen-year-old, ex street girl mother, get to wear one?

This post was originally published in the weekly print of Egypt Independent (AlMasry AlYoum) 16th January 2013 and can also be found here

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A lot of people have recently started asking me what the hardest moment working with street children has been for me. As soon as I am asked this I am flooded with choices. My mind quickly scans the children and I try to decide which story to tell. In a matter of seconds I go through the ones that have moved me the most. Moved me, not so much because of the pain and horror a child has gone through, but because I, as part of “main stream society”, have either been blind to, oblivious of, or – as is often the case – not quite sure about and so ignore.

Was it Maya who tugged at the cords of my heart the most? Maya is a great example of our failure as a society on many, many levels. No one was there to notice or to follow up her familial situation after the divorce of her parents when she was three years old, so no one found out for the next three years her step mother had drawn an imaginary circle that she put her in to sleep, play, eat, drink, wee and soil herself in. When at 6 years old she was allowed out of the circle to become the house maid to clean and cook for her family, and new sisters when she accidently burnt the rice and paid the price with the metal garlic crusher thrown at her head, when people saw her run out blood streaming down her face to the local coffee shop to find refuge with her father, when he, high on drugs took her to the roof and tied her and beat her, stripped her naked for upsetting her step mother, no one could get involved because we are a closed society, because what business did you or I have to interfere in their family affair? Was it her family?

Oftentimes people make fun at Egyptians; saying that if anyone were to lose their nose they could be sure to find it in someone else’s business. But this is not true when it comes to children. There is a sense of ownership that parents have over their children that has not, till today, been adequately challenged. Maya’s story is not an extreme example when it comes to her father. Her stepmother is sadistic no doubt, but her father? Maya and her family come from our society which where the saying “break a girls’ rib and she will grow twenty four” is common– a father beating his daughter is often seen as a form of discipline that will do her more good than harm. Maya suffers coming from a society where it’s more honorable for a father to see his child on the street than in an institution. Maya is (not) protected by a law that states no one can report familial abuse except from someone with in the family; a social care system that wont accept Maya into alternative care without the signature of her father. Was is society?

Did Maya’s story hurt my conscience the most because when she ran away to the streets, getting on to a train to another city where she knew no one, she was raped by four adult men 6 days later? Was it because I did not hear of the story, campaign outside the local police station till someone, somewhere was held responsible for the scars, mentally and emotionally this resilient, fragile little girl had been subject to in the last four years of her life? Was it the street?

Or was it that Maya spent three years in an adult prison when she was thirteen years old that angers me the most? Having tried for over two years to get herself into a shelter that couldn’t accept her without her fathers signature, Maya returned to her street family who told her they would only accept her if she gave herself up for a mugging that they had committed. The police accepted her confession with no thorough investigation, accepted the fake name she gave with no idea and she spent three years in the most high profile adult women’s prison in Egypt. Was it the police?

Is it her continued bad luck that makes me often wake up in my sleep teary? That when she finally got married, she married a man who in her own words “made me miss my step-mother and all the pain my father inflicted remembered like tickles” – the only happy thing about this story was that her husband was put in jail for fifteen year for a drug related crime; two days after Maya fell pregnant. Was it her husband?

Or is that the two hours I held Maya’s daughter Summer, rocking her after her mother had thrown her across the room and she had bounced back on the hard floor, her one year old body already crippled from the physical abuse. Was it because I couldn’t blame Maya, because I couldn’t protect Summer, or because Maya was inside cutting herself to rid herself of what she told me later was her guilt for what she did to her daughter? Was it her daughter?

By the time I just go through one story in my head, the conversation is already changed, we’re now talking about the Coptic 10 year old boys being arrested, whether FGM is really that bad, what age a girl should get married. These are the topics people are concerned about after a revolution. But street kids? Street kids, the ones running around burning building and throwing molotovs? Because after all, when did society let the street kids down?

Sometimes Being a Girl is All the Reason You Need to Migrate to the Street.

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This little angel was so many times offered to me to take… I couldn’t because I thought she’d always be better off with her mother. I heard later that her mother tried to sell her for (£500).

So many guesses and statistics and much research, both academic and by well meaning NGO’s have pointed to different reasons for children being on the streets. There have been arguments back and forth whether it is the dire poverty of the children’s families that push them to the street or, whether, as some better placed researchers have found, the violence and family break down that lead them to migrate to a more violent and broken life on the streets.

What many have not suggested or noticed is that for some, all the reason they need to be on the street, is being a girl.

“Break a girl’s rib and she will grow twenty-four”. This is a common saying between the working class of Egypt. It is also a phrase we, those who work and serve street children, hear often when we attempt to mediate between these children and the parents they have escaped. A girl who is sleeping rough, will often have been born into a family where she has seen her own mother be the victim of violence from the male head of the household only to enter this circle as soon attention is directed at them.

Being a girl is a challenge – everywhere. But, it is more so when you are an Egyptian, poor, working class girl who comes from a violent family and lives with a stepparent. This isn’t a sweeping generalisation; it’s the demographic of most of the children I deal with. The girls sleeping under bridges, on street corners, by the railway tracks, those wide-eyed girls you see and often feel unsettled by, or often scare you, are the eyes of terrified, hungry, lonely children. It has become so easy for us to forget that. But they are children; crushed as that experience of childhood may be, they are children.

Street girls have often escaped households that have subjected them to incest or sexual abuse from their fathers, brothers and stepfathers. Of the ten girls currently at the shelter, one fourteen year old girl was sexually abused by her stepfather since she was nine years old, on discovering this, her mother took her to hospital for a virginity check after her husband denied the abuse. He paid the hospital staff to issue a fake report and in Cairo, subjected to another virginity test, a report was issued that she is no longer a virgin and with this report she has been submitted to the “young mothers” shelter. One-year-old Lamia is daughter to thirteen year old Samira who was raped by both her mother and father. Lamia has abandoned Samira at the shelter from fear of the responsibility and no one knows where she has turned to. Perhaps one of the most severe cases the NGO is currently dealing with is of Heidi, an incredibly beautiful fourteen-year old girl whose uncle had chained her for three months in the same position, raping her daily. He only let her go when she promised to join his prostitution ring; which he had his sister, her mother, working for. As soon as he undid the chains, she ran and threw herself out of the window. Passers by took the broken boned girl to the police station that then referred the girl to the shelter.

Sexual violence does not stop at home for the girls. Rape and violence towards girls is part of the street culture. Most of the girls at the shelter bare a curved scar on the side of their face or under their eye. There is a specific culture of rape on the streets of Cairo which none of those working with the children has been able to fully understand. Once a girl is raped for the first time, she is then deeply cut, usually by a pen knife or a piece of glass, in a curved manner, to mark that she is no longer a virgin, subsequent rapes are recorded on her face by smaller cuts across her face. This is the same if a boy has been raped. Administering first aid at the busy Sayeda Zainab day care reception center, the shelter manager records that this type of violence is the most common that they deal with, one that they record more than once a day. One girl seeking refuge at the shelter received sixteen stitches on her back as she tried to run away from her attackers, saving her face.

Perhaps there is nothing more telling of the violence the street girls have suffered than to watch them jump out of bed into the corner of their rooms crouching over their babies when the door is opened by one of the social workers. This and the flinching of the children at any quick or sudden movement is very difficult to deal with, even for the social workers who know the girl’s stories and who have seen this repeated every time. It is the NGO’s aim to help these children sleep with both eyes shut.

Street Children: Rape and Erasing the Scars of Memory.

Today my post is dedicated to Dr Hany Hamam; an amazing human being whose life path took him to the study of medicine and then to cosmetic surgery. I want to dedicate him this post as a thank you for showing me the better side of life and for his generosity, his integrity and the gentleness with which he treated one of “my” street girls as he changed her life.

I arrived at the shelter today at 6pm. This is the latest I have ever been. It was darker than usual. It hadn’t occurred to me before that the charity, with its sparse financial resources, would make do with the TV light in the evening to save the electricity counter ticking. I felt ashamed that this explanation only crossed my mind after I had automatically reached out to switch the lights on. I went up, the first floor was empty and dark, the second floor hosted everyone around the TV. I immediately noticed that Leena wasn’t there today, Mama Madeeha tells me her mother has come to take her. She moves her lips to one side, as only Egyptians know how, to express her sadness at the situation. She’s upset because this isn’t a family visit for Leena, her mother is taking her three days to spend on the street with her. Taghreed adds, three days if she actually does bring her back. Shams toddles hurriedly my way with her arms in the air saying “mama” demanding I carry her. She does not know that I have come up specially to see her and hug her and take my own dose of the love that these children have become a huge source of to me.

Me and Taghreed and her 4 month old son leave and go back down the stairs, in the dark this time. Taghreed tells me she’s learnt the way down by heart and not to be scared. A little ashamed of myself, I take out the torch in my bag to light the way down despite her reassurance (and yes, I have a torch in my bag, as well as a million other random things!) We wait for Mr Emad, the duty manager and 3am Ashraf who’s working unpaid extra hours this evening to drive us to 6th October City; a journey that takes us just under three hours in the Cairo traffic. I am in my element in this little micro bus. I am humbled by the amazing people sat in the front, giving their time and effort for a cause that is so dear to my heart.

During the three hours that it takes us to get to Dr Hany Hamam’s clinic, Taghreed tells me of the times she looks in the mirror and remembers how she got this scar. She does not spend long telling me how, but instead, excitedly tells me how well this doctor has been treating her in the times she has previously been to him. Dr Hany had written to me on twitter telling me he wanted to help the girls who had the rape scars, that he was a cosmetic surgeon and offered to perform these procedures free of charge. I was not in Egypt at the time and to be honest, ashamedly I could not keep up with all the offers of help that were flying in at me after the few posts I had written about the girls. But, I did pass his number on and I returned to find out that Taghreed has been to have the surgery and she was going today to take out the stitches. She tells me how clean the clinic is and that he treated her like “The Lady Taghreed” and joked with her and had asked her for her name. She had answered “My real name or my fame name”? She had joked with him and said “Abo Lahab” in answer to her real name. She told me this had made him laugh and she’d liked him ever since.

It may seem unremarkable to you, reader, that the doctor treated Taghreed with kindness and respect. If it does, then please let me explain. During the journey, she tells me of her child birth experience in comparison. She had been to the university hospital “Dimirdaash” in down town Cairo. She tells me that as soon as she walked in, in pain, she was asked where her husband was, what the scar on her face was, who was going to vouch for her. She said because she didn’t have a man with her, the doctors were able to use her to teach the younger doctors without her consent, so that after one doctor checks her dilation, 20 other hands were in her. They had also told her not all patients get anaesthetic when they were cutting/stitching and that they would only spray a little on. She tells me this story shaking her head with a slight smile and tells me that if Dr Hany had seen how they had treated her, she was sure they would all be in some trouble.

There were other stories Taghreed tells me on our journey, she tells me she doesn’t want to eat till Leena comes back – these two have a very special bond. She recalls the time Leena’s mother had taken her for two weeks and bought her back to the shelter naked with chicken pox and with more lice in her hair than all the lice she had ever seen in her life. It’s more moving than I can find words to write to hear Taghreed speak like this. I am amazed at how wrong I was when I first saw her. I had judged her as harsh and quite cold and dangerous. Her tenderness as she hugs her 4 month old, speaking about someone else’s child with such concern and helplessness is painful. She jumps from one conversation to the other, from stories of her fathers beatings, to being tied up in the institutions and beaten, to the freedom and fun on the street, to the friends she used to sleep with on the rail tracks, to the social workers that took her once to KFC. The two stories she always comes back to are of her friends whom she can’t find anymore and to her worry about one day not being able to afford her son’s education. But just as quickly as the concern appears, it leaves her eyes as she remembers stories of kindness or risk that she choses to tell me.

Taghreed’s stories are interrupted as we drive through 6 October. She points out at all the empty flats (as I had done before her) and asks me how comes there are so many empty buildings and so many people sleeping on the street. On her first journey here, she says all she could think about was how to come her on her own and just live in one of those rooms with her son, have a door shut behind them for safety. She had thought that she could grow some apples like the 6 she had stolen one day for her and her friends when they hadn’t eaten for three days and then when they had money, they had gone back and paid the fruit seller who in return for their honesty refused the money had given them 6 more. She tells me people who steal because they are hungry shouldn’t be punished and that all of Egypt were hungry. She laughs and kisses her baby telling him he would have an education and make 200-300 pounds a month and never go hungry.

We arrive at the surgery. Taghreed guided us. She said with pride, “I can tell you where this building is between a million buildings”. We go up the three floors and she holds in one hand her son and in the other a present for the doctor – a candle that the girls produce in their workshop. It has been specially wrapped for this occasion. We are greeted like old friends in the surgery and Taghreed proudly offers her gift.

I am in owe of the man we meet inside. He tells me that a person either always loved his country and never knew it, or that the 25th Jan revolution shone a light on this love. Either way, I understood what this man was saying. I felt his need to not function on a personal level but make society function with him. He is a man who has performed over 130 surgeries for Libyans who have come to Cairo and 15 Syrians. He told me he follows my tweets about street children avidly and to consider him one of my team. His humbleness was indescribable.

I went in to the operating room with them thinking I would support Taghreed while she took out the stitches. But again, she amazed me with her resilience and strength. She did not once flinch as the stitches were being removed, despite the blood that was oozing out of the wound, and despite the tears gathering in the corner of her eye involuntarily. I tried to hold her hand, but she pulled it away because she was counting stitches. It was an amazing change to her face, the flesh that hung out of place previously, a constant reminder of her trauma, her weakness, her history, the scar that haunted her with it’s memories was no longer there. Despite the psychological trauma, who’s scars were deeper and not visible to the eye, the responsibility in the form of the child that Taghreed was left with, the daily reminder in the mirror, was no longer there. We left his clinic with one less burden to deal with, one less reminder of a life full of challenge, full of violence, full of fight.

As we were getting into the car, Taghreed turned around and asked me to bring my camera to the shelter tomorrow because now she was no longer ashamed to take pictures with her son.

أحفاد الشوارع… يزحفون في ظلال الصدقة

لم أكن رأيت ريم من قبل. وكنت قد سمعت عنها عندما حدثتنى شيماء عن أسماء غريبة لبعض الأطفال، وكيف يطلق عليهم الملجأ أسماء أخرى. وكان اسم الطفلة ريم ذات السنوات الخمس، «أم حامد» فى شهادة ميلادها. وراقبتنى ريم بعيون تشع ذكاء. وقد تدربت، لأنها عاشت فى الشارع طوال سنواتها الخمس، على ملاحظة الغرباء وتحديد ــ خلال دقائق قليلة ــ ما إذا كانوا يمثلون خطرا أو لا يضمرون أذى. وهى موهبة يتمتع بها معظم أطفال الشوارع الذين قد تقابلهم.

وقد شاهدتنى وأنا ألعب مع الأخريات، وتابعت بعضهن يأتى ليعانقنى وأعانقه. ورأيتها بطرف عينى، وهى تستمع باهتمام إلى تعليقاتى، وهن يحكين لى ما حدث فى الملجأ خلال الصباح، وعن آخر رسوماتهن، وكيف تعرضت سالى للعقاب لأنها أهانت إحدى «أخواتها»، وعندما تأكدت أننى لا أمثل تهديدا، سارت نحوى مترددة. حملتها وأثنيت على ملابسها وسألتها عن اسمها. فقالت »أنا ريم». قلت «آه.. ريم، سمعت كثيرا عنك، أخبرتنى ماما شيماء وماما ناهد كيف افتقدتاك، وظلتا تتحدثان عن جمالك وأدبك». وكان رد فعلها مؤثرا. فألقت بذراعيها الصغيرتين حول عنقى وقفزت لتجلس على ركبتى. ولاحظت لأول وهلة أن لديها قمل فى شعرها، وكنت خجلة من نفسى لأننى ابتعدت قليلا حتى لاتزحف الحشرات إلى شعرى. وفى مثل هذه اللحظات أود أن أذكرك، أيها القارئ، بالإعجاز والتفانى الذى يتسم به هؤلاء الذين كرسوا حياتهم لأطفال الشوارع، واختاروا العمل معهم بشكل يومى، وينتقل إليهم فى كثير من الأحيان القمل، والطفح الجلدى، والالتهابات والعدوى من الأطفال، ولا يخجلون من معانقتهم، ورعايتهم، وتقبلهم. و لهؤلاء الناس ارفع القبعة بكل إحترام لأنهم يعرضون حياتهم للخطر بشكل يومي و هم يدافعون عن أطفال الشوارع الذين هم في الأصل مصدر دخل من الشحادة و الدعارة لبلطجية و زعماء دوائر شحادة او دعارة في الشوارع.

ويدور هذا الموضوع عن أبناء أولئك الأطفال فى الشوارع جيل جديد أكثر تهميشا من الأطفال الذين أنجبوهم. ولأنهم لا يندرجون تحت التصنيفات التقليدية لـ«الأيتام»، فهم إما يباعون، أو يقتلون، أو يستخدمون للتسول، أو إذا كانوا محظوظين للغاية يتركون فى الملجأ، الذى يتعلم، من خلال التجربة والخطأ، التكيف مع حاجات أطفال الشوارع بسبب عدم وجود مثال يمكن اتباعه.

في أغلب الأحيان يضطر الإِنسان أن يكتم صوت صريخ ضميره عندما يسمع هذه القصص بأنه يشير بأصبع الإِتهام على أطفال الشوارع و يتهمهم بالإِهمال كأنهم كانوا أصحاب القرار أن يحملوا و هم في هذا الوضع من المعيشة و يقولوا “كيف لهم أن يفعلوا هذا؟ الا يروا مدَى سوء وضعهم الحالي الذي سيولد فيه الطفل؟”  لكن ردّي على من يخطر بباله ذلك السؤال و على من لا يصل إلى أن يفكر في هذه الأشياء من الأساس أن اسألهم “و كيف لهم أن يروا؟ هؤلاء أطفال يعيشون في الملاجئ بعدما إغتصبهم والديهم أو بعدما تحرش بهم و إغتصبهم أزواج أمهاتهم أو إخواتهم أو من يعملون عنده.  أطفال تعاني من مشاكل نفسية و ذهنية، أطفال إغتصبهم من كان الأصح منه أن يرعاهم. هذه الأمثلة التي في الأرجح سببت لك الإِستياء موجودة لكن الإِغتصاب من قبل الأهالي أو في المؤسسات أو من الشرطة لا يعبر في حديثنا اليومي كأنه سر أكبر من كل الأسرار، لكن صدقني، عزيزي القارئ، أن الفتاة التي تحمل في الحالات المذكورة مسبقاً وضعها و حظها أفضل من غيرها فالإِغتصاب الذي يحدث في الشوارع ضرره و خطورته و ألمه اكبر بكثير.

وهناك ثقافة معينة للاغتصاب فى شوارع القاهرة، لم أكتشفها إلا عندما بدأت بحثى عن العنف الذى تعرضت له هؤلاء الفتيات. فبمجرد أن تغتصب فتاة الشارع للمرة الأولى، وإذا اتضح أنها عذراء، يجرح وجهها من تحت العين أو فوق مؤخرتها. وقد تم عمل 16 غرزة لإحدى الفتيات التى كانت تبحث عن مأوى فى الملجأ، بعد تعرضها لمثل هذا الاغتصاب. وهى إشارة إلى أن الرجال الذين اغتصبوها للمرة الأولى «علموا عليها» و«حطموها»! وينجم عن عمليات الاغتصاب التالية ندبة رأسية على جانب الوجه.  معاناة بنات الشوارع لا تنتهي عند تعرضهم للإغتصاب فالعلامات التي تنحت عليهم و الحمل ليسا إلا شيئين من أشياء أخرَى كثيرة بشعة سيواجهونها. إذا إستطاعت البنت ان تصل إلى ملجأ فمن الممكن أن تلقَى رعاية ما قبل الولادة في العيادة التابعة للملجأ لأنها لو لجأت للمستشفيات العادية فإِنها تتعرض للإِهانة و المعاملة القاسية من الموظفين الذين يسبوها و يعتدوا عليها اكثر.

ومن أكبر الإنجازات التى تفخر بها «قرية الأمل»، الدعوة الناجحة لتغيير قانون الطفل فى عام 2008 فيما يتعلق بالأطفال الذين يولدون لأمهات من آباء غير معروفين. فقبل عام 2008، كان الطفل المولود لفتاة الشارع، يبعد عنها، ويسجل تحت تسمية «مجهول الأبوين»، ويفصل عن الأم التى توصم بعد ذلك بالداعرة وتحبس فى مؤسسة إصلاحية بناء على هذا الاتهام، ولا يلتئم شمل الأم وطفلها مرة أخرى. وبعد حملة واسعة وبذل الكثير من الجهد، تم تغيير هذا القانون، وقرية الأمل الآن قادرة على مساعدة أمهات الشوارع الصغيرات على تسجيل أطفالهن باسم « مجهول الأب»، وتقديم المأوى للأم الطفلة وطفلها حتى تستطيع العيش بصورة مستقلة.

وبعد زيارتى الأولى إلى الملجأ قبل بضعة أشهر، سألت نفسى كيف يمكن لهؤلاء الفتيات الصغيرات ذوات البطون الكبيرة التعامل مع حالة الأمومة، هؤلاء الفتيات اللاتى هربن فى كثير من الأحيان إلى الشارع بعد اعتداء عنيف بدنى وجنسى، ارتكبه الأب أو زوج الأم. وهناك تاريخ لكل من هؤلاء الفتيات حيث تمثل كل منهن قصة رعب فى حد ذاتها، فكيف بعدما إغتصبها من قبل والديها ستتعامل “سميرة” التي تبلغ من العمر ١٢ عام  مع تلك هذه المسؤلية التي هربت بعد يومين من عملية قيصرية، وكيف سيكون التعامل بين “مايا” و بنتها “سمر” بعد ما تعرضت “مايا” لخلع ملابسها و ضربها و تركها على سطح المنزل مغطأة بالعسل من قبل والدها! كيف ستستطيع شوشو” التي تبلغ من العمر ١٤ عاماً أن تستيقظ كل يوم لتطعم طفلها الذي يبلغ من العمرشهرين عندما يجوع بعدما حرقوا عينيها في موقف من مواقف العنف الكثيرة التي واجهتهم من أهلها لكونها معاقة؟”

وبعد شهرين، جلست فى جلسة علاج جماعى، وشاهدت هدير (14 عاما) تلقم ثديها لوليدها الجديد فى حنان لم أره من قبل ولم أقرأ أو أسمع عن مثيله أبدا. ورحلت ذلك اليوم وأنا أشعر بالألم من ظلم هذا العالم الذى نعيش فيه وأدعو سامع الدعاء ألا يتخلى عن هؤلاء الصغيرات، وأن يمنح أطفالهن الفرصة التى لم تتح للأمهات. غير أن الواقع يختلف كثيرا عن ذلك الدعاء. فلا يقيم فى الملجأ و«يتخرج» منه سوى 20 فى المائة من أطفال الشوارع. وتعود الأخريات إلى الشارع خشية هذه المسئولية الكبيرة، التى اضطررن إلى تحملها.

وحتى الفتيات اللاتى تعلقن بأطفالهن، غالبا ما لا يستطعن البقاء. ومن أكثر الأمثلة التى تمزق القلب الطفلة منال ذات الثلاثة عشر عاما وتعانى من فصام عقلى، التى أنجبت الطفلة هند. وتعتبر منال أفضل طفلة أم على الرغم من أنها تترك ابنتها فى الملجأ. فقد تعرضت للاغتصاب من صبى فى منطقة ريفية بمصر، وأمضت شهور حملها فى الملجأ. وقد ظنت أنها إذا أخذت طفلتها معها، سوف تحرك العينان الصغيرتان اللامعتان مشاعر أبويها ليتوليا رعاية طفلتها الصغيرة. وبعد يومين، تم استدعاء الإخصائية النفسية إثر استغاثة من منال لإنقاذ هند من حبسها فى مزرعة الدجاج، فى محاولة من الوالدين لإخفاء ما اعتبروه العار الذى لحق بالعائلة. واستقلت شيماء الرائعة حافلة لمدة تسع ساعات، ثم حملت على صدرها الطفلة الصغيرة طوال تسع ساعات للعودة. وتحضر منال كل شهر لتمضى يومين مع هند. وهى تعمل بقية الأيام الأخرى لشراء الطعام والملابس لها. وانا أتحدى من يرى صراعها النفسى كى تغادر فى نهاية اليومين، أن يستطيع النوم فى تلك الليلة.

ويبدو أن حياة هؤلاء الأطفال لا تفتقر فقط إلى التمويل بعد الثورة ولكن إلى الاهتمام والوعى المجتمعيين. وهناك أمل فى نجاة أحفاد الشارع من الاغتصاب والجوع، والعنف إذا كنا، كمجتمع مسئول عن ظروفهم، نشعر بالغضب من عدم وجود قوانين تطبق لحماية هؤلاء الأطفال. وأنا أريد منك أيها القارئ، أن تغضب لعدم وجود قانون يسمح بأخذ الطفلة جودى ذات السنوات الأربع من أم الشارع التى أخرجتها من الملجأ لتتسول بها، بعد أن أحدثت فى رأسها قطعا من شأنه أن يكسبها نجاحا أكبر فى نيل تعاطف المارة. وعندما تمر أيها القارئ بجودى وآلاف من أمثالها فى الشارع، ولا تشعر بالغضب معنا، فعليك أن تدرك أننا جميعا السبب. فلتساند حملتنا لحماية هؤلاء الأطفال بحيث لا نواصل تحويلهم، مع جميع الأقليات الأخرى فى بلادنا، إلى السكان الأصليين فى مصر.

ولكن الآن، عودة إلى ريم ذات السنوات الأربع، فبعد أن تسلقت إلى حضنى واستسلمت لعناقها، واختلط شعرها الموبوء بالقمل بشعرى المغسول، وعندما تذكرت بارتياح أن لدى شامبو للقمل من لندن يحقق نتيجة خلال عشر دقائق، قلت للطلفة الصغيرة أننى كنت أنتظر لقائها، وقد سمعت أنها كانت بالخارج فى زيارة عائلية. فنظرت إلى بجدية بعينيها المستديرتين اللامعتين، وقالت: «أكره الزيارات العائلية، لقد اوقعت هبة الكوب، فربطنا والدى نحن الاثنتين معا، وضربني بالحزام هنا (و أشارت على ظهرها و العلامات الكثيرة التي تملأه) وتوقف عن ضربى عندما بللت نفسى. عندما أكبر سأصبح شرطية. وسوف أقتل أبى”.

thank you to Ahmed AboElhassan (from Tahrir Supplies) and Gameel Mattar (from Al Shorook News) for helping with the translation

Grandchildren of the Street: Crawling in the Shadow of Charity

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 one of her “sisters”.

Once she had decided I posed no threat, she walked up to me tentatively. I held her, complimenting her clothes and asked who she was. She said, “Ana Reem”. “Oh!! Reeeeeem” I said, “I have heard all about you! Mama Shaimaa and Mama Nahed tell me how they have missed you and keep talking about how beautiful and well behaved you are.” Her reaction touched me. She flung her little arms around my neck and climbed to sit on my knee. I noticed at once that she had lice in her hair and I was ashamed at myself for pulling away a little so that the insects don’t crawl into mine. It’s moments like this that I want to remind you, reader, of the incredible work and dedication of those who, for what is often very little money, chose to commit their lives and to work with the street kids on a day-to-day basis. I would like you to remember those, who have on many occasions caught nits, rashes and infections from the children and do not shy away from hugging them, caring for them and from accepting them. My hat is taken off to those who put their lives in danger when protecting these young ones who are often a source of income through begging and prostitution to the thugs and street leaders.

This post is about the grandchildren of the street – a new generation that are more marginalised than the children they are born to. Not fitting the conventional categories of “orphan”, they are often sold, killed, used for begging or prostituted – all of which we have documented cases. If they are very lucky, then they are left in the shelter that has learnt to adapt to the needs of street children through trial and error for lack of an example to follow.

Some of us chose to silence the screams of our conscience by blaming the children for having children of their own. We say “how can they do that, can’t they see how miserable their own lives are?!” To those people, and to those who never got so far as to asking the question in the first place, I would like to tell you “how?”. There are children at the shelter who have been raped by their parents, step parents, brothers and they are children who have been raped by their employers and children with mental health problems who have been raped by those who are meant to care for them. You may find the list horrific, incest, institutional and police rape are taboo and rarely spoken of, but believe me, my dear reader, that if the girl is pregnant through those attacks, then she is lucky. Being raped on the street, bares greater pain.

There is a specific culture of rape on the streets of Cairo. A street girl, raped for the first time, will be carved on her face, under the eye, or above her bottom – one girl seeking refuge at the shelter received 16 stitches after such an attack. It is a sign that the men (yes, plural) who have raped have “marked her” and “broken her”. Subsequent rapes result in a vertical scar on the side of the face. The plight of street girls after rape is intense; these markings and pregnancy mark only a few. During her time at the shelter, the child mother will receive pre-natal care at the in-house clinic where she is spared the abuse of the hospital staff that swear and physically assault the street children.

One of the biggest achievements Hope Village are proud of, is their successful advocacy around the change of child law in 2008. Prior to 2008, a child born to a street girl, was taken away from her, registered as “of unknown parentage”, separated from the mother who is then labeled a prostitute and locked up in a correctional institution on that charge and is never to be re united with her child again. Following a large campaign and much effort, this law was changed and with the right help, young street mothers are able to register their babies as ” of half unknown parentage” and keep them.

After my first visit to the shelter a few months ago, I left wondering how these little girls with big tummies will be able to handle motherhood, these children who have run away to the street after what is often violent, physical and sexual abuse. There is a history to each of these girls that is a horror story each in its own right. How, after being raped by both her mother and father, can 12-year-old Samira be judged for her fear and running away 2 days after having a C-Section? How can Maya be blamed for the violence she inflicts on baby Samar after being stripped naked and beaten and left covered in honey on the roof for the bees for days by her father? How can you easily teach 14 year old Shosho to wake up to feed her hungry 2 month old when she has had her eye burned out in a series of abusive attacks by her parents for being a disabled child.

A couple months later, I sat in the group therapy session and watched 14 year old Hadeer hold her breast for her new born baby in both her hands, with a tenderness I have never seen, read, or heard about. I left that day with an ache at the unfairness of this world in which we live and a prayer to who ever is out there hearing prayers, for these little ones to not give up, to give these babies a chance, even if they themselves were not afforded one. The reality, however, is much different to that prayer. Only 20% of street children stay at the shelter.

Even the girls, who grew attached to their babies, often cannot stay. One of the most heart breaking examples is of a 13-year-old schizophrenic child who had baby Hend. Manal was raped by a boy in a rural part of Egypt and stayed her pregnancy months at the shelter. She thought if she took her baby back with her, the little bright eyes and soft feet would move her parents to accepting the child. The psychologist was called 2 days later in a plea from Manal to save Hend from being locked in the farm with the chickens in an attempt from her parents to hide what they saw as the shame that was bought on the family. The amazing Shaimaa took a nine-hour bus ride and carried on her chest the little child, the nine hours back. Manal comes every month to stay two days with Hend. She works all other days to buy her food and clothes and her struggle to leave at the end of the two days is something I challenge any observer to sleep the night after.

It is not just the money that seems to be hoarded after the revolution that is missing from the lives of these children, but a legal and societal concern and awareness that begs to be present. The grandchildren of the street have hope of being spared rape, the hunger, and the violence if we, as a society responsible for it’s vulnerable, are outraged that there are no laws enforced and implemented to protect these children. Reader, I want you to be angry that we were not legally allowed to keep 4 year old Jude from her street mother taking her away from the shelter to beg now that she has developed a lump in her head that would make her more successful at gaining passerby’s sympathy. When you pass Jude and the thousand of other Jude’s on the street, reader, and you have not been angry with us, realise that we are all to blame. Help us campaign to protect these children so that we do not continue to make them, along with all other minorities in our country, the indigenous people of Egypt.

But now back to 5-year-old Reem. After she had climbed onto my lap and I had given in to hugging her, her lice infested hair mingled with my newly washed strands, remembering comfortably that I had lice shampoo from London that promised to work in 10 minutes while Reem would soon be the cause of an outbreak to all the other 10 children. I told the little child that I had been waiting to meet her and had heard she was away on a family visit. She looked at me seriously with her round bright eyes and said, “I was with my father and mother. He hits mama and she cries all the time. I hate family visits. Heba slammed the cup down hard and so my dad tied us both up and beat us. He hit me with a belt here.” she shows me the bruises on her small back “He stopped hitting me when I wet myself. When I grow up, I am going to be a policewoman. I’m going to kill my dad.”

Street Children: The Hymen and the Stamp of Shame

I sat rocking baby Summer, I held her vertically so that she could lay her head on my chest while I hugged her in her entirety. The rocking and the hug were calming me. As my tears fell on her face, she began to smile at the funny feeling of teardrops touching her skin. Despite the burning pit of anger, fear and pity they came from, these droplets must not have landed on her cheeks with the cruelty of the blood her whole body was covered in only moments earlier. She reached out with her little fingers that, unlike other babies, were rough, covered in rashes, to touch my eyes. This was a huge achievement for baby Summer who’s been receiving physiotherapy; calcium deficiency and crooked bones make it difficult to sit up, reach and hold things. The baby who had not completed her first year smiled looking right into my eyes. It broke my heart that she was smiling. I kept whispering to her how sorry I was. How incredibly sorry I was that I could not save her. I repeated it over and over again to the child now smiling, unaware that her mother, who was also still a child, was packing their well-worn hand-me-downs and would spend the night on the street; that if her mother did not leave her at the shelter, she would be her begging tool.

Today I learnt that I was braver than I thought, and that I was more of a coward than I had thought. Life as you live it every day limits this self-discovery. Only when you are pushed into the depth of darkness of human nature, when you are exposed to the rawness of human cruelty, pain and fear do you discover who you really are. I have been working with street children for a while. As a writer, you will notice that I have not written about the children, even on my blog. It has become too personal, I become too angry at the writing because of how sensational it may unintentionally sound. I want to protect the children I have grown to love and their stories from reducing them to words. No matter how skilled you are, no matter how much excellence you have in the craft of writing, you can never do justice in portraying the injustice of life and humans towards these children.

But I want to write today. Not because I have gained some extra writing skill over night, and not just because there is a societal concern and lesson from the incident I will write about, but because I have not been able to stop crying. I have not been able to sleep. Because, selfish as we humans are, I need to escape. It is no lie, no exaggeration when I tell you, reader, I am dipping the pen into my heart, and the blood of it, is the ink that writes this post.

The shelter today had a different vibe. The more I go, the more natural things seem to be, the less acting “happy family” there is. Today there is an “institution” feeling bouncing off the walls, each for their own, survival of the fittest. I am taken aside by Shaimaa, the shelter psychologist who has been working with street girls for over six years. She asked me not to give Shosho the headphones she has asked for because she listens to her mp3 all night and she doesn’t hear her two month old baby cry and so doesn’t feed her. I hear past what is being said and wonder how many girls are unlike Shosho, who have all the comfort and safety in the world to listen to their music when and how they wish, who do not have their an eye poked out by parents who abused her for being a disabled child with Parkinson’s, who have not had to prostitute themselves in the street for survival. This could have been a topic on it’s own for a blog, really. But Shaimaa went on to tell me that she was worried for the safety of Laila. Laila was the only virgin at the shelter.

Usually, the virgin girls are separated from the street mothers. The virgin’s are kept at 10th Ramadan Shelter for girls and Moqattam is home to the young mothers and their babies. Before working with the children, I was horrified at the split, I condemned the NGO for it’s segregation and joined a human rights campaign meeting where we, well meaning good doers tutted and shook our heads pointing fingers at the NGO heads who had taken this decision. Today, I went home understanding why this decision needed to be made, and that you had to start somewhere else. You had to start with society before you could keep the girls safe together. I understood today how very sick our society was. We are a hypocritical society concerned with which hand we should teach our children to eat with so that the devil doesn’t eat with them, who point out how heinous it is to walk through the door with our left foot while we forget the children that eat with their right hands out of the rubbish bins and we turn a blind eye on the children who get walked over with both feet. In the name of religiosity people condemn the broken hymen regardless of the circumstances a girl will carry that burden to her grave.

Shaimaa told me that she was worried Laila will be attacked by the girls tonight who were conspiring to break her hymen. Laila is due to get married in a few months. In a society that judges a girl’s suitability as a wife and mother based on a hymen that is in tact, this would be a catastrophe for Laila who would be rejected by her fiancé and will be sentenced to a different life than the one she wants. The hymen, even if broken in an attack by other girls who decide that they would seek justice by destroying something that was valuable to a girl who had been spared their trauma, the hymen, broken, was a stamp of shame to the girl in a society that kids itself into thinking it is pious, kind and merciful.

In the group session, things today were different. None of the girls were asked how she feels. Instead, sat in the circle we always sit in, we went round, each of the girls being asked to explain what was different in the shelter the last four days. Each girl said that Laila was annoying her. When asked how or why, no one gave any concrete answer, no one could put their finger on the reason. Sarah said “Laila is a clean freak, she can’t see something dirty and shut her mouth, but does she think she can remind us to clean just because she’s a virgin and better than us?” Pregnant Rania said “I could pay 500 pounds and come back to you tomorrow a virgin and better than Laila.” Maha said, “Laila annoys me, I don’t know why she just annoys me I don’t want her to talk to me”. Maha is a new arrival at the shelter that has been in many institutions since she was 5 years old. It unfolds in the end that Maha is responsible for planting the idea of attacking Laila. I am shocked at this because she appears the quietest, the sweetest of the lot. The same story about Laila is repeated till we get to Maya. During the time I have spent at the shelter I have noticed Maya has two voices, one she uses when she wants something and is trying to act feminine, and another when she is being defensive, when her body language is like that of a wounded animal. She was using this voice now. That was not a good sign. She said, “I hate Laila, she is better than me, I know she is better than me and I hate her”. Shaimaa told her she admired her honesty but that we should work with that and find out where that feeling was coming from and what made her feel Laila was better than her. She was not getting a response and so she said, “So far you’ve all spoken and I don’t feel there is any valid reason why you have all ganged up against Laila”.

At this, Maya stood up pointing her finger right between Shaimaa’s eyes telling her “I don’t need a gang to help me deal with Laila, I will give you institutions here, I will break her so she is like us, so she is not better than me, I will show you what real institutions are like. I will do it on my own, I don’t need anyone’s help, you can lock her in a cell and I’ll still break her.” At this, she stormed out of the circle, she grabbed baby Summer by one arm slamming her into the wall as she stormed passed, tore the curtain that separates the humble living area and the bedrooms. Shaimaa got up and asked all the girls to sit on the other side of the room. They all obliged, not saying a word. Everyone was somber but no one looked worried. I sat where I was, right in front of that curtain. I usually am one good for emergencies. Maya has grown attached to me and I’ve been used often to encourage her to behave well, I sat praying this friendship would support me in helping her. She appeared out of the bedroom with something in her hands that she unwrapped and threw the wrapper on the floor so we could see it had seconds ago covered a blade. When Maya grabbed Summer off the floor I got up to take the baby but Shaimaa told me not to, that Maya would harm the baby if we gave her attention. Shaimaa banged on the toilet door and told Maya she can cut herself, but not to hurt the baby. As Maya stormed out of the bathroom, we all tried to get the blade out of her hand, I kept saying, “for me Maya, for me, we all love you”. You could tell from the way her eyelids drooped she was not hearing us.

The shelter manager was called for. Maya returned to her room waving the blade in the air, dripping blood as she moved from the bathroom to the bedroom, she leaned on the wall covering it with blood. As soon as the shelter manager walked in, she stripped her clothes off so that he would leave. He walked out waiting for her to put something on. I told him we needed the baby out of there. Shaimaa walked in, I walked in behind her, as soon as she saw us, she took Summer and swung her across the room, the baby landed on the floor, her face and body were covered in blood. I grabbed the baby and as I picked her Maya came for me, I crouched over Summer in the corner, and Shaimaa screamed for Sami to come in, Maya had just slashed Shaimaa’s arm with the razor. I guess he saved us by storming in and slapping Maya. I took the baby and ran out almost crawling on the floor. But as soon as I had passed those curtains back into the living room, I froze. I carried Summer away from her, blood dripping off her, I could not move.

A younger child came up to me and said “we have to fix her, come to the bathroom”. I followed this little human who appeared far braver, far more experienced than I was, she skillfully held the baby over the sink and cleaned her, she told me where the antiseptic was, I went to get it and we covered the baby in it. We dressed her, and I sat with her back in my chair where Maya could see her child as she went back and forth. I could tell she was sad for Summer; she wanted to make sure she was ok. I was going to give her that. Sarah sat next to me. She said, “this reminds me of the institute days. But this is much better, in the institute; there were at least four girls who cut themselves every night. You don’t get help like you do here, its just girls after 4pm, there’s no supervision after that, so the girls wait till we’re all alone. You need to try and not learn that. You know, she can’t feel the pain at all; it’s like a chronic illness. What day is it? 10th September? It’s a black day, my mother was born on the same day.”

Shaimaa asked Sarah to help. Sarah, without saying a word got up and in seconds had Maya held against the wall. Such skill, so fast, so effective. These children had fought for survival, this was clear. They held Maya to the wall as they emptied her pockets to make sure she wasn’t hiding anything else she could hurt herself with. Stripped now to her bra and trousers, the scars across her stomach were clear. As she swore at them, telling them they shouldn’t waste their time with her, but go to the virgin they all loved, Shaimaa kept stroking her head telling her she loves her, that she cares about her, that she wouldn’t leave her till she cleaned the wounds and bandaged her.

Maya waited till they helped her, but she felt that she had to go through with what she had started and she packed her stuff to leave. There is no law in Egypt that can help us stop Maya taking her child and leaving. Child protection laws in Egypt mean Shaimaa hears her neighbour electrocuting their son every night and there is nothing she can do to help him. Maya came up to me shaking saying she was sorry I had seen this, she said “you came here to find out about us, there is nothing you can find out in those stupid conversations and interviews of yours, this is us, this is our life, this is the real story.” She hugged me. I, articulate as many think I am, could not say anything but, “please don’t hurt Summer”.

We sat in reception downstairs watching Maya leave. She had been in the shelter for years. They were all sure she was coming back, she’d done this before. Everyone was exhausted. I sat in awe of Shaimaa, arm now bandaged, Sami who had hugged Maya after hitting her sat justifying why he had to slap her across the face, worried that my zero tolerance to violence towards the girls would mean I would sit here judging him. Maher, the manager who had been called in, smoking, planning the session he was going to have with the girls to make sure Laila was safe that night. None of what happened had sunk in. I said, “where’s Jude, Mirna and Menna? I was here when their mother came to take them three weeks ago for two days for a Eid family visit, why aren’t they back?” I was concerned most for four year old Jude who has hepatitis C and recently developed a lump in her head. Shaimaa answers, “Family visit? Hmm. When they stop bringing in money from begging she’ll get tired and drop them back off.”