The initiative offers street children a break from the brutal reality they live in through enjoyable musical and educational activities, as well as someone to turn to for much needed help, guidance and support. When possible, the children are escorted to orphanages or back to their families.
The phenomenon of poor and homeless children who are inadequately protected or supervised and living in the streets is not new, nor is it restricted to certain geographical areas. in Luanda, Angola, the number of such street children exceeds 5,000. The causes that lead children to the street are multiple, but are often related to economic or social disruption. This include extreme poverty, which forces parents to send their children to beg, or rural poverty-migration of children to the city. Other major causes are abandonment, orphancy, dysfunctional families, or mental problems. In Angola, children sometimes find themselves expelled from their parents’ home due to cultural beliefs such as accusations of witchcraft that can bring bad luck to the family.
Children living in public areas do not have access to proper education or essential health and welfare services and are more likely to be victims of neglect, abuse and exploitation. Many of them become addicted to sniffing gasoline fumes or glue as a way to escape their harsh reality, they are acutely vulnerable to being involved in violence and criminal activity, and often suffer from great emotional and physical distress.
The belief that rescuing street children must involve removing them from the street as quickly as possible has proved mistaken. Some children and youth have escaped from broken homes or orphanages because of maltreatment and violence, they were betrayed time and again by adults they trusted, and learned they have only themselves to rely on. Experience has taught that without addressing the root causes that led the child to the street in the first place, the result will often be failed rehabilitation and a return to the street. Another challenge street children face is the difficulty to re-adjust to rules and discipline. Young boys and girls who have become accustomed to a lifestyle of begging and petty larceny often find possible alternatives difficult to accept, and are more likely to resist assistance. In fact, the chances of rescuing children decrease dramatically the longer they live on the street. An additional challenge has to do with the fact that the older they are the fewer the options to help them, as orphanages are available to them only until the age of 16.
Without education and an effective welfare system, street children in Angola are condemned to life on the margins of society, engaged in a struggle for survival while their lives are in constant danger. State authorities lack the resources to deal with the widespread phenomenon, and without intervention it is expected to expand.
The Music in the Street initiative (Musica na Rua in Portuguese) of Fundação Arte e Cultura, offers street children living on the streets of Luanda the opportunity to receive help, guidance and support through fun musical and educational encounters. Music, dance and singing, which play a central role in Angola’s local culture, attract children and youth to attend the twice a week meetings, held at a fixed time in a central location in the city.
The activity is age-appropriate, with participants divided into three distinct age groups: infants, children, and adolescents. The group of infants includes babies from several months of age, accompanied by their mothers, to 3-4 year old toddlers, who usually come to the meetings on their own. Staff members and social workers provide the toddlers toys to play with, while offering the babies and mothers help and support; The group of children participates in basic Portuguese reading and writing lessons, to impart knowledge likely to be useful in the future; The group of adolescents is led by the foundation’s social worker, and participates in musical activities, group discussions and life skills workshops aimed at educating for better behavior and conduct.
In addition to food and drink, participants are offered a chance to speak to the foundation’s Social Welfare team, which includes social workers, medical professionals and volunteers. During these conversations, the professional team tries to build a trusting relationship with each child, assess his or her situation and how they can be helped. Participants are provided with medical care if needed, emotional and physical support, and an hour of respite from the difficult life of survival on the street. If possible, the staff accompanies the children to orphanages or back home to their families. One of the main aims of this outreach initiative, however, is to quickly identify new children who have taken to the streets and to work with them to find appropriate solutions. These sessions help participants feel less lonely and that there is someone who cares that they can turn to when needed. The professional staff keeps in touch with some of the children, monitors their progress and the changes they are undergoing.
The Music in the Street initiative is inspired by the Jewish value: “whoever saves one life saves the entire world”. In the harsh reality facing thousands of infants, children, mothers, and young adults having no place to call home and no access to basic healthcare, welfare, and education, even one person helped makes the effort worthwhile.