In 2005 I had the opportunity to come to Cape Town to coach football to children who were living on the streets and in children’s homes. Coming from London this first experience really moved me. I found it hard to take in that young children were begging for food and sleeping on the streets; something I have never seen in London. What I found particularly difficult was that these children chose to live on the streets and nobody was stopping them. There are homes for them but they only move into them if they choose to – and there are many reasons why they choose not to.
Making a commitment to move into a children’s home means giving up independence, access to money and drugs and having to commit to going to school every day. I really have a great deal of respect for the children who make the choice to come off the streets and move into a home – it’s not an easy decision to make. Imagine being a child and having to make those kind of decisions. All the children I know in the UK only have to think about whether or not they have homework to do!
One of the boys I met in Cape Town, who was living in a children’s home, told me that at the age of 18 he had to leave and he was concerned about where he would go next. I did some research and discovered that many young people leaving residential care in South Africa end up back on the streets, and in many cases in prison because the state does not support them.
I am now in South Africa working with some great people who feel very passionately about these young people. We are developing a programme to provide them with the support that most of us got from our parents when we left home. We are piloting the programme and we are offering support to a group of young people who are preparing to leave and some who have already left residential care. I will continue to post news on this site so please keep checking for updates.
Michelle Potter is the Executive Director of Off The Street Kids.