Monday, December 29, 2008

Day 35: 29 December - Home is Where the Hurt is

As much as I do not want to see children living on the streets, the harsh reality is that the communities they often come from are also not always a viable option. I remember a few years ago when the local government went through a phase where they said they want to move away from “institutions” and only work at community development and family reunification. As wonderful as this ideal sounds, much work has to be done in the communities before we can begin shutting down institutions, or saying we no longer need them. In the current set up, they are in great demand. This did not stop the government from moving in the direction of shutting down institutions and making it extremely difficult for the existing ones to receive government funding; all of this with no real change happening in the communities.

As I said, I do not want to see children living on the streets, but if we are going to see that day come there is an enormous amount of work that needs to go into our communities. Today I saw a good example of that. I was on my way to town and I got a call on my cell phone from China. He said he was at Groote Schuur Hospital and asked if I could come there. I had not yet parked my car in town so I turned around and headed for the hospital. As I drove I wondered what had happened to him. I have known China for as long as I have lived here. He lived a large portion of his life in a shelter in town. He is an example of a kid that truly does not have “much” to go to at “home”. His mother passed away years ago, and he really does not have any relatives in Cape Town that are capable of taking care of him. I saw him become frustrated after years of staying in the shelter and at one point he ran away.

I found him in Cape Town spoke with him. As stubborn and naughty as he could be, he was unlike the other kids on the streets. He was not hardened like the others and did not use and hard drugs or glue. He stood out. I wondered how long that would last on the streets. I spoke to him about coming off the streets and as much as he wanted to, he expressed feelings of “stagnancy” at the place he had been staying, and wanted to move on to “greater” things. I told him I would look around. Most of the other homes said they would not take a child “straight from the streets” and he had to be referred from a shelter. I was not able to find anything for him, and he therefore had to go back to the place where he had been staying. One of the things that had frustrated him was many of the other kids went home for the weekends and holidays and he did not have anywhere to go. I spoke to the social worker and said that I would be his “guest family” if they would take him back. It was a deal.

Part of the deal was that he would be transferred to a more “home-like” environment as soon as possible. Time went on and he visited my house for some weekends and most holidays. He seemed to remain positive. Unfortunately, soon after that a new social worker came. She did not show much passion in finding a new place for China and also clashed with his stubbornness that others knew well. She also felt that he should not visit me as often because I was not his “family”. They made contact with some of his relatives in Eastern Cape and he went to stay there for a while. He apparently got into trouble there and ended up back in Cape Town. And to make a long story short, he has been in and out of homes and jail ever since. He still occasionally calls from time to time, but until today I had not seen him for about two years.

I arrived at Groote Schuur Hospital, walked down the long corridor, took the lift up to Level F and saw the sign for F8, where China said he was. As I walked in I noticed that there were not many patients in the beds. Just as I was walking up to reception to inquire about China I saw him laying on a bed waving at me. I walked over to his bed. A group of nurses gathered and looked at me in disbelief, that turned into smiles, as they asked, “Are you Ryan??”. I said yes. I found out later that he had told them that I was “family”. That explained the reactions they had when they saw me! I greeted China. He had on a blue hospital gown, an eye patch, a hair net looking thing, and his face was swollen quite a bit. He said he was discharged. Without even knowing why he was there I said, “Ok, let’s go!”.

He said his clothes were covered in blood. I looked at the plastic bag next to his bed and his wadded up shirt and jeans were inside…caked in blood! There was barely a speck of fabric that did not have blood on it! The nurses said there was nothing they could do and he would just have to put on those clothes. I decided to go check in my car for something. Fortunately, I had an old pair of jeans and a hoodie in the boot. I went back up to F8 and gave China the clothes. He put them on and we were on our way. On the way out he told me what had happened. The last time he got out of jail he decided that he had had enough of that lifestyle. He decided to go “home”. But he said that he was not exactly sure where that was. He went to live with his brother in an area called Philippi. This specific area of Philippi is one of the rougher areas and his older brother is a product of that environment: ROUGH! He drinks copious amounts of alcohol and is up to no good most of the time.

China felt it was better than the street, and he really did not have any other options. He very openly told me that he had not known how to make money, but he didn’t want to get “back into crime”, so he just decided to sell ganja on a small level. Yeah, I also found a bit of humor in that too, but understood what he meant by “crime”. So he has just been living with his brother, and selling ganja on a small level to make money to be able to eat and survive. The other night he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. His next door neighbor’s house got broken into and some things were stolen and he was seen walking by. He said to me himself that even he is not “stupid enough” to break into his next door neighbor’s house, and on top of that he said he was through with that lifestyle. The neighbors did not believe him. So they grabbed him and locked him in a room. Then they took turns throwing beer bottles at him and beating him. He said he tried to reason with them, talk to them, but they would not listen. Guilty before proven innocent! They continued to beat him and pelt his face with beer bottles and then they left him there to bleed.

He walked away from the house, dripping in blood. Other community members came to his assistance. They called the ambulance which surprisingly came not too long after that. He slept alone in the hospital during Christmas and said his mind was “not really working properly” (probably from the shots to the head) until today, when he realized he could call me to come get him. And that he did. We left the Hospital and I got him some clean clothes, brought him to my house to get cleaned up (his head was encrusted in dry blood), got some food in his belly, and told him that we would “figure everything out” tomorrow. Honestly I don’t know what can be figured out. As I sit here and type he is sleeping on the couch behind me and I feel the same helpless feeling I felt about 6 years ago when I was trying to find another place for him to stay. And now he has missed more school, burned more bridges, and has even fewer places to go. But I told China that many people don’t understand the complexity of the situation of the kids living on and off the streets of Cape Town and I asked him if he would mind me sharing his story, and even show some of these pictures to you. He confidently said, “Do it Ryan! They need to see this!”.

Many of these kids make their “home” on the streets of Cape Town, and Cape Town has their hearts. Cape Town definitely does not have their best interests in mind however; like an abusive lover! For China, Cape Town has caused too much pain in his life and he doesn’t want any more of what the streets have to offer. But unfortunately for China…home is where the hurt is.
(The two pictures above are: China in 2003, & China and Me in 2002)




The doctor said he was lucky he didn't lose sight in his right eye.





He has cuts on both hands from trying to block the blows to his face.





His entire head is full of knocks, bruises and stitched up gashes. This one in particular has puss oozing out for some reason.

1 comment:

Faizel Petersen said...

hey Ryan

I really breaks my heart seeing China like this. He's always been a sweet young boy and I have fond memories of those earlier years. It frustrates me that there is so little available to help young men like China that REALLY wanna bring change in their lives, yet our government and councillors wanna spend so much on advertising children's rights, yet a simple situation such as providing catchments for youngsters like China, cannot be provided.

I'm also so upset that an innocent victim such as China gets beaten up like this, but why can't our paedophiles in CPT enjoy this hiding, coz I feel they deserve it. Their rights are strongly protected, what about our children being violated and beaten and used? Ryan you know me and where my heart is. The breakdown of Street Universe and the Foundation for a Brighter Future was a huge blow and disappointment to me, due to the many kids that suffered as a result of that. I still wanna find a way we can get back to those days we used to "operate in town". I urge readers to pray for wisdom, understanding and guidance for us and for our children, and that we may succeed in what we want to achieve for the children!