Last week, I got the chance to spend a few hours in our Fountain of Hope Library in Kamwala. FOH Lubuto Library is hosted by the Fountain of Hope Association which cares for homeless boys. The center also runs a primary school attended by boys and girls from nearby communities, particularly the large slums bordering the Central Business District (Misisi, John Leng).
During my time at the library, I struck up conversation with Michael.* Michael told me his story in considerable detail and it was even more affecting because he is from my hometown up on the Copperbelt.
Michael was raised by a single mother, who did household chores for others to raise a little money to buy food for him and his sister. He says they often had only one meal a day at home and wasn’t sent to school, playing in the streets while his peers went to school. This lack of adequate food, and schooling led him onto the streets of Kitwe to work for food (a 2006 study done by the Zambian government - the most recent official assessment available - found that, overwhelmingly, street children are on the streets because of dire home circumstances or no home at all. It is the only way they can survive).
Michael was very young when he started begging on Kitwe’s streets and washing cars, perhaps not older than 10 years old. Him and his friends slept in open air markets. One day, his friends told him that they should go to Lusaka where better things beckoned. Once in Lusaka, he found that the promise of a place to live was not true and he eventually found himself at City Market after a stint washing dishes for food in the restaurant. He continued trying to fend for himself until outreach officers affiliated to Fountain of Hope picked him up and gave him shelter and education.
Unsuccessful efforts were made to reintegrate Michael back into his home and he now lives at Fountain of Hope and is in 8th Grade at the nearby B-Wise school on a scholarship. He credits the Fountain of Hope Lubuto Library for helping him learn to read. He says that the long hours spent at the library and asking the librarian to help him read gave him the chance to become a better student and pass required exams.
Michael hopes to continue with school and eventually help out children in vulnerable situations like he came from. He also dreams of traveling the world.
*name changed to ensure anonymity