I attended one of Undugu’s Street Association Soccer Tournaments a couple of weeks ago. Watching a soccer game played by children who have lived a good portion of their lives on the streets is an interesting experience. They don’t seem to be bothered by the mud and puddles. Their performance also has little to do with their footwear; about a quarter of the team played barefoot, a quarter of the team wore second-hand shoes, and the other half of the team shared shoes. Sharing shoes doesn’t mean they switched on the sidelines; it means that one guy wore the left shoe while his buddy wore the right shoe. It was quite a sight.
The goalie for the Mugoya Association Team was David. David’s story is quite typical of many children who have grown up on the streets. He left home at age 12 when his mother was too ill to care for him. Since then, both parents have died. He hasn’t received any secondary education, has struggled with drug abuse, sleeps on the streets, and makes a small income by doing small sweeping jobs and by collecting plastics and metals from piles of garbage. But there is something incredibly unique about David also. He wants to be a preacher.
The preacher conversation came up when I asked him what his greatest challenge in life was. I expected him to tell me it was finding food or kicking drugs. Instead, he told me his greatest challenge was to know more about God. Somebody’s been paying attention in Sunday school. His answer actually shocked me. David is one of those people who could understandably doubt God’s good will or even his presence due to some of his obvious hardships. But, he doesn’t. Instead, he occasionally attends the African Divine Church, which has a make-shift chapel in the slum where he sleeps.
David talked about God for a few minutes. He used a few stock phrases about God that he has probably absorbed from his preacher at church. At one point, he referred to the “goodness of God.” I was curious about what a boy who has spent one-third of his life sleeping on the streets would say about the “goodness of God.” His English was limited, but he still managed to tell me that God blessed him to be a goalie for the soccer team. Then, he said he needs God’s help to change his life and “clean up.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant by “clean up.” But, towards the end of our conversation, he took out a glass liquor bottle with an inch of clear liquid in the bottom. As he removed the lid, a quick smell proved that it wasn’t any kind of liquor in the bottom of that bottle, but it was paint thinner. He used the thinner to moisten a small handkerchief and then began sniffing the handkerchief. I asked him what he was doing. He answered with two words, “standard dinner.” It numbs cold limbs and suppresses hunger.
I stayed long enough to think about the previous conversation while watching David sit on the ground and huddle over his illicit handkerchief. I realized that these children have a perfect understanding of the realities of their lives, like the “standard dinner.” However, they still maintain some hopes and dreams that are quite removed from their current situation, like being a preacher. Some of their hopes are fantastic and even farfetched. Some might come true, but some won’t. How does a street child reconcile the fact that the realities of his own life may never offer him the opportunities necessary to be a preacher? I’m not sure. But, sometimes just having the hope is enough to sustain us through the realities of life.
Posted By Jonathan Homer
Posted Aug 2nd, 2007