Tuesday, November 11, 2008


So I wrote this "book" WAY back in 2003! I went through several "ups" and "downs", with several different publishers. Actually, the first publishing house I submitted it to (I won’t name names) contacted me back within a week of them reading it. The editor loved it and called me in for a very promising meeting. She said that she can see her publishing house accepting my book, and would go ahead and get the first “steps” in place, but the “final decision maker” was on leave until the end of the year. She gave me contracts to look through, and I waited to hear back.

Kind of stupid I guess, but I was hopeful. Well, I did hear back form them, almost a year later, and they informed me that the “final decision maker” did not like it. Oh well. So I continued on, with plenty of empty promises, and let downs. It is now 2008! Almost 2009!!!! I still feel this is a message that “needs to get out”. So I have decided just to put it online. It’s probably better anyways, because I like little details like putting words in ALL CAPS and doing more than one explanation mark when I REALLY mean something…yeah, and I have been told publishing houses do not allow stuff like that.

Anyways, of course things have changed since I wrote this book; both in me, in Cape Town and even with the situation of the children living on the streets. But I just decided to leave it be and let the “story” of my situations tell themselves. Even with my personal ideals that may have changed, the ever evolving situation of homeless children in Cape Town, and the quickly developing city itself, I hope you will be touched by the message of these stories and experiences. So here it is; probably not always grammatically correct, very raw, tons of explanation points, plenty of ALL CAPS, and simply my experiences with some of the most amazing people I have ever met!


Aaaaah, Cape Town!!
The beautiful coastal city nestled at the foot of magnificent Table Mountain. From the luxurious beaches of Camps Bay to the hustle and bustle of the busy township life of Kayelitsha, Cape Town is full of spirit and energy. It is also not a coincidence that Cape Town is known as the Mother City, since thousands of children, over the years, have made the streets of Cape Town their home. Under the covering of Table Mountain, they flock to her for different reasons but come together and learn how to survive and make a living on the streets of downtown Cape Town.
Who would have thought, a short, white, American kid from the small southern town of Cookeville, Tennessee, would end up in Cape Town, South Africa working with street kids! But, it happened. And in the time I have spent here I have had experiences of all sorts that have definitely engraved themselves into my memory in a way that I will never forget.
Most of my experiences are happy, exciting, fun and joyful but there are definitely also the sad, heart breaking and scary ones too.
But, all of these together have given me a life experience that I could not have bought at the most expensive of universities. I would not trade ANY of them for anything! This book is just a quick glimpse of my experiences and my life under the Table.

When thinking about writing it I really struggled with what angle to take. I wanted to give a good picture of the different aspects of street kids’ lives. I wondered, should I tell it in chronological order, should I group it in different types of events, or should I just tell short little stories? I didn’t come to any conclusions so it is kind of a mixture of all of the above. I hope you enjoy it and maybe even get something out of it.

(Most of the names are changed, or not mentioned, to protect the identity of the kids.)

1. What is a “Street Kid”?

“Street kid”.

These words have become generic in this day and age. These are words that spark up all types of emotions in all types of people. Some feel angry, some feel guilty, some feel sad, and some just plain don’t care.
What is a street kid? Or should I say, who are these street kids?
Because you can find them in many different countries all over the world, there is definitely no one concrete definition. Though some factors might be the same from place to place, each country, even city, has its own factors that contribute to forming this social phenomenon that we like to label as a “street kid”.
In Angola you might find that the “street kids” are orphans because their parents were killed in the war. In Brazil you might find that the “street kids” are just a product of their poor economical environment who saw the streets as the only option for themselves. In England you might just see the “street kids” as rebellious “punks” that have chosen an alternative lifestyle. In the same way, the situation in Cape Town is just as unique.
A street culture has been formed from many different factors and it has given birth to these children we like to call “street kids”.
Within the first few minutes of coming into Cape Town, a new street kid will be introduced to some kind of drug. This may allow them to take their minds off whatever they have run away from, and also the harsh reality they have run into. They are also introduced into a whole new world, a subculture of other kids who have managed to make it out of similar situations.
There are all sorts of dangerous factors on the streets but the excitement usually outweighs the danger, and the kid is sucked into the street life.
The new street kid will eventually join a group of other ‘veteran’ street kids. Maybe he knows a few of them from his community, or maybe they are new acquaintances. Whichever way, they become his family. They count on each other for money, food, protection, and whatever else they need.
The new street kid finds a place where he belongs. Something he may never have experienced at home.
The kids come to town for many reasons. Though all of the stories have similarities and start to sound the same after a while, each one is just as unique as the kid that is telling it.
The kids come from communities that are torn apart from family breakdown, alcohol and drug abuse, poverty and gangsterism. The gangsters run many of these communities, and the people live in constant fear of them. The gangsters are involved in all types of crime and it is a common occurrence for two rival gangs to engage in a gun battle, right in the middle of a neighborhood, with no care or concern for innocent bystanders.
The education system in these communities is also seriously lacking because of the disadvantages branching out of the Apartheid system. The schools are overcrowded, the teachers are burnt-out and underpaid, most of the schools are in bad physical condition, some of the schools in these areas are run by gangsters and there is little to no truancy officers to follow up on the kids that are skipping school.
All of these factors put together make for a weak and unstable structure for the kids.
The trouble for the street kid usually begins in the community where they start roaming around because they have been kicked out of school, or have just decided not to go anymore.
Sometimes the kid is sent into town by his family to beg for money and there he is exposed to the street life. Sometimes the kid goes with a brother or a friend and is introduced into this new world. Sometimes the kid just finds his way into town in search of this myth of a place he has heard about.
When you ask some of the kids why they came into town you will most of the time hear, “My mom drinks too much.” Usually following that sentence you will also hear that she beats him.
But, the majority of the kids in downtown Cape Town are runaways contrary to the romantic Oliver Twist view that they are all orphans. The majority of the kids do have a family to go back to. The family may provide horrible living conditions, but it is their family all the same.
In Cape Town, there are different classifications of kids on the streets. The first are the actual “street kids”, or strollers, as they are called in Cape Town. These are the kids that have run away from home and live, sleep, and survive on the streets.
The second group is known as the daytime strollers. These are the kids that come into town for the day to make money and then go back home to their communities at night. They will do anything from begging, to parking cars for money, to any odd jobs they can find. Some of them are also involved in crime, such as robbing people and breaking into cars.
The third group of kids that you will commonly find on the street is those that are living with their families on the street. These kids tend to be more sheltered than the street kids and the parents usually try to keep them out of trouble and away from the kids that are doing drugs.
The parents do however often use them to beg for money, usually to support their drug or alcohol habits. Children living with their parents on the street can live in that situation for only so long before they begin to explore and wander away from their parents. These children eventually also get sucked into the street life as they get older.
There are also other classifications like the older street adults and gangsters. These adults sometimes look after groups of the younger children and offer them protection in return for money. They also abuse and take advantage of the kids on a regular basis.
There are also girls on the streets but not nearly as many as the number of boys for several reasons. In the communities the kids come from, the girls are usually kept busy around the house. Culturally, they have to help cook, clean and look after younger siblings, which keeps them occupied and away from trouble.
Life on the streets is also much more taxing for girls. Their sole purpose is sex, either through prostitution or just to meet the sexual needs and desires of the boys that live on the streets.
Many of the girls will meet up with one of the older boys and become his girlfriend. The majority of these relationships turn into abusive relationships, with the boyfriend physically, verbally and sexually abusing the girl on a regular basis. For these reasons street life is much harder for them than it is for the boys.
The main thing that attracts the kids and holds them captive is the freedom and the money. Not just the money by itself, but mostly what it can get for them. There is much more money and more opportunities to make money in downtown Cape Town than there is in the surrounding communities.
The kids make money in many different ways. Some of them get into crime by breaking into cars and robbing people. Some of the boys resort to prostitution and some do odd jobs, but one of the most common ways of making money is to simply beg for it.
The majority of the money that the strollers make from begging, odd jobs or crime is spent on drugs. There is quite a wide variety of drugs on the streets. The most common drugs used by street kids are glue and thinners.
The glue is usually huffed out of a plastic bag or plastic drink container that the kids call a piney. The benzene paint thinners are huffed from a rag that the boys call a lappie (Afrikaans for ‘rag’).
One of the boys holds the bottle of thinners and the others splash the liquid onto their lappie. They hold the lappie in their fists in front of their mouths and breathe the vapors in and out.
The next most common drug is marijuana, otherwise known as ganja or dagga. The boys will usually roll it up in newspaper and make what they call a slowboat or they will smoke it out of a broken bottleneck, which they call a groenpyp (Afrikaans for ‘green pipe’).
The next step up is a drug called mandrax, otherwise known as buttons. Mandrax is a pill that used to be a prescription-sleeping tablet, but was outlawed. It is crushed up and smoked over ganja or tobacco or in a mixture of both, in what is known as a witpyp (Afrikaans for ‘white pipe’). It is common but more expensive than the other drugs.
The highest up on the chain and most addictive and expensive drug that some of the kids use is crack, otherwise known as rocks. Because of its addictive qualities and high price, the kids that smoke it have to do whatever they can to make money.
All of these mentioned above are the main drugs that the kids use, along with the daily smoking of cigarettes. These addictions contribute to the holding power the street life has on the kids.
It is easy to forget they are kids. They have been robbed of their innocence and their childhood has been ripped way. They are children taking on adult roles on a daily basis. It is easy for people to see these little dirty kids with outstretched hands and judge them. It is easy to walk right by them and ignore them.
Some people give them money just to get the kids to leave them alone, or to ease their consciences. It is easy to look at someone’s situation and judge them without trying to understand what brought them to that point. At the end of the day, each and every street kid is simply a child, deep down inside.
They are children in need of love, attention, care, affection, hope, and a place to belong. These are the very things they are truly looking for on the streets of Cape Town.

2. Growing Up

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about my childhood. For one reason, I don’t want to bore you with the details. But mostly, I just want to get to the reason I wrote this book: the kids. But every good story has to have background details. All of my friends know that I can’t tell a story without telling the background details first. So here we go…
I came into this world on November 7th, 1980. I grew up in a small southern town in the United States, called Cookeville, Tennessee.
I had a pretty average upbringing; nothing too out of the ordinary. We weren’t rich and we weren’t poor. Growing up, I was never in need, and I had much of the stuff that I wanted most of the time too. You know, like the coolest new toys, which at that time ranged all the way from He-man action figures, in my early years, to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I got a little older.
I grew up in a suburban neighborhood with a lot of kids around to play with. I had two loving parents, but more important to this story, I had grandparents who helped to instill within me from a young age a love to travel. We went on vacation every summer and we would see everything the destination had to offer!!
I had two brothers and my younger brother, Tanner, died when I was 12. Looking back, that was a landmark in my life. That is basically when I decided to become “hard” and not show my emotions. I went on without crying or showing much emotion for the next three years.
Another landmark in my life was when my parents divorced when I was 15. It was quite a surprise to me. In my lifetime, in our small town, I saw divorce go from being a really rare and strange thing to becoming just a part of every day life. I acted as though it didn’t faze me but deep down it really did. I struggled to get used to seeing my mom and dad with different partners.
As most teenagers do, I got into a bit of trouble. Nothing too crazy or rare though. That was when I started smoking, drinking, and then went on to smoke pot for a while.
I also enjoyed stealing. I never really stole stuff I needed, well except for cigarettes because they are hard to get for a minor, but I just enjoyed the rush of stealing stuff and getting away with it.
Anyway, when I was 16 years old I experienced another huge landmark in my life. This was definitely the biggest.
I hung out with my friend’s family at their house every single day and I was amazed at their compassion and love that they so freely showed towards me. I knew that they were Christians and they did not back down on their beliefs in front of me but at the same time, they never once forced it on me.
Finally, over a series of days I got into conversations with my friend’s spiritually mature, twelve year old younger sister and she told me stories and just shared different experiences that she had gone through. She led me to the Lord and I became a Christian.
My whole life I had gone to a more traditional kind of church and had never thought about God as being real. He always seemed like some sort of far off fairy tale to me and the Bible seemed like a storybook.
The stories that the little girl told me all seemed to center around God not only being real, but alive and active in the lives of people in this modern day that we live in. This was new and attractive to me.
I went to church with them the following Sunday and was amazed at how loving and accepting the people were. It was that day in May 1997 that I gave my heart to the Lord. The moment I did, I felt a warmth come over my whole body. It was almost like someone poured warm oil over my head. I felt a peace like I had never before experienced in my life. I began to uncontrollably cry. Needless to say, it felt good after a three year build up!
That day I quit smoking, drinking and smoking pot. I didn’t quit that stuff because I felt like I had to, but because I had found something better. I quit them because I found something to fill the emptiness I had been trying to fill with them, and I quit them because I wanted to. I worked on my foul language and lying and things like that along the way.
From that day on I got extremely involved with my church. In my junior year of high school I was in a Christian rock band called Manna. We had concerts almost every weekend that school year and it was a great experience for me.
I also got involved in the local government project areas and trailer park areas of my town. Some friends of mine and I would do free cookouts in those areas and build relationships with the people there. I really enjoyed it.
Somewhere in all of that both of my parents got remarried. I now have what you might consider an “average American family”: a mom, a dad, a step-mom, a step-dad, one blood brother, one stepbrother, one half-brother and one half-sister.
As westerners, we tend to complicate stuff like that. In Africa, they would ALL be considered brothers and sisters. Heck, my two first cousins who I grew up with would also be considered my brother and sister. So, in proper African style, I have four brothers and two sisters.

3. First Time To Cape Town

When I graduated from high school in May 1999, I wanted to travel but also do something worthwhile. I looked into some mission organizations to see what kind of programs they offered.
After looking at several options, I decided to go with a Discipleship Training School, otherwise known as DTS, with Youth With A Mission (YWAM). The DTS is a six-month school that is the entry course for the University of The Nations and also just a good school to allow people to “get their feet wet” in missions.
The first three months are lectures on foundational Christian teachings and principles and the second three months is a practical outreach phase. I was one step ahead, because I knew that I wanted to attend the school, but the question was where was I going to do it? YWAM has hundreds of bases all over the world.
I was given a book with a list of all the locations of the bases and I was told to prayerfully go through it. Well, I did and the base that really stuck out to me was Muizenberg, South Africa.
Muizenberg is a suburb of Cape Town. I had never heard of it in my life but I prayed about it, and got some confirmations that Muizenberg was the place for me to go.
One of the confirmations was from a friend who happened to be in South Africa during the time I was making the decision of where I should go.
I knew he was in Africa but I had no idea which country. When he came back to the States, the first time he saw me he came up to me and said that it was the weirdest thing but everywhere he went he saw my face when he was over there.
I asked him where exactly he had gone and he started naming the names of the different places. Most of them were suburbs of Cape Town and they were mentioned in the book I had been looking through. I could hardly believe it. I excitedly told him that I had just decided to go and attend a school in one of the very places he mentioned.
That was a pretty big confirmation for me. After a few more confirmations like that one, I officially decided on Muizenberg. I applied for the school and got accepted, and I was off.
The first three months of my school were in Muizenberg, South Africa and my outreach phase was in India. In the first three months I really enjoyed meeting all the new people from all over the world and I also enjoyed the classes.
As a part of the school, each student had to serve two days a week with a local ministry. I worked with an after-school program in an impoverished area and I went on a night soup outreach that went into downtown Cape Town. The soup outreach was lead by the people at Beautiful Gate, which is a YWAM-affiliated home for street kids that is also in Muizenberg.
At that time, they would take soup into town every other Thursday and serve it to the kids and adults living on the streets. I really enjoyed both of my ministries!
I remember the first night on soup outreach. We arrived in downtown and stopped the van when we saw a group of kids. I saw that the kids were hard and though they were kids they were rough and did not act like any other kids I had ever been around. They were not really that interested in talking to us and I realized we were going to have to put forth the effort. I also quickly saw that the kids were not quick to trust anyone, mostly because they have been picked up and thrown down so many times in their lives.
The first night I met a kid that the others call Hoppi, because he only has one leg. I was amazed at the authority this fourteen year old, one-legged kid had over the other boys. He was definitely a leader amongst the other kids.
Little by little the kids began to open up to us. It came to a point where I and a few other students enjoyed going so much that we started going on the other Thursdays that Beautiful Gate did not take soup into town.
I enjoyed learning more about this curious lifestyle of kids that were living on the streets. I also loved being around them and was always amazed at the life and excitement that they had to offer.
A friend, Ronel, and I started going into town on weekends and any other time we could to hang out with the kids. We would go every Saturday and there was a particular group that would wait for us and meet us at the train station.
In those beginning days of building relationships, I would buy meat pies and drinks for me, Ronel and any of the kids that were around and we would sit and eat and they would tell us about the life on the streets, sing and just never cease to amaze us.
They showed us all around Cape Town and taught us the “ways of the streets”. I looked forward to any opportunity I could get to hang out with them.

4. Isaiah 61

I enjoyed DTS and was enjoying South Africa, but I still had no clue why exactly, of all the places in the world, I was there. Well, all of that changed in the events of one memorable night.
One Thursday night, when a group of friends and I were in town hanging out with the kids I saw something that impacted me in a way that I could have never imagined. We were just hanging out and talking with a group of about ten kids.
There was also an older homeless man named Snakes that was hanging around and talking with us. One of the kids, a small ten year old, was teasing an older street lady and she went up and complained to Snakes.
He went straight over to the kid, who was four times smaller than him, and backhanded him across the face. The small boy’s body flew back, like a rag doll, from the blow. His feet were lifted off the ground and he almost did a complete backwards flip, landing on his head. I can still, to this very day, vividly see the image of the small boy flying backwards and hitting the ground.
The boy jumped up and ran off in tears. This was the first time that I had ever seen one of the kids cry. Up to that point I had known them as being extremely “hard”. He ran over and sat on a bench and sobbed.
I didn’t really blame Snakes much because I realized that, though it was wrong, it was the only way he knew to handle the situation, and he was probably treated the same way when he was younger. At the same time, I felt bad for the kid.
I went over and sat beside the kid. When I sat down, I saw that he was crying uncontrollably and that his tears were coming from much deeper than just a hit across the face. It was almost as if that had been the last straw, and the hit across the face was just the thing that burst open the floodgates of all the pain, hurt, and grief that was bottled up so deep within.
I put my arm around him and tried to comfort him but felt incapable. There was really nothing I could do or say at that time and even if I had thought of anything, I didn’t speak Afrikaans at that point and he didn’t speak or understand English.
I was torn. On one side, I was happy that I could be there and offer what little comfort I could. But on the other side, I realized that there were much deeper issues that needed long-term attention. That was when something started happening in my heart. He finally stopped crying and seemed all right and I went home and went to bed.
The next day I was miserable. I kept seeing that picture of the little boy getting hit, over and over again in my head. Anytime I closed my eyes, or even blinked I saw the vivid scene play through my mind. I went to class but didn’t pay much attention and for the rest of the day I could not really figure out what was going on inside of me.
Finally, that evening, I went into my room, shut the door and decided to ask for some answers.
I started talking, out loud, to God. I said, “Ok, God, I don’t know what’s going on but I feel miserable and I’m not walking out of this room until you speak to me and tell me what is going on!!”
It was amazing! The thought, “Isaiah 61” immediately came into my head. Up to that point, I was not familiar with that scripture. I actually opened up my Bible half expecting to read something about a destruction of some city or something like that. I was taken back when I began to read the scripture. I started reading,

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God;”

As I read those lines, my eyes filled up with tears, so much that I almost couldn’t read on. I began to cry pretty hard and I read on,

“to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. THEY will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord to display His glory. THEY shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; THEY shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”

Right then and there I knew that the Lord was calling me to work fulltime with the kids.
After that night, the other details started to fall into place one by one. I continued to pray and I got a specific vision of how to approach working with the kids. I saw that there were actually tons of people working with the kids in downtown Cape Town.
There were homes, shelters, and daily programs offered for the kids. There were soup kitchens and places where they could go to get meals, showers, and haircuts. All of these services were being provided by Christian organizations, non-Christian organizations, youth groups, churches, and even random individuals.
All of these are great (some actually are not), but it seemed like there was something missing. I saw that all of these people who offered these different services to the kids expected the kids to come to their program and conform to their rules. No one was really going out on a regular basis and hanging out with the kids on their terms and in their territory.
The ones that did hang out with the kids on the streets would not allow them to swear or use drugs in front of them and it was also very much a specific time when they would go. It was more of a nine-to-five kind of thing, a job.
Another thing that I noticed was that the majority of the relationships the kids had with the people in these organizations was based on whatever they could get out of them.
They would go to these people or organizations for the food or the clothes or whatever it is and as long as they got it, they were happy. But if they didn’t receive what they wanted, for whatever reason, they would be upset with the people or organization and would try and manipulate the situation by not attending the program anymore or by going to another organization and saying bad things about the other one.
The kids are aware of the division between the different organizations and they use it to their advantage.
Through these observations I got the vision to just go out to the streets on a daily basis, hang out with the kids, build their trust and relationships, and work towards bettering their lives in whatever way possible. For me, coming to the Lord was one of the most incredible things that ever happened to me, so I obviously also wanted to share that joy with them.
But at the same time, I saw something else that was happening. The kids’ perceptions of Christians in general were pretty warped, and for good reason. I was troubled to find out that their were some Christians that would offer things like clothes and food to the kids, but in order to get it the kids had to say the “sinners prayer” or something of that nature.
The kids in downtown Cape Town are probably the most “evangelized” group in all of Cape Town! They know exactly what to say to make the people happy, in order to get what they want out of them. I have heard some of the kids preach the gospel better than a TV evangelist.
I once heard that in one of the programs the kids were asked to draw pictures of different things. One of the pictures was supposed to be of a “Christian”. One kid drew a picture of a man holding a book. It was a good picture except there was one strange thing about it.
The man had two mouths and one ear. The child was questioned about it and he said, “Yeah, this is how Christians are!! They talk too much and never listen!!!” That is the view that most of the kids have about Christians.
I really felt that I was supposed to share with them the gift that I had received, the gift of the Lord, but I knew that it had to be in a real way. One of my favorite sayings is, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!” I adopted that as my motto and my approach with the kids.
I was called to walk with them, listen to them and to LIVE the gospel, rather than preach it. They have all had Christians come and preach to them and condemn their behavior and then go away. But they have rarely seen someone stick in there and walk through things with them and be an example to them rather than harp on them and preach to them.
So I had the vision and I went to my school leader with it. She told me that it sounded great and that YWAM would probably serve as a covering for me so I would not just be out there ‘on my own’ and would have an organization that could support me.
But she told me I should first go speak with Uncle Peter, the social worker at Beautiful Gate. I only saw that as confirmation because I had already made an appointment with him for that afternoon.
I went and spoke to Uncle Peter and told him my vision and then after I had said it all, I asked, “So…do you have a guy like that, and if not do you need a guy like that?”
He laughed and said that they did not “have a guy like that” but they would love to “have a guy like that”. I made plans to move back in August 2000 and to begin working with Beautiful Gate as their fulltime street worker.
I finished my DTS, doing my outreach phase in India. India was AMAZING and I learned a lot while I was there. I also enjoyed getting to know the street people, especially when I was in Calcutta. Spending time with them was only a confirmation that those are the type of people I love being around and I looked forward to moving back to Cape Town.
After my DTS, I went back to the States and began raising money to go back to South Africa. I had to raise a monthly support, to pay the monthly telephone bills, house rent and other expenses, because Beautiful Gate is a missions organization and I would be volunteering with them.
I raised the monthly support and money for a plane ticket and on August 1st of the year 2000, I found myself back in Cape Town.

5. Welcome Back

What an amazing feeling it was to come back to Cape Town! I was excited to get started and embark on this new adventure that was set before me.
In the beginning stages, I really just went on trial and error. I had the few relationships that I had already built with a small group of kids and I had a general outline in my mind of how this “street work” should work, even though Beautiful Gate had never had a street worker before, and I myself had never been a street worker before.
My friend Ronel joined me on the streets in the first few months of my return. That was helpful because not only was I not in it totally alone, but Afrikaans is Ronel’s mother language.
I felt strongly that the kids should not have to conform to me and speak English, so I would get Ronel to translate what I said into Afrikaans and then she would translate what they said into English for me. This made the kids more open to communicate with us.
Because I would hear everything that I and the kids said twice, it was easy for me to pick up the language. After about three months I could understand about half of what was being said.

In the beginning, Ronel and I went to town three times a week. We would go into town and find the different groups of kids and just hang out and talk with them.
Sometimes we would take a soccer ball and play soccer in any patch of grass we could find downtown. I also led the weekly soup outreach and took a team of DTS students into town every Tuesday night.
The other two days of the week I worked with the after school program that I had been involved with during my DTS. They needed someone to lead it for a three-month period and I agreed to do it for three months and then see whether or not I could continue.
I enjoyed the after school program but after the three months was up, I stopped working with the program to allow myself more time to work with the street kids.
Around that same time, Ronel came down with Hepatitis A and she had to stay in her house, without coming out, for six weeks. This is when I started getting out on my own. This is also when I started experimenting with Afrikaans.
Up to that point, I had depended on Ronel. Now, I was on my own. The kids were incredibly patient and helpful with me. Before you knew it, I could understand about seventy-five percent of what was said and I could speak enough to get by.
In those beginning days, I would spend long hours in town. I never had a “day off” and usually went into town every single day, even if it was just to drive through and see what was going on.
Some days I would go around 10:00am or 11:00am and then stay until around 5:00pm, only to go home, grab a bite to eat and then come back in the evening and then hang out until the early hours of the morning. Those early hours of the morning are some of the best foundations for many of my relationships.
I think part of the reason is because that is what separated me from the other organizations. The kids saw that it wasn’t a nine-to-five type job for me and I learned quickly that the only effective way to work with these kids is to let it just become a lifestyle, and not a job.
They are on the streets 24/7 and they never have “off hours” so I didn’t either. I also built all of my relationships with them strictly on the relationship, and nothing else, such as food, clothing, or money.
Building relationships is the main part of my work and everything else branched out of that. From there, I would help the kids with their problems and try to work towards a better future for them.
I soon saw that although it would be ideal if they would all get off the streets, it wasn’t a practical goal because of the structure of the system and the weak structure of the broken down communities. They basically chose to be there, and no matter how hard a person tries to convince them to come off the street, it has to be them that choose to leave.
I would take them for home visits if they wanted to, take them to the hospital if they were injured or sick, go with them to court, visit them in jail, and just be there to hang out.
We would talk if they had problems and sometimes just play around and goof off and laugh. Some of the most fun times were just the totally random, spontaneous situations I would find myself in. In all of this, I learned the ways of the streets and gained respect and authority.
Authority on the streets doesn’t just come over night - it has to be earned. There were many different ways I began to earn mine.
I remember one of the first situations where I could literally see a change in how the kids viewed me. In Cape Town, the homeless people dig through the trashcans for food and the average citizen knows this. So they will often gently place leftovers from a restaurant into the trash can, knowing that someone will come by and take it. The kids always manage to find good stuff in the trashcans.
One day when I was in town, this one boy had found almost a whole pack of hot chips (French fries) in a trashcan. A group of about seven kids started dividing the chips amongst themselves. One of the boys had the idea to also share with me. Some of the boys didn’t like the idea and assumed that I would not eat out of a trashcan.
The boy looked at me and decided to offer me a handful of chips anyways.
I took them from his dirty hand and ate them without hesitating. I will never forget the looks on their faces. They laughed and said things like, “OK! Now we can see that you are one of us!!!” That was the first of many times of eating out of the trashcans with the kids. Heck, there were even times where my money didn’t come in and I was broke for a whole week, when I found a couple of meals for myself out of the trash.

6. Abba Me

It was a hot Cape Town summer day. I had just taken the train into town and I got off and walked through the station. When I came out I immediately heard a little voice shout “RYAN!!”
I turned and a little eight year old kid was running up to me with a huge smile on his face. When he reached me, he greeted me, gave me a hug and asked me where I was going.
I told him I was just going to walk around a bit so he said he would join me. Then, before we started to walk, he stood in front of me, looked up, and held his hands up in the air, reaching towards me, and said, “Abba me!!”
Well, at that point, I hadn’t been in Cape Town too long and my Afrikaans wasn’t so good and I actually wasn’t even sure if he was speaking Afrikaans or English. But I thought I heard him right. I asked him to repeat it again so I could figure it out and again he said, “Abba me!!!”
Well, the only time I had ever heard the word Abba, up to that point, was the Greek word Abba, which is the intimate form of the word ‘Father’. I knew in the Bible it said, in Galatians 4:6,

‘Because you are sons, God sent the spirit of His Son into our hearts, the spirit who calls out “Abba, Father.” ’
I translated it as him saying, “Father me!!”
It took me off guard a little and it was actually very touching. I stood there for a few seconds just looking at him in bewilderment. I think my eyes kind of started to fill up with tears.
I always knew the kids really needed a father figure, but I had never experienced a kid just come right out and ask me to “father” him! He tried saying it one more time when he realized that I wasn’t getting the point and then finally, probably a bit frustrated, he just sighed and walked around behind me and started trying to climb up on my back.
He finally explained to me that to “abba” someone is to let them ride on your back. I laughed at my mistake but at the same time I learned something out of it. There is definitely a generation of fatherless kids out there and the cry of their hearts is “Abba me!!!” And what better a picture than picking someone up and carrying them on your back?!
That is our job! To father the fatherless, to pick them up and carry them on our backs, and to lead them to their heavenly Father who won’t disappoint them like their earthly fathers all have.
Well, I know what it means now, but to this very day, every time a kid asks me to “abba” him I think of it on a much deeper level.

7. Earning Respect

Earning respect on the streets came easy with some kids, but for others it was a challenge. They all build up walls around them in order to protect themselves from getting hurt. Some of their walls are stronger and taller than others.
In general, the kids were extremely open to me. They have trouble trusting adults, so it helped that I was younger. I also get all my clothes at second-hand shops and I wear my shirts inside out most of the time, and have since the seventh grade. Funny enough, they also do it.
They thought that I just dressed like that to try and fit in until I told them that I had dressed like that years before I ever stepped foot in South Africa. Some of the kids call me the “white stroller” because of the way I dress.
All of these things contributed to making the kids more open to me but as I said, there were a few tough cases to crack.
One of those in particular was the kid I mentioned earlier named Hoppi. He was one of the first kids I met and when I told him I was moving back, he was excited. He asked me to get my mom to make cookies and then bring them back when I came back. So, when I came back that August of 2000, I brought some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies that my mom had made just for him.
The first day I was back I went into town to give the cookies to Hoppi. He was happy to get the cookies and couldn’t believe I had actually brought some back with me. He was happy, and all was well, at least for that day.
At that point, I had not realized that he was one of the most manipulative kids in all of Cape Town. He had total control over a whole group of boys and I soon saw the power he had over those boys. Most of the boys I knew at that point were in his group.
A few days after that, Ronel and I were back in town and we saw Hoppi. He wanted me to give him money and I said no, so he threw a huge fit and got angry and even a little violent. I just went on and talked with some other kids. I learned soon after that that I could tell what kind of mood Hoppi was in just by the moods of the other boys in his group.
If I saw one of them before I saw him and they were in a good mood, I knew he would be too. If I saw one of them and they were in a bad mood, I knew he would be too. They were extremely influenced by him!
Hoppi tested me all the time. He was still not quite sure where I stood and what my motivations were for wanting to work with the kids. He would come up to me and be nice and then he would try his luck with getting money or something out of me. If I refused, he would get angry and even threatening at times.
Then one night on soup outreach, we had a donation of meat pies so we took them instead of soup. Well, let’s just say that things got out of hand quickly.
We went to Hoppi’s group and started giving out the pies. Kids started coming up and trying to get more than one and some succeeded. The kids that only got one started complaining that others had gotten more than one, and soon the complaining turned into a mini-riot.
Hoppi was one of the main instigators of the whole scene. They got all around the van and started shaking it and I finally had to load the group up and just leave. They were throwing things at the van, hanging on it, and shaking it as we were pulling away.
Before we pulled off, Hoppi came up to my window and said, “Next time I see you in Cape Town, I’m going to kill you!”
The next day I went into town with anticipation of what might happen. When I got to the area where Hoppi’s group strolls, I saw a few of the kids and they just ignored me. A few minutes later I saw Hoppi and he whispered something to another kid who disappeared off to the side and then Hoppi started coming towards me.
Right before he reached me, the kid he had whispered to appeared again and handed Hoppi a butcher knife that he hid under his shirt. Right as he turned to come up to me, one of the other kids ran past me and whispered, “Ryan, runaway! He’s going to stab you!!”
When Hoppi came up to me and started swearing, I said, “I don’t have time for this right now” and I turned my back to him and walked off. I hoped that my turning my back to him showed him that I wasn’t scared that he was going to literally have to stab me in the back, though I actually thought that he just might.
He was moody for a long time after that, which forced me to go out and form relationships with other kids that I had not yet gotten a chance to meet. It ended up being positive because I realized that if that had not happened, it would have taken me longer to move out into new areas. Eventually Hoppi came around a bit, but he was not through testing me yet.
Everything went smoothly for a while and he would at least carry on decent conversations with me when we would see each other. He would occasionally try his luck, but over all everything was okay. At least, until another soup night.
We had stopped and were serving soup to another group. We were having a great evening and the boys were in top spirits. The good vibes were soon shattered by a yell coming from down the street, “JY, RYAN!! Jou ma se poes!!” (“Ryan! Your mother’s pussy!!”).
All the kids and the DTS students looked down the street to see who was yelling. There he was, leading a group of about twelve boys, and they looked like they were on a mission. I still to this day do not know why he was angry with me that night.
As they approached, he picked up a glass bottle and broke it. That is pretty much like saying “It’s on!!”
He came straight up to me and started swearing at me and then he started waving the broken bottle in my face and saying he was going to stab me.

Everyone was anxious to see how I was going to handle this. From the DTS students to the kids, all eyes were on me. You could have heard a pin drop.
Now, I don’t know what jumped into me next, and I don’t know if I would do it again (though I have on a couple of other occasions), but I just started talking before I realized what I was saying.
I took a step closer to him and I said, “Go ahead and stab me, but you better make sure you knock me out or kill me on the first one!”
He tried to call my bluff and he took a step closer and acted as if he was going to stab me in the face and he said that he really was going to stab me. I felt the wind of the broken bottle breeze in front of my face but I didn’t flinch and said, “Well, go ahead then! What are you waiting for?! Why don’t you quit talking and do it?!”
He got more frustrated and tried to call my bluff one more time by reminding me that he really was going to stab me. I got closer to him and said, “DO IT!!!!”
He finally got frustrated and went off to the side and stabbed another kid in the head. I felt sorry for the poor kid that he decided to vent his frustrations on!
He came up to me later that evening and when he started talking junk, I just picked him up on my shoulder and started spinning him around, like a professional wrestler. I would set him back down and he would dizzily try and gain his balance and then he would start laughing.
He finally gave up his attempts at intimidating me and just came to me with a defeated smile on his face and said, “You’re alright!” and from then on we had a good relationship.
Sure, he would still try his luck here and there but when I said no, he knew I meant it and he wouldn’t push it too far. He was a tough case to crack, but I finally managed to win over his respect. Respect definitely didn’t come overnight.
With some of the kids it was incredibly easy. Hoppi gave me a challenge but I am actually thankful for it and learned a lot out of it!
I learned that you don’t always have to do things “by the books”. I learned that I was the one that was coming to these kids and they didn’t have to prove themselves to me, but I had to prove myself, and my intentions to them. I learned that there is a fine line between showing too much fear and being too cocky. And I learned that respect does not come easily.
Sometimes you just have to hang in there, stand strong and not back down.

8 . Freedom

Racism is an incredible phenomenon! It has literally torn apart nations and left them in utter devastation! Coming from the deep south in the States, I had seen my fair share of it before even stepping foot into South Africa.
It is hard to believe that in the day and age we live in there are still small minded people running around flying the rebel flag, with bumper stickers that say things like, “The South will rise again!”, but it is true. There are still people in these times that are ignorant enough to judge someone merely by the color of their skin.
That is what happened in South Africa for years, and still happens to this day.
For years, through the government of the Apartheid era, non-whites were oppressed and pushed down. Now, I am not one to dwell on the past, but I also strongly feel like the only way to move forward, is to first look back.
I have seen both sides. Some people want to dwell on the past and use it as an excuse to not move forward. Others, probably because of feelings of guilt, say that we should “forget about it and move on” because what happened happened and now it is over.
Yes, what happened did happen, but I feel it is far from over.
The residue of Apartheid is still present in Cape Town and in South Africa as a whole. It is maybe even more obvious when working with the street kids.
A “handout” mentality was developed and some have been subjected to depend on others for survival in an unhealthy way, and are not offered proper health care, education and other social services. What happened is devastating and it adds an extra dimension to the street kid problem.
Many of the kids feel like the white people “owe them”, and will even get angry sometimes if a white person does not give them money when they are begging.
Some will say that those days are over but I have seen people walking around in chains, though they have been “free” since 1994. The struggle is far from over. The sweat, blood, tears, sacrifice and determination of many people, from all races and social standings gave the people of this country the right to live in freedom and equality.
The status of freedom was fought for and won, but I heard something once that I will never forget. It is that freedom is not a physical state of being, but rather a psychological state of mind. True freedom cannot be given or taken away by anyone.
A person can be free living under an oppressive government or in jail, and at the same time a person can be bound living in the “free world”.

It is amazing to me to talk to the younger generations who don’t even know what Apartheid is. Things are starting to change. It has only been ten years. But ten years is not enough to make up for years and years of injustices and it will take years to rebuild the New South Africa.
I am proud to be able to take part in breaking the mindsets and mentalities of all the different races. To get funny looks from people when sitting on the streets talking with a group of street kids, to have white South Africans say, “You drive in THOSE areas?!” when we talk about me going into the townships, and to have some of the kids tell me that I am not like most of the white people they know.
These are all things that begin to free minds, even if it is one mind at a time.

9. Happy New Year’s!!

My first few months in Cape Town were a learning experience in many ways. The communities that the street kids come from are all about a twenty to forty minute drive from downtown. This huge area of all the different communities is known as the Cape Flats.
Of course there are nice parts of these communities, but in general, those areas are known for being “rough”.
Since these are the areas the kids come from, I had to both get used to the areas and learn my way around them. I eventually did, and it came through just going into those communities and trying to find my way around and getting lost time after time again.
Some of the townships areas are extremely difficult to get around in because there are areas with just little, unofficial dirt roads, winding in and out of the shacks. You can drive and think you are on your way out only to zig-zag and end back up in the place you started in.
I got a crash course on finding my way around the communities on New Year’s Eve of 2001.
My friend Andrea was visiting from the States, and we went down into town to meet another friend of mine. Cape Town on New Year’s Eve is a really exciting, festive place to be. The air is filled with spirit and excitement!
Andrea and I were hanging with a group of kids on Long Street, waiting for my other friend to call when a German tourist approached us. I think the tourist thought I was some sort of drug lord or gangster because all the kids were around me talking to me and then right as she came up to me, Denzil, one of the kids ran up and handed me money (because I had to make a phone call and didn’t have any coins on me and he offered to go beg for some money for me).
The tourist said that she had a problem and wanted to know if I would be able to help. I told her I would definitely do what ever I could to help her.
She told me that she had just flown in from Germany and had not been able to exchange her money yet and needed to get out to some friends of hers, who lived in the Cape Flats. She said that she had talked to them and they said that they would pay whomever she could find to bring her out there.
She asked if I had any “connections” and I laughed and told her that I didn’t know about that, but I had a car myself and would be willing to drive her out there.
I left her with Andrea and the kids and I went to call my other friend, who was tied up and was not going to be able to meet us anyways. I came back to the group and told the German lady that we should probably call her friends and get directions.
Denzil reached in his pocket and handed me more money and we went to call her friends. They gave me directions and we walked to my car. The spontaneity of the whole situation only added to the excitement of the festive evening!
So around 9:00pm, me, Andrea, the German lady, and nine kids piled into my car and headed off for the N2. None of the kids that were in the car were from the specific area that we were going to but they all seemed to have a general idea of where it was.
I had NO clue.
I tried to follow the directions that were given to me but I really struggled. We turned off on the wrong turnoff a few times and had to turn around, but eventually after seeing the name of the area on a sign, we found our way.
The directions, once we got into the neighborhood, were much better. We found the house with no problem. When we got to the house, most of us got out of the car and a few kids waited in the car, to “look after it”.
We went in and to add to the randomness of the evening, her friends were Rastas and were just about to smoke ganja right when we showed up. They offered some to us and I declined and then they thanked us for our troubles and gave me fifty Rand for petrol, which was WAY more than what it cost me!
We said goodbye and then went on our way. As we were driving out of the neighborhood, I could tell that some of the kids seemed a bit nervous. One of them said, “Um, Ryan, we need to get out of here as quick as possible.”
I didn’t get excited or nervous but I did heed the advice of my little friend. The only problem was, I got a little turned around and went in the wrong direction.
We ended up driving into an area that is infamous for gangsterism and extremely dangerous at night. The kids all got really nervous and I knew that if the kids were scared, I should at least take it seriously.
I didn’t feel scared and just tried to always be aware of what was going on around me. Each of the kids, at different times, would think that they knew a way out and would begin to give me directions. A kid would lead confidently, thinking he knew the way, and I would follow the directions but as we would come into another area, I would see a defeated look on his face, and he would apologize and say that he had no clue where we were.
We would drive on long dark roads and then come into a township and I would twist and turn through the busy streets, full of people drinking and partying.
We drove around like that for almost two hours. Just about the time when all of the boys had tried their luck and had basically all given up hope of ever finding our way back to Cape Town, one of the boys recognized that we were in the area that he was from.
He got excited and started leading and directing me in which way to go. I didn’t get my hopes up because that was the same thing that had happened time after time before that. But, he proved to know where he was going because we ended up in front of a house and when they heard a car pull up the people inside came out. Sure enough, it was his mom.
Once again, it was something that only added to the randomness of the evening.
We talked with his mom for a while and she was happy to see her son. I asked him if he wanted to stay and he said he didn’t and wanted to go back to Cape Town. He gave his mom a hug and she said goodbye and thanked me for bringing him around, as if I did it on purpose, and I said it was my pleasure and we were on our way.
Now, he didn’t know the way back to Cape Town from there, but he knew the way back to Muizenberg, the area where I live, and from there I knew I could get us to Cape Town.
So he led the way and we eventually found ourselves in Muizenberg. I made my way to the highway that would take us back to Cape Town.
The boys were happy and excited that we finally knew where we were and where we were going, after almost three hours of driving around. They had enjoyed the whole evening and the adventure that it brought.
Right when I turned on the highway, we realized that it was almost midnight and we began our count down. We all counted down and at 12:00am we all yelled at the top of our lungs.
The sky filled up with red flares, as usual in Cape Town on New Year’s. The boys started shouting at every car that we passed, “HAPPY NEW YEAR’S!!!!!” and then they began singing. They started singing a famous fight song that the people used to sing during the Apartheid struggle.
As they were singing, I felt chills all over my body and my eyes filled up with tears. It was like something hit me, and I realized that there was absolutely nowhere else in the whole world that would rather be at that moment than right there with those kids. It was a great moment.
We sang and yelled the whole way into Cape Town. Then we drove around Cape Town and the boys continued to yell “HAPPY NEW YEAR’S!!”, at every single car we passed.
We drove around for a while and then I eventually dropped the kids off.
Andrea and I went home to go to sleep after a LONG night. That night meant a lot to me and something happened in my heart that is hard to put into words. I just had a realization that I was in the right spot and I was looking forward to spending the New Year with the kids. I also got a wonderful introduction to the communities that I would be frequently driving in for the years to come. I now know my way around those communities and I laugh at myself when I think of that night because today, I would have to try really hard to get myself lost in those areas.

10. Battle Against the Bunnies

Sex is another huge part of street life. Coming to Cape Town, I knew that rape was common on the streets, with both boys and girls. I also knew that sexual activity was common sometimes even between the boys.
I also knew that some of the boys prostituted themselves out to men, but I thought it was a small minority that was involved in those acts. It was only after I had been in Cape Town for five months that my eyes were opened to the fullness of what was going on.
A friend of mine had come to visit me from the States, and one night I took her to a restaurant downtown where an African band was playing.
When we left the restaurant, we decided to walk around and see some of the kids. We saw a few of them and then started looking for a particular kid and could not find him anywhere.
When we asked the other kids where he was, they would just say, “He’s up there.” When we got “up there” we did not see him and another kid would say, “He’s down there.”
We walked up and down with a couple of kids looking for him but didn’t find him anywhere.
At one point, Reagan (eleven years old at the time), one of the boys who was walking around with us, made a passing comment that the kid was probably “on the mountain”, but he got shy when I asked him what he meant by that. I just dropped it because I could see it was making him uncomfortable.
We looked around a little longer but didn’t see the kid anywhere, so we started making our way to my car. The other two boys accompanied us.
Strangely enough, when we walked around the corner where my car was parked, the kid that we had been looking for that entire time was sprawled out laying in the middle of the side walk in a deep sleep, only about ten feet away from my car.
He had two button-up business man-type shirts thrown over him like a blanket. It seemed extremely odd.
I walked up to him and tried to wake him up but he wouldn’t budge. Worried, I shook him really hard, and he groggily opened his eyes, but they uncontrollably shut again. I shook him again and told him to move out from the middle of the sidewalk.
We helped him move up and against the wall of a building, out of the middle of the sidewalk.
He went back into a deep sleep and we all just sat on the pavement beside him. Reagan had a sober look on his face and I turned to him and said, “Reagan, can I ask you something?”
Reagan looked at me with a serious look in his eyes and said, “Anything!”
I asked him what was going on with the kid and he took a deep breath and began to tell me everything. He said, “He has been on the mountain with a bunny.” I asked him what a bunny was and he told me that it was an older white man that likes to have sex with little boys.
My heart sank into my stomach and I felt sick. I asked him why the boy was sleeping so hard and he explained to me that the particular bunny that he had been with likes to give the kid sleeping tablets and then when the kid is asleep, he does whatever he wants to them.
He explained to me how that bunny would buy a meat pie and a drink. He would then pick up the boy, drive up Table Mountain and let the boy eat the pie and enjoy the drink, in which he had put a sleeping tablet. When he was finished, he would drop the sleeping boy off somewhere in town.
My stomach was in knots and I felt myself getting sicker. He then began telling me how the whole thing works.
I asked him how many of the boys were involved and he started naming names. It was just about every kid I knew. He told me that there were tons of bunnies that pick up the boys and it happens on a nightly basis, but the most active time is the weekends.
He started telling me the ins and outs of it all and he would practically close his eyes when he was talking, almost as if he was just retelling what he had experienced.
The worst part was when I asked the next question, “So, how much do they pay the boys?” He looked up at me like it was a stupid question and said, “PAY?! You get a pie and a drink! Not money!!”
I felt like someone kicked me in the stomach. I wanted to puke. He said that some of the boys got paid for it.
I later found out that little Reagan was just speaking out of experience. He had only gotten food and a drink because he was new to the streets, but most of the boys do it for money and not just food and drink.
We talked for a while and then my friend and I drove home. On the way home I couldn’t speak. I felt all sorts of different emotions swirling around in my head like a heavy storm.
It was a long ride home.
About ten minutes away from my house, I broke down and started crying uncontrollably. I didn’t understand why any kid should be subjected to such behavior.
The next few weeks I went through a series of emotions. For about a week, I was extremely heartbroken over the whole thing. I would cry, anywhere over anything, and for no particular reason, which is very unlike me.
Soon after that, I felt an uncontrollable anger and I just wished to see one of these bunnies so I could beat him to a bloody pulp.
After that, my heart became hard. It was strange because right after my eyes were opened that night, I started hearing the boys talk about it. I realized that this whole thing is a secret of the streets. There is almost like an unspoken code, where the kids rarely talk about it and if they do it is only with each other. They actually even convince themselves that they don’t even do the acts. It is easier for them all to just approach the whole issue with total denial.
Around that same time, some other boys were going through some rough times and they would tell me about these types of experiences.
I found that my heart had turned totally hard and I could listen to the most graphic of stories and not feel anything. I soon realized that to properly deal with this situation I would have to come to a happy medium of those three extreme emotions of being totally heartbroken, extremely angry, and being hard, calloused and unfeeling.
I soon was able to do just that. I saw that it was important to stay compassionate and not become too hard, but it was also good to develop a certain degree of hardness so that you are not a walking emotional wreck. But a healthy degree of anger is just as important.
That anger against the injustice is the driving force that makes you not just sit with the knowledge that you have learned, but do something about it.
And that is just what I decided to do.
I began speaking to different people and seeing what is being done and what can be done to stop these things from happening. This was the beginning of what has turned out to be one of my biggest and longest on-going battles!!
I began getting information every chance I could from the kids. I didn’t want to force it, because it is such a sensitive topic, but some of the kids were painfully open and honest about the whole thing.
I started seeing all the different aspects that were involved. I learned that the majority of the bunnies are white, middle to upper class, middle-aged men. Some of them even married.
I also learned that the majority of the kids had done it at least once, but a startling majority of them do it on a regular basis. I struggled to understand why they would do such a thing.
Then I started to understand. Most of the street kids come from rough situations. Before they come to the streets most of them have already developed coping mechanisms to separate themselves from reality and difficult emotional situations.
This can come from being in a house with parents that drink until they come to the point where they yell and scream and even beat the children. If the kid does not learn how to cope before he comes to the streets, he gets a crash course when he pulls up into the harsh reality that the streets have to offer.
It is always sad to see the “new kid” go through the process of being “broken” when he first comes to the streets. He is raped, beaten, introduced to drugs to numb his pain and eventually his innocence is robbed, and his heart becomes hard.
They learn to repress their feelings and walk in denial about the emotions they cannot push down.
The kids that take part in sexual activities like these harden themselves, block it out, and go on day by day as if it never even happened.
The code of secrecy helps out with this. They go on, not only as if it doesn’t faze them, but also as if it never even happens. To hold in something like that is dangerous because one day, it will all come out.
The child is also convinced that he is not committing any crimes. He is not stealing cell phones, breaking into cars, robbing people, breaking into houses or even just begging for money.
The only person that he is hurting and violating is himself, and he has hardened himself to the point where he doesn’t even realize that.
The child in no way is the criminal, but actually the victim. If the child has hardened himself to that point, it has become an easy way for him to make a large amount of money in a short period of time.
Though they have “hardened” themselves it does obviously have an effect on them emotionally, sexually, and even physically.
Many of them become more withdrawn, more emotional and make inappropriate sexual gestures and comments more often. Their ideas of love and sex become warped and some even struggle with their own sexual identity.
Physically, sores may appear on their faces, hands and other places.
It is all around very damaging to the child and a child should never be put in a position where this is an option. In my mind, children are supposed to worry about who they are going to play with after school, who they want to be their friends, and other innocent things like this.
Making the decision of whether or not to go with a pervert to make money by performing sexual acts should never be a decision a child should have to make. It should not even be an option.
I know of children that have been used as young as six years old. All of this new information about the kids was troubling to me and not only did I learn more about how the kids were affected by it all, I also learned more about the bunnies.
I learned that there are organized forms and un-organized forms of this. Some of these bunnies may just get the idea and try it out once.
For others, they just do it every now and then, but others are “regular customers” and have quite a “professional” way of working.
For instance, they might drive by a certain point passing a child a few times. Then they would go and park on a desolate street, away from the ‘businesses against crime’ cameras, and the child would know to meet him there.
There are many individuals that “work” in different ways but in every case it is totally illegal.
Whether or not the child gives consent, it is absolutely illegal, not to mention wrong, to have sex or have any sexual contact with a minor (even arousing the child with words), and especially if the minor is given a form of “reward” or a sum of money.
With all of this information as ammunition, I started looking for answers to how I could begin to fight this battle.
I talked with my friend Faizel, who I knew had some connections with the police and the government. We looked into it a bit and saw that it was a really difficult thing to work with.
We talked to the police and they told us that it is very difficult to get a conviction in these cases. They said that they basically have to catch the guy in the act, which is extremely difficult, or get the kid within twenty-four hours of it happening and get a medical check up and evidence proving that the child had, in fact, been sexually abused.
Even with that, they still need DNA of the man somewhere in or on the child.
They told us that the mere testimony of a child was not enough and we should not even try to take a case forward if that is all we had. We saw that it was going to take more than just trying to do it case by case but we needed to try and get more of a grasp on how the thing works on a larger basis, even though majority of the men were just individuals and not organized.
We realized an investigation needed to be done.
We decided to approach the police’s intelligence unit about the whole situation and we scheduled a meeting with the head of crime intelligence.
Faizel and myself, along with the head of crime intelligence, the head of the child protection unit, a surveillance field officer, and two detectives sat down to try and figure out what could be done. I could see from the beginning that they were all intimidated by this whole topic, but they also seemed willing to help.
I don’t know if it was from my previous experience with police, but I was a bit sceptical of them all.
They decided to undergo a two-week investigation where they would look into the problem. We told them the different spots and areas in which these activities usually occur. We scheduled a follow-up meeting where they would inform us of their findings. The meeting was adjourned and we waited in excitement and anticipation for the follow-up meeting.
Two weeks rolled around and we went back to meet with the group.
I was astounded at their “discoveries”! Their so-called “investigation” consisted of the two detectives driving around on the two weekends with a digital camera. They would pull up to a group of kids, stop, hold the camera up and if the kids approached the car, they said that the kids tried to “sell themselves” to them.
They had a whole page full of digital pictures of several of the kids, all of whom I knew. The pictures were in no way a portrayal of the kids selling themselves but rather just kids posing for a photo.
I could not believe it!
One picture even had two boys holding up their dog and making him wave his paw. The detectives then tried to play it off and say that because the kids are “selling themselves” there is nothing they can do about it. They basically said, in more words, that they have more important things to investigate.
They tried to make the kids look like the criminals!! I was fuming!!
I questioned them on their investigation technique and I asked them specifically about the picture of the boys with the dog “So you are saying these two boys are trying to sell themselves?! Is the dog some kind of kinky sexual benefit? I find that hard to believe!”
I then went on to say that I felt like there is nothing more important than the life of the child and if the detectives say they have “bigger things” to worry about, then their priorities are messed up. I also informed them that even if a child “sells himself” it is still illegal for an adult to commit those acts with him.
I could not believe it!!!
To top it all off, the “more important” things were to investigate illegal fishermen, something that brings in a lot of money to the economy. I left that meeting frustrated and not knowing quite what to do.
Not too long after that, the Scorpions unit contacted us. The Scorpions, otherwise known as the Directorate of Special Operatives unit, is an elite unit that works under the National Prosecutor. They were formed to work on syndicates and big rings of crime.
They are detectives and prosecutors, so they investigate the crime, do the bust and then also take it to court themselves. They are the closest thing South Africa has to the FBI.
The Scorpions contacted us because they had heard about our struggles in finding support involving the whole situation. They had also heard about our meeting with the police so I think they might have even suspected some sort of police involvement in the whole thing, but that is just my own opinion.
They wanted to meet with us one night and get us to drive around with them, undercover, and show them the different active areas. We were not allowed to talk about them contacting us because this matter falls under police jurisdiction and they were worried that if the police heard about them getting involved, the police would try and stop them.
Plus, they are not really supposed to work on cases that are not proven rings of crime.
We were excited and hopeful because they had contacted us and we looked forward to meeting with them.
Faizel, myself, and a lady from another organization met them one Friday night. Travelling in three cars, we each rode around in a car with two Scorpions. We showed them the different areas and even sat and watched some of the kids for a while.
The funniest part was, even though I was in a car that was totally unrelated to me, with two men that I normally would not be with, and I was sitting low in the back seat with my face covered, except for my eyes, I was spotted by two kids. The two Scorpions could not believe it.
We passed by one older boys and he started shouting “Ryan!!” and waved his arms. The two Scorpions couldn’t believe that he had spotted me.
They turned quickly off of the street and went onto a back road that ended up leading back to that street. When we drove back by, the kid was standing there waiting and looking for the car. When we drove by him he chased after the car yelling, “RYAN!!” It happened again that night with another boy.
We drove around a little longer and then eventually met back up with the other two cars. They said that they would talk and then see what they could do from their side. They contacted us later and said that if we receive any information on particular instances and the kids were willing to testify, we could bring them to their office. We were excited and positive about that.
Not too long after that, one of the kids came to me with a particular instance. He told me about how three of his friends, who are daytime strollers, had been in Cape Town the day before and a white man came up to them and asked them if they wanted some food. They said yes and he told them that he would take them to McDonalds.
They went with him and then he went to the liquor store and bought some alcohol. He then told them that there was a McDonalds near where he lived and that he had a pool at his house and they could come over and swim and eat at his house. They were, of course, excited.
They went to his house, about a twenty-minute drive from downtown, and ate and then the man started giving them alcohol to drink. The boys drank and started to become drunk. The man started calling them, one by one, into his bedroom. He would order them to take off their clothes and he would start fondling them. He tried to get them to do the same with him and they refused.
He got angry at the smallest of the three boys and threw him into the pool. The kid hit his head on the bottom and it left a huge gash on his forehead. When he called the oldest of the three boys in, the boy got angry and hit the guy and they all ran away.
They felt like they had done something wrong so they were afraid to go to the police. That is why their friend approached me. I took their friend to the Scorpions office and we talked with one of them. He told me to try and get as much information as possible and bring them to the office the next day.
I managed to find the two younger boys and they showed me where the man lives. I took pictures of his house, I wrote down his address and I took pictures of his car and licence tags. I took pictures of the boys and especially the one boy’s injury, and I got their statements of what happened on tape.
Faizel and I went to the office the next day and gave it all to the Scorpion I had talked with the day before. He then said that all we needed to do was get the official statements of the three boys and he would call us back.
Faizel misunderstood what he meant and so he said we should pick up the boys and go to the child protection unit and get the statements. We found the kids and went to the child protection unit. We waited for a while and finally they started taking the statements of the kids. Right in the middle of it, Faizel got a call from one of the Scorpions who was furious to hear that we were at the child protection unit (a branch of the police).
She hung up with him and called me immediately. She asked me if I was with him and I said yes, and she said that we had blown the whole thing and that there was no way they could work with us anymore. They didn’t take that individual case forward and although they investigated the man a little bit, they did not get much on him. That was the last we heard from the Scorpions for awhile.
But I was not going to give up.
I then decided I would start doing my own investigating and then if I got enough information on an individual, I would just hand it over to the police. I started going out every night, driving up to the mountain, taking down the licence plate numbers of suspicious looking cars. I also tried to stake out and watch the kids.
The difficult part was trying to not be spotted by the kids. This made for some humorous times!
One evening, Faizel and I went out. I had borrowed a friend’s car and I wore all black clothes, with a black bandana over my face and a black beanie over my head. I looked like a ninja! The only thing showing was my eyes. We pulled up to a popular area for these activities to occur, near two gay clubs, and saw a guy talking to a kid.
We got out of the car. I was standing, with my back to one of the clubs, watching the man talking to one of the kids in the parking lot of a petrol station. He was making plans of some sort with the kid.
I just happened to glance behind me. The bouncer of the club and someone who appeared to be the manager were looking at me. The manager had just ended a conversation on his cell phone. I got a weird feeling so I met Faizel back at the car.
Right when we got in the car and started to drive off, the police screamed up with their lights on. They stopped in front of the club right as we were driving off and the bouncer pointed to our car.
We drove on and two police cars pulled up; one sped up and got in front of us and the other pulled up beside us and started forcing us off the road. They got out with their guns out, pointed at our car. They thought we were going to rob the petrol station. We explained what we were doing and that the reason I was dressed like that was because the kids would recognize me.
They thought it was funny and, fortunately, were able to just laugh at the whole situation and false alarm.
Faizel and I drove around a little more that night but didn’t really get that much information. It did however prove to be a memorable and exciting evening.
Since those early times we have seen these acts continue in Cape Town. Few of the bunnies have been caught and the ones that have, have always gotten off on easy sentences.
One case involved two brothers that were ages six and ten at the time. An owner of a video shop would let them come in, after hours, and watch movies. He would show them pornographic movies and then tell them to copy, with him, what they had seen on the video.
He did this on a regular basis. He was caught, convicted and less than a year later he was out and back in Cape Town. The boys have to see him in town on a regular basis.
There are other cases that we were informed about where the bunnies were “powerful” men, and because of their status, their cases would be dropped with no punishment.
With one of these, they even had a kid that had given graphic testimony of what this man had done to him. The difference with this man was that he would also do it against the will of the kids. He would invite them into his house and then lock the door and try and force himself on the children. He was also extremely violent and was known to hit the kids if they “did it wrong”. The case went forward and nothing happened to him and he is still a free man to this day.
We slowly built back contact with the Scorpions and one of them was interested in starting a unit that specifically deals with child sex offenders. They would mostly work on child trafficking but would also make time for the individual cases. We had a meeting about it and the slow process was underway.
To this day, we still have not heard much about what is happening with that special unit. They worked with us again on a case with a German man that had been caught with two boys.
One day I got a call from a police station about an hour away from Cape Town. They said that they had two boys there and a German man that had molested them. One of the boys had given them my number and they wanted to know if I could come to the station and bring the kids’ parents.
One of the kid’s mom is dead but I picked up his Aunt and we went to the police station. One of the boys had been with the man on several occasions and the man paid him more money every time. This time, the two boys went along with the man, and after they had done the sexual acts with him, he said he wasn’t going to pay them.
They escaped from him, managed to get to a traffic police officer and they were able to catch the man. They took the boys’ statements. Because the one boy’s guardian was not there, I had to read the statement and sign it as his guardian. It was the boy that had been with him several times and it made me sick to read the statement, with both the boy and the German man sitting in the same room as me!
After they had taken down both statements, we went to the doctor and he did the medical report. Late that night I drove the kids home.
The inspector told me that the case was weak and I found out that there is not actually a charge in South Africa for this type of sexual offence. Instead, they charge the perpetrator with indecent assault, which is an extremely weak charge.
The German sat in jail for a few weeks awaiting trial and then was able to pay bail once it was set. The kids called me and told me that they saw him on a daily basis in Cape Town and not only was he with other boys, but he had even tried to talk one of their friend’s into going with him.
I called the inspector telling him about what was happening, and he said that if we got statements from those kids, he could get the bail taken away. I made an appointment with him and the kids to meet on two different occasions but he didn’t show up for either.
I then decided, on my own, to get whatever information I could on the German. The boys gave me the make and model of the car he was driving and the license plate number. Faizel and I called the car rental place and got his address, which was incorrect, and his cell phone number.
We decided to try and find him and watch him for a little while. Faizel disguised his voice and called the guy and asked where he was and said he would like to meet with him. The German told him that he was at the Waterfront and even told him exactly where he could find him.
We went to the Waterfront and found his car in the parking lot and I parked close to it. Faizel called him back and said that he had gotten tied up and would call him later to set up another time to meet.
We waited for him to come out and then followed him all the way to the area he was living in. He first stopped at a popular pick-up point for gay men. They park their cars in a particular parking lot and then walk down onto the beach and perform sexual acts with each other. I figured that he lived nearby.
I told Faizel to call him and set up a time that they could meet in the week and in passing, ask where he lived. Faizel did it and the guy not only agreed to meet, but he told Faizel his exact address. We went later that night just to make sure and, sure enough, his car was parked there.
We then came up with an identity for Faizel as a business man from Saudi Arabia (he looks the part) who is also interested in doing sexual things with little boys, but had not been able to figure out how since he had been in Cape Town, and in inquiring about it, was given the German’s number.
We decided to go to the Scorpions because we didn’t want to get in trouble for entrapment and we wanted whatever information we got to be used against the German in court. They agreed to do a joint undercover investigation, with them, the police, and us.
They got all the appropriate papers done and then signed Faizel up as an undercover agent for that case, and we continued on with the first meeting between Faizel and the German.
The first meeting went well. The German admitted to doing things with young boys and even told the ages he preferred, which are 12 to 16. He also said that he not only picks up boys in town, but that he is also involved with an organization in one of the townships, and he gets boys from there too.
He seemed open to give more information at a more discreet location and asked Faizel if he would meet him on the following Sunday and they could go for a long drive and do some site seeing. Faizel agreed.
After the meeting we went back to the Scorpions’ office where we found out that not only was the recording device ineffective because they had hooked the microphone into the headphone hole, but also, they did not want Faizel to meet on Sunday because they felt it was “too soon”.
I disagreed and knew that if we cancelled that meeting it would cause suspicion. They made Faizel call him and reschedule it for the coming week, in which they also ended up cancelling. I was furious because I saw the case going down the drain.
Faizel was going out of the country on vacation for two weeks and things were going to totally stand still while he was gone.
He told the German that he had to go on a business trip and he would call him when he got back. Because of internal politics, when Faizel got back, the whole case basically fell apart. I was frustrated but not surprised.
These are just some of the many struggles I have had with this whole situation. There have been times when I have seriously considered vigilante-type actions against these pedophiles, but I realize that if I get arrested, I will not serve any good behind bars.
My mind cannot grasp what a grown man gets out of doing these sexual things with young boys. What bothers me the most is the damage that it does to the boys, whether they realize it at the time or not.
Though it has been difficult and I have seen little progress in the situation as a whole, I refuse to give up. I will not stand and watch as grown men rape and molest children, whether they are paying for it or not.
As long as I can speak, I will speak out against it. Even when all hope in finding a solution seems gone, I will continue to fight against this as long as I am in South Africa.

11. I Can Take a Hint

The street kids are not always known for having the newest nicest shoes but they often take pride in the ones that they do have. Their feet also usually tend to not smell so nice, especially since they don’t wear socks the majority of the time. They sometimes give their shoes the smell test and when they get so unbearably smelly they will search for a new pair.
I have actually gagged at the smell of a couple of the boys’ feet. There have even been times when a kid is over at my house and will take off his shoes and the entire house will fill up with the aroma of his feet.
Anyway, one night I was standing talking to a boy named Elroy and we got on the topic of my shoes. He was just asking how long I had had them, and then asked me for the infamous smell test.
Now let me explain how I wear shoes. I buy a pair of shoes and then use them for everything: every day life, running, walking, I wear them to church, I wear them to boxing, I wear them everywhere, up to the point that they fall apart or smell too bad to wear anymore.
The shoes I wore at the time, were pretty much at that point! I thought Elroy was joking but when I saw that he genuinely wanted to smell my shoe, I willingly took it off and held it up for him to smell, telling him to “watch out” at the same time.
For some reason he didn’t possibly think that my shoes could smell and didn’t believe me. He took one huge whiff and changed his mind fast! I have never seen a kid make such a face!
He even gagged and started making a noise as if he was throwing up to show that he was totally disgusted. He dramatically went on for several minutes and when he finally gained his composure, he politely told me that it was time for me to get a new pair of shoes.
I found it quite humorous that a street kid was telling me that my shoes stunk and that it was time for me to get some new shoes.
I can take a hint! And I did. Not long after that I got a new pair of shoes.

12. The System

“Woman hold her head and cry, because her son had been shot down in the street and died, just because of the system.”

These are the words of Bob Marley in his song Johnny Was. The “system” is an abstract word that is made up, in the natural, of many different elements, which can either positively or negatively affect those that live under it. In Cape Town, many of the street kids become victims of the system, entering into it innocently at a young age, only to be sucked in and led astray.
They become familiar with the way the system works and they use it to their advantage, playing off the conflicts between different organizations and going in and out of the different facilities. It seems to be fun and exciting for a young child but when that young child grows up, loses his or her cuteness and is stuck with the harsh reality that it might now be “too late”, they have to fight even harder to try and make something of their lives.
I have seen this over and over again. The kids have run away from home, been in and out of every shelter and home in Cape Town, in and out of the different jails and juvenile facilities, and always head back to the streets. Then they come to the point where they are tired of that kind of life, and all of their options are used up. I had my first real taste of this in January of 2001.
I was in town one day and I saw a twelve year old kid named Daniel. I had known him for a while and he was normally playful and happy, but that day he looked miserable.
After talking to him for a few minutes and not getting much response, he eventually told me about some terrible experiences he had gone through the night before. He said he just wanted to go home, and I agreed to take him. He explained to me that he lives with his foster mother, who had taken care of him for most of his life. He had run away because she yelled at him all the time and beat him a lot.
We drove to his foster mother’s home and I was staggered at her response to Daniel. She totally ignored him but acted extremely excited to see me, someone she didn’t even know.
I told her that Daniel had been in Cape Town and that he wanted to come home. She said it would be okay but still didn’t pay much attention to him.
This was the same time that my friend was visiting from the States and we were going to go do some site seeing and I asked if it would be okay if Daniel came with us and that we would bring him back that evening. She said it would be fine.
We had a great day and then when we went to drop him back off, he didn’t want to get out of the car. I think he had remembered why he had run away in the first place. He also didn’t want to go back to Cape Town.
He finally thought that the better of the two would be to stay with his mom and I told him that if he had any problems, he should call me or come to my house because I didn’t live too far away.
Sure enough, the next morning I had a knock on the door. It was Daniel. His mom had been terrible to him the night before and refused to give him food, but she and his little sister ate in front of him. I told him not to worry and that he could stay at my place until I could find a place for him to stay.
I had no clue how difficult it would be. Because it was the holiday season, most of the social workers of the homes and shelters were not even at the organizations. It was difficult because not only was I trying to look for a place for him to stay, I was also looking after him.
It was an eye opening experience and I learned a great deal from it! It was different from hanging out with the kids on the street. I was responsible for him. We had a good time but there were a few times when we butted heads.
It would start out as small thing that I would confront him on and because of the ways he had learned to deal with conflict, he would throw a temper tantrum and want to run away. I would tell him that he was welcome to leave but I would not let him go until he calmed down and talked about it. He struggled with that concept for a short while but got the hang of it after a while.
Eventually it got to the point, after he threw some fits on a couple of occasions, when he learned to sit and talk and not get so worked up so quickly. I remember writing my mom and dad an email during the second week Daniel was staying with me. I told them what an eye opening experience it was for me and I thanked them for everything that they had done for me, and for how patient they were with me.
I said something to the extent of, “Thank you for all those times I might have seemed ungrateful and unthankful. I am sorry for all those times I gave you such a hard time and I now understand what you were talking about when I would get upset with something and you would say, ‘One day when you have your own kids, you will understand!’ I now do understand!”
After two weeks of running into brick wall after brick wall, I finally was able to get him into Beautiful Gate, even though he was older than the kids that we normally take in.
After all of that, he stayed at Beautiful Gate for about a week and then ran away, to go back into Cape Town. It was sad because I had seen, in the time that he had stayed with me, that he had a lot of potential. He was just a kid that seriously needed a lot of personal attention, and in a home with other boys it is hard to give that kind of attention. That is where the system fails many of these kids in a big way.
Not too long after that, he met up with some gangsters downtown. They used him as a look-out boy. They broke into a house, robbed it, and raped the lady in the house. They then tried to kill her by stabbing her, but were unsuccessful.
They got caught, and Daniel, along with the gangsters, got arrested and charged with breaking-and-entering, rape and attempted murder.
I visited Daniel in the juvenile prison and he said that he didn’t realize what they were going to do and if he got out of jail, he was going to go home and stay home. The gangsters thought that Daniel had given a lot of information and they promised to kill him when they got a chance.
He stayed in the juvenile facility for a while and then he managed to run away. That facility is notorious for being easy to run away from.
He came straight to me and I called the court to ask what could be done. They said that if his foster mom agreed to allow him to stay at her house, they would give him house arrest.
We went to her and explained the situation and she agreed and went with us to court to make it official. He stayed there for about a month. In that time he had to appear in court on several occasions and I would pick him and his foster mother up and we would all go together.
She was still just as rude to him but he hung in there because he knew that there were no other options for him. He finally couldn’t take it anymore after she beat him one night and he ran over to my house.
I managed to get him in a shelter, and I informed the courts about the change. He would only have to stay there for a week because what was supposed to be his last court case was at the end of that same week.
When I went to pick up his mom the morning of the case she told me that she was not going to go and that she never wanted to see him again. I couldn’t change her mind so I went and picked up Daniel and we went to the court case without her.
During the case, when they asked Daniel, “where is your legal guardian?”, he turned around and pointed to me. The whole courtroom turned around and looked at me in confusion. The magistrate asked me to step forward.
I told her about the whole situation and how his mother had refused to come to the case. The magistrate asked me if I would agree to be his legal guardian for court purposes only. I explained to her that I would be glad to but that I could not be responsible for him outside of court.
I explained that he was staying in a shelter and if he was in court, I would also be there. She said that that was all that she needed from me and I signed the papers as his legal guardian.
They postponed the case for another month and when I went to pick up Daniel for the next court date, he had run away from the shelter the night before.
I didn’t see him after that for a long time but at one point I did get a call from another court and they informed me that he had another case against him. I had no clue where Daniel was and I was worried because the gangsters were still after him and the case was taking longer because Daniel had run away, which was only agitating the gangsters further.

He ironically popped up in town one night, almost a year later, on the same week that the other gangsters were let out of jail. I had already heard that they had been looking for him and had just seen them right before I saw Daniel.
When I bumped into him, without even greeting him I asked him if he knew who was in town. His faced turned white when I told him and he said that he had been staying in a shelter and had to come to court that day and had missed the last train. I told him to meet me at a specific place later and I would take him back to the shelter where he was staying.
About an hour later, when I pulled up to the spot where I had told him to wait, he was sitting there looking extremely nervous.
I took him back to the shelter where he was staying, which was only a temporary place for him. Since then, he has remained off the streets and out of town but has hopped around from place to place. He was actually even living on the streets in the area that I live in for a while but got into another shelter soon after that.
Daniel is a kid that does not have a stable home to go to, so he has spent his whole life moving from the streets to the shelters to the juvenile jails and back to the streets again. The open-door policy at all of the shelters makes it easy for these kids to just run away when things don’t go their way. The lack of involvement of individuals working in social services makes it all the easier for kids to walk away and the lack of follow up by the juvenile judicial system lets the kids get away with practically anything.
We can’t really blame the kids. They have just adapted to their environments and we are the ones that have allowed them to develop these runaway defense mechanisms by allowing them to continue running back to the streets. Daniel is just one example of a child of the system. In my time here I have come across many similar situations.
In January of 2002, I had five kids approach me wanting to come off the streets. I struggled to get places for them because they all fell into the same age group of around thirteen and most places for older boys won’t take them because they are too young, and most places for younger boys will not take them because they are too old. I ended up only being able to find a spot for one out of the five of them.
The weak structure and the system here have been incredibly difficult to work with and against. Organizational politics and lack of government care and involvement only helps to perpetuate the system.
Eventually someone has to stand up and say that they will no longer allow kids to throw away their lives! We have to stand up and not allow kids to make decisions that they are not capable of making, such as living on the streets and being in charge of themselves. We have to take back the role of adults and allow the children to take back the role of being children again. We cannot continue to allow this generation to become children of the system.