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Pakistan: Street child turns educator

Feb 22, 2010

For a young boy who had spent most of his early childhood on the streets, turning an educator for homeless children has been life-changing. After being rehabilitated by a UNICEF-sponsored NGO he has been motivating other street children to get off the streets and away from drugs.

Karachi, Pakistan: Tens of thousands of children live or work on the streets of Pakistan's largest city. For Ali (not his real name), these streets were once his home. He left his family because of physical abuse. At the age of fourteen he came to one of the child centres run by the Azad Foundation, a UNICEF-supported non-governmental organisation. Now eighteen, he works as a peer educator for street children.

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"When I go to the street to find children, I see in which situation they are," said Ali. "I talk to them and suggest that they come to the centre with me. I tell them they will find there a doctor and some education. If they have torn clothes or dirty feet, I tell them, you can wash and repair your clothes there."

"I can understand"

Ali helps other children just like him get off the streets and away from drugs. As a young person, he knows that gaining the trust of the street children is crucial.

"I tell them my own story, that I was a street child like them and I show them that now I am living a good life," said Ali. "I can understand the difficulties they have.

"Some believe in what I say, others are afraid or unsure of my intentions," he continues. "Most of the children I approach come to the centre. Even those who are reluctant, come after two or three days."

Azad Foundation Psychologist Waseen Fatima is well aware of the difficulties faced by street children.

"The streets are full of dangers for the children who live there," said Fatima. "The use of drugs is common and most of the children suffer from sexual abuse or harassment."

Overcoming fear

Ali's job is challenging. "I feel fear when I approach the street children. Sometimes I see myself as still one of them," he said. "But I overcome my fear because now I feel confident. I feel I have a backup in the team at the child centre. I have come a long way."

Ali's rehabilitation was a challenging process. He participated twice but continued using drugs following treatment. He was reunified three times with his family, only to be separated again—drawn back to life on the streets. Ali finally went to a residential shelter run by the Azad Foundation that took him off the streets and away from their temptations.

Today he has found a job in the centre and again lives with his family, who also receive counselling.

"It is not without its difficulties, but he is getting support," said Fatima.

"When I came [to the centre], I was nothing," said Ali. "I learned many things, to read and write and to do embroidery. Most important, I learned to help others who are living in the street. My dream is to become a motivator and a good human being."

Source : UNICEF
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