KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - One chilly winter night in the early 1980s, a group of street children slid their tiny bodies under a heap of cardboards to get some warmth. Before they could get up the next morning, a truck driver, unawares, passed his vehicle over their bodies mistaking them for just a pile of rubbish. Some of the young creatures died on the spot while others were maimed or had their abdomens torn down. Tragic as it was, the incident appalled all the sectors of the society.
The then law student at the Cairo University-Khartoum Branch (now al-Nailain University) al-Mumbi Mohamed Mohamed Salih was so deeply moved by the incident. He rushed to the scene and joined other students and citizens in the rescue of survivors and the burial of the deceased. The University’s usual debate centers saw a departure on that day from discussions on politics and ideology to what should be done to help the society face such challenges as the problem of street children. All the University’s political groups all of a sudden found themselves in one bond. The students were divided into two groups: One group to look after the wounded children and the other to collect donations. The move was greeted with immense appreciation from all sectors of the Sudanese society, a society known for its quick response in such circumstances.
Ever since, student Salih totally devoted himself to the causes of the homeless. Salih, quickly descended to the bottom of the society to live with the homeless, achieving in this respect what well established institutions could not do. To date, Mumbi is still immersed in the life of the homeless, solving their problems and returning scores of them back to normal human life.
After that horrendous truck incident, serious work was initiated to address the problem of the homeless kids. Psychology Professor al-Zibair Bashir Taha launched the juvenile care organization under the chairmanship of Hassan Matar. Very soon Mumbi became chairman of the group, which was later on renamed Nab’e (spring) Charity Organization. Aided by a team of social and psychological researchers, Mumbi managed to enter that strange world of the homeless, learning their language, winning their confidence and convincing many of them to join camps the Organization set for their accommodation. In that endeavor, Mumbi and his team made harsh sacrifices, tirelessly working day and night in true trust in The Providence, until the project grew up into a tremendous monument with the help of charitable individuals and with utmost desire on the part of the homeless (males and females) to change their life for the better. The outcome was the creation of lots of good citizens; good for themselves and good for this noble land.
Mumbi, now an authority on work among the homeless, says his project is divided into three camps. The first camp is located at Mumbi’s home village of Umdoam, North of Omdurman. This camp accommodates children under 9. The second camp houses children 9 years old up to the age of puberty. This camp is located at al-Faw town in the Jazeera State. The third camp is located in the town of Dordaib in the Red Sea State and houses adults.
In the first camp, minors are enrolled in the nearby district’s schools. For those above school age, a crash course is organized to help them catch up with their predecessors. In addition to ordinary schooling, the learners undergo programs in painting, singing, sporting, Koran recitation and also attend lectures on religious guidance. At the Faw camp the homeless are engaged in farming until when they are moved to the third camp in Dordaib where they are made to learn to become carpenters, smiths and other trades. Here the homeless is disciplined and is taught the norms of good conduct. Most of the graduates of this third camp readily join the border guards corps.
When children are picked from the streets, they undergo what is known as al-arbaeeniyyat (literally forties). In this process, the street kid lives freely in the camp for forty days. He can get in and out of the camp as he wishes. Then in the next forty days he can move in and out of the camp with little restrictions. In the next forty days he cannot leave the camp without permission and is penalized if he does so. Policemen are totally banned from entering the camps, as the places are run on complete civilian bases.
The homeless are usually collected and brought to the camps by social researchers or through police roundups. Sometimes the homeless are persuaded by their fellows who preceded them into the camps.
After the homeless settles down into the camp, social researchers contact his family for possible reunion. The social researcher has to do the best he can to convince the homeless to tell about his family and its whereabouts. Having located family of the homeless, the social researcher tries to know the causes of the minor’s homelessness which are often because of economic hardship or because of war and the ensuing displacement. Sometimes homelessness is due to social factors like broken families and the existence of addiction in the family. Only 5% of homeless children turn to the streets in imitation of cinema heroes or older homeless persons.
If a family is willing to take its kid back, he is allowed to do so unless the family is broken, has a certain addiction or is wayward in some way or another, a matter that disqualifies them to look after the kid. Here the kid is returned to the camp and is kept in the ward for special cases, treated in a special way and is enrolled into a school. Later on he is moved to the Faw camp and then to the Dordaib camp. Then he can get married, raise a family and live as a normal member of the society.
Some of the homeless children (from both sexes) have marveled in painting, sports and athletics, winning international medals and awards for Sudan. Girls in particular, have made some outstanding achievements. Girls count over 7% of the Basha’ir camp for the homeless in Omdurman.
Homeless females have a nice story to be told. Mumbi says: It so happened that during a football tournament between homeless kids and kids from the neighborhood that the homeless boys won the contest’s cup. The next morning the defeated team filed a complaint that Captain Mohamed who scored the goals and raised the trophy was in fact a girl they knew very well. At the beginning we did not take the matter seriously. But when coach of the losing team threatened to file a complaint with the tournament authorities, we made a search that revealed that Captain Mohamed was , in fact, a girl with a female name.
That incident helped Mumbi and his aides with an easy method by which to discover whether a street kid is male or female. ”If the kid has traces of fire burns or wounds on her ear, then she must be a girl,’’ Mumbi says. He explains that for fear of sexual assault, the girls remove all traces of earring holes from their ears either by burning the place or with the help of a sharp tool.
Mumbi says the so-called Captain Mohamed later on shone as an athlete, winning two international gold medals for Sudan. After that she migrated to Canada, was naturalized as a Canadian citizen and won several medals for Canada.
Girls are housed in one camp where they are treated tenderly. At the camp the girl learns all about household duties, is not allowed to leave the camp or return to her family unless after the camp authorities make sure that her family is qualified to take care of her. In that case she can return home and get married. In cases when it is difficult to trace the girl’s family or when the family is not qualified to take care of her, the girl can get married through a court of law.
Mumbi says that upon assuming office in 1989, President Omar al-Bashir summoned him and his team to the State House and asked about the volume of the work they were doing. Learning that the organization was unable to cope with the vast number of street kids, Bashir asked for a plan of action and a budget which he immediately endorsed. ”With limitless support from the President, we could augment the camps and accommodate all 30,000 street kids in mud and straw camps, an emulation of the same environment where the street kids come from. President Bashir then kept a close follow up of the activity and later on relegated it to his deputy at that time, the late General al-Zubair Mohamed Salih, who seriously carried on with the job in full cooperation with the organization.” Mumbi says.
When President Bashir later on came to learn that some of the employees of a strategic government unit were but graduates from the Mumbi’s camps, he summoned Mumbi and conferred on him moral and material awards, including the Order Of Merit in 2015.
For Mumbi, the Sudanese society is one for forgiveness and tolerance. The homeless kids were fully integrated in the Sudanese society, considering their past as if it had never happened. The Sudanese society does not stigmatize former street kids, contrary to the case with children born out of wedlock, maintains Mumbi.
“These youths have set up an excellent example, some of them winning university and post-graduate degrees in many domains of learning. Over 16 of former street kids have obtained doctorates, some of whom assume senior jobs in the government,” prides Mumbi, adding that one of his camps’ graduates is now an officer in the drug control police unit, obtaining two exceptional promotions for his effort in drug combat. Some of the camps’ graduates now assume director posts in a number of international organizations.
The homeless were the first to tap traditional mining for gold in the Sudan, collecting vast sums of money that helped them settle down and raise families of their own. After the government had legalized traditional mining thousands of youths joined the trade, remarkably dwarfing the presence of the homeless in this trade.
Some of the camps’ graduates now engage in beauty birds’ trade, having learned about these birds in the camps. The former homeless kids are now in full control of this business, where ten million Sudanese pounds exchange hands.
Many of the former street children have leaned the Holy Koran and its interpretation, becoming renowned mosque imams and religious preachers. A few of the former street children who failed to acquire suitable education, are now employed by the Khartoum garbage collection companies.
For Mumbi, the homeless is a normal citizen, treated like a normal citizen. He has to conscript for the army, … etc.
Mumbi remembers that one of his kids had conscripted in the National Service (the army) twice. On the first occasion, he conscripted as an ordinary student after learning the Koran in the Hamashkoreeb Koran schools in the Eastern Sudan. And when the SPLA occupied Hamashkoreeb, he sat for the Sudanese secondary school certificate once again to find a chance for a second conscription in the national service. After finishing training, he fought in the Army ranks to flush the rebels out of the district. He later on continued with his education, obtained a university degree and now runs an esteemed international organization.
Mumbi says the society of the homeless is run through a certain hierarchy topped by the mu’allim (chief) who has absolute power and is responsible for the community’s protection. The Mua’llim is followed by ras al-hawas (the troublesome) who reports directly to the Mu’allim, who oversees executive work and to whom the jockeys (workers) report. He also looks after the welfare of the small kids, known as the sawaseew (chicks) and the farat (the mice). These are the newcomers.
The street kids have their own language, called the randoag. Mumbi is unhappy that the randoaq language had become a trend among youths for some time, even among university students.
About how they handle the different categories of the street kids, Mumbi said they approach them as a medium intelligence student approaches examination questions: He first answers the easy questions and leaves the difficult ones for some time “there is a sector of lawless persons who had frequented the prison for five or more times. There are the addicts. There are the mentally disabled due to addiction. We first take the manageable cases, then the more difficult ones ... etc. Then we send samples from the acute cases for examination in British laboratories. If the lab tests prove they are hopeless, we leave them in the streets for some other authority to take care of them,’’ Mumbi explains.
The organization has also made an equally important achievement. It collects the lepers from the streets and takes them to an integrative housing complex (a colony) in Qalb al-Assad neighborhood of Southern Khartoum.
Mumbi and his staff had attended a training course organized by an international NGO on how to deal with and care for the lepers. The lepers are treated with vaccines and are looked after by a group of social researchers. The result is that Khartoum is now free from lepers who formerly lived around the City’s mosques.
With such a magnificent calibre, Mumbi deserves international recognition for the excellent job he and his men had done for the category of the homeless.
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