Yesterday, I had an interesting and moving encounter with street kids in Alexandria, Egypt.
Street Kids Around the World
This topic and many like it can cause over-sensitive Egyptians to be offended. I should make it clear that it is not my intention to offend anyone, but rather document a problem that exists. I should also mention that the problem exists in most countries on the world. Their problem and plight has been publicized for only a few countries though, Brazil being the most covered in international media, followed by Haiti. Even Canada has some street teens (not really kids though) that have been on TV documentaries a few times.
In Brazil, some members of the police force have been targeting street kids with extra judicial killings.
Street Kids in Alexandria, Egypt
Back to Alexandria: this is not the first time I have seen street kids. About a decade of more ago, I saw a bunch of really young ones (10 or less) sleeping at tram stations. They were smoking cigarette butts they collect of the streets, discarded by others. When I talked to one of them saying that he should not be smoking, he pointed to my daughter, who was just a few years old, and said : "She also smokes cigarettes!"
Then there was yesterday's incident. I was at Ibrahimiya station waiting for the tram to arrive. A few teens and kids came over, eating mangos, of all things. One of them was visibly older than the others, with scars on his nose and close to it. He was at least 16 or so, and had a bag with him. There was one girl was younger, perhaps 13, wearing jeans and having short hair. There was another boy about the same age, wearing a jacket. And there was a young looking kid of 11 or 12 with light brown eyes, a baseball style cap and a can in his hand.
They had the typical street look of not having touched water for weeks or perhaps months. They were foul mouthed, hurling really low insults at each other. They were throwing mango peel and stone at each other, I had to move off to the side so I don't get hit by some of that.
An elderly man waiting for the tram told me دول بتوع الكلة "These are the Kolla kids". The man told me that they "have their conference" here at 3 a.m. in the morning "boys and girls together". He also said that "no one can do anything about them, not even the government".
Kolla is some sort of glue used for making shoes, and has a strong smelling petroleum derived solvent component in it. The kids have these tin cans, and sniffing on the glue.
The four go in the same tram car I go in, but on the other end I was in. They were talking loudly most of the time.
As I was leaving the tram, one of the boys came down to search for food in a garbage container at the side of the street, before going back to the same tram.
The reaction of those in the tram varied, and was quite interesting to watch. I already mentioned the elderly man commenting. Two others were having a conversation about these kids sniffing glue. One man went into a confrontation with a kid, trying to wrestle the glue forcefully from him. Most of the people were completely aloof and had a "not my problem" attitude.
The most interesting reaction, or lack thereof, came from three young religious youth on the tram. They were discussing issues of creed and rituals and how they are trying to persuade friends to join in prayers, and debate with them on matters of faith, and even history of Egypt, ...etc.
The lack of compassion to fellow humans, and the focus on mere rituals is very telling on where problems are in Egyptian society today.
Many people, including the government, think of these kids as a present security issue, not as a social and economic problem with roots going back a few decades, nor a more grave potential future problem.
Although I had my camera with me, I was not able to get a photo of these street kids. Initially, I was standing too far away from them, and they were sitting on the floor, hence obscured from my view.
I moved closer and took my camera out preparing to take a flash picture (it was after dark). One of the three religious youth above advised me against taking a picture. He asked whether I was a reporter.
Then the kids realized I was trying to take a picture, and most of them did not want their picture taken. The girl and the older boy said clearly they did not want their picture taken. The younger boy initially agreed that his picture be taken, but then said no. They were discussing among them whether I have already taken a picture or not.
I decided not to take a picture after all, mainly out of fear of a violent reaction. Although I am not a physical person at all, one young kid is not hard to deal with. However, if these kids form a mob and swarm someone, the consequences can be dire, specially if some of them had pocket knives or something of that sort.
It regret not taking the picture, since any picture would be a thousand times more descriptive than my essay.
Before anything can be done for or about these street kids, I think that studies should be done to answer many questions first. These questions include: whether certain social levels produce these kids more than others, whether it is a step mother or uncaring father who is the cause, whether the parents are in crime themselves. How these kids converge in groups? Do they do drugs as well in addition to sniffing glue? Do they go into crime? What crimes? Do some clean up their act and become productive members in society? Do some go back to their families?
These studies should cover all the possible reasons and motives that make these kids go to the streets?
I believe also that the social structure, interactions and dynamics of these groups should be studied. It is both academically interesting to know how leaders develop, how rivalries progress, what conflicts arise and how they are resolved (if at all), and where these kids end up.
Causes and Solutions
Any solution to this problem should start with such a study, or rather studies, to diagnose the root causes of the problem.
I have no doubt that any real solution should be a multi-pronged approach that addresses the causes as well as the symptoms and results of those causes
Links and Resources
- Someone I know told me that there was a program on ART-America TV Satellite Channel on street kids. I am not sure if it was Egypt specific or otherwise.
- Task Brasil: The Abandoned Street Kids of Brazil Trust.
- Street Kids International (SKI) is a Canadian charity serving streets kids around the world.
- Haiti Street Kids Picture Gallery.