STREET children should not be perceived as criminals or potential criminals but rather as victims of family disharmony and social and economic factors.
This was the call made during an event hosted by the AVANI Lesotho Group, last week to commemorate World Homeless Day. The day is annually commemorated on 10 October around the world, and in some communities, it is known as World Homeless Action Day.
During the event, which was held at Lesotho Girl-Guides Association in Maseru, street children were treated to a feast courtesy of AVANI Lesotho Group in partnership with the Ministry of Social Development.
The hospitality giant also partnered with organisations working towards rehabilitating underprivileged children such as Kick4Life, Centre for Impacting Lives, Sepheo and the Lesotho Girl-Guides Association.
Addressing the gathering, AVANI Lesotho Group’s Human Resource Manager Lesekele Makara said the initiative was part of their corporate social investment (CSI) programme to raise awareness on the plight of the homeless.
“Just like any international day that addresses poverty, World Homeless Day is aimed at drawing attention to homeless people’s needs and to provide opportunities for the community to get involved in making an impact in their lives,” he said.
“While taking advantage of the stage this international day provides, we sat down as the CSI office to come up with a plan to effectively assist homeless people. We approached the Ministry of Social Development for guidance on how to go about it.”
Mr Makara said they decided to treat the underprivileged children to a feast to address the basic need for food.
“Hunger is the worst challenge when it comes to vulnerability. A person cannot survive on an empty stomach, hence we decided to prepare something special for them in our kitchen,” he said.
“Our objective is not to promote street life, but to raise awareness on the issue and encourage other stakeholders to get involved so we will have a fewer number next year when we commemorate this day.”
Echoing the sentiment, AVANI Lesotho Area Resident Manager, Willem Van Heerden said social challenges such as homelessness could be addressed through collaboration.
“Addressing social issues is a major task that can be achieved if we join hands to make this nation better,” he said.
“Children are important to us as the leaders of tomorrow and people we are looking forward to employ. If we don’t stimulate their minds with education and their bodies with food, they lives would be wasted.”
Mr Van Heerden stressed homelessness was not merely a result of delinquency but other socio-economic factors.
“There are many reasons why people end up on the streets, and it is not a challenge specific to developing countries only but even rich countries like the United States and also in Europe,” he said.
For his part, Social Development Minister Molahlehi Letlotlo said homelessness had increased because Basotho no longer abided by the adage that it takes a village to raise a child.
“In ancient times, people would not let their neighbours starve while they had enough to share with them or let any child suffer or misbehave as they had the authority to intervene. But nowadays, people only focus on their own household and don’t care about what others are doing,” he said.
“Not having a shelter is a serious challenge that impinges on a person’s dignity. As the ministry, we try our best to eradicate this problem working together with our partners present today and other children’s homes around the country. However, what we have done is not enough.”
Mr Letlotlo added: “I wish other companies would take AVANI’s cue to ensure this event would be an annual affair.
“Let us not perceive street children as criminals but children who need help for no one can willingly leave the comfort of a home and decide to stay in an unsafe and unhealthy environment.”