Sometimes when you’re out reporting in the field it’s easy to become a bit cynical. When all of the facts and figures are thrown at you and you look at the scale of a problem which seems so huge and so insurmountable – be it a war or poverty or even the environment -you begin to wonder whether all of the small, individual, projects out there are really making a difference.
And then you pull yourself together and remember to actually get out there and visit some of the schemes and you speak to the people they are helping and realise that, yes, in their own way each one, no matter what size it is, has the potential to be life-changing.
I had one of those moments during a visit to Fountain of Hope, a home for street children in Lusaka. After a couple of days of listening to professionals talk about the problems Zambia faces in its fight against HIV it was easy to feel overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. But when we arrived at the home, which provides a residential school for children, some of whom have been orphaned by AIDS and others who have been living on the streets, we were greeted by smiling faces and a feeling of positivity in the air.
We were welcomed to Fountain of Hope by program director Kenneth Hau. He explained the background of the project, which began in 1996 to help street children. He told us about the organisation’s outreach programme to support youngsters who find themselves living on the street and the community school which is free to attend. As well as offering the children counselling, staff also work to reconcile families so that those who do have parents can eventually return to their homes.
As well as the school, which is also open to other children in the area, Fountain of Hope provides meals, a library and computer room and other activities. Among those is a programme called Sport in Action, which is supported by Save the Children. Through sport the children are taught important lessons about teamwork, their rights as young people and peer pressure.
Kenneth was very passionate about the place and his very personal connection to it became clear when he told us: “Fountain of Hope has changed a lot of kids’ lives and one of them is sitting in front of you in this office.”
At the age of 10 Kenneth was already living on the streets of Lusaka, often sniffing glue in order to try and forget about things. He began visiting the Fountain of Hope with friends, but they never stayed long and although they dropped in to sessions occasionally, they always ran away. However all of that changed after they were playing at the side of the road and one of the boys was hit by a car and died. Kenneth said that was the moment that changed everything for him. He said: “We realised that maybe next time that might be us and we said ‘let’s just go and stay at the Fountain of Hope’.”
He joined the school in 1998 and started in grade 3. After completing his higher education, with the help of scholarships, he returned to the school and began to volunteer to work with street children. He said: “We wanted to give something back. When people who had known us on the street saw that we had completed grade 12 they started talking to us. We told them: ‘If we can change what about you?’ We wanted to help because something good had happened to us.”