AT 25, Charles could probably have had a fatal end, the fate of many a child eking out a sordid living in the streets.
But looking at him, and talking with him today, gives a different, albeit rosy, picture of a focused and determined young man with the deeply felt conviction that the world is yet to see more of him.
He believes too, that with his God, all things are possible, and he is stopping at nothing. He had traveled a long road, seen too much, done too much and experienced too much in a tale that could have ended tragically, but has today become one of the Just Children Foundation (JCF)’s most illuminating success stories…
In 1992, when he was just a 9–year–old boy still to have a grip on life, the shattering of his world began with the breakdown of his parents’ marriage. The end of that marriage was to set in motion the unpalatable ends of many other treasured things in his life – schooling, comfortable living and stable family relationships.
He spent a long spell at home doing nothing and the family had long lost contact of their kinsmen in rural Buhera.
Following his father’s death in 1998, when he was just 15, the Department of Social Welfare stepped into the picture, after which it was able to reunite the family with their aunt, who took the parentless brood under her wings.
After some time, following a litany of misunderstandings with his aunt, Charles decided that he had had enough, packed up and herded back to Gweru, where he was to secure employment as a herd boy. He was not to stay long there, after yet another confrontation with his employer, after which he stole some money and headed for the city in search of something better.
He said he lived in the streets of Gweru between 1999 and 2000, offering a rare insight into the kind of life that those children we are often quick to dismiss as ‘street kids’ lead, and the circumstances that hue the coarse–like personas that the well–off often fear and hate.
“For you to survive in the streets, you have to turn wild,” said Charles. “It’s just a matter of survival of the fittest.”
Indeed, soft and gentle would not cut it in a world where the next meal or dollar is never guaranteed, so force often comes in handy.
As a defensive mechanism, he said one had to belong to a group, which operated like a tribe so they was always someone to cover your back in times of trouble. Definitive marks for each group could either be ethnic background, same home area and so on.
Charles said inter-group fights often erupted over bases where they operated from or over girls, and it was over one such incident that his group of four had to flee Gweru and set base in Harare. The bright lights of the city, he said, promised better bargains in life in the streets.
Harare, he said, proved to be bigger, better and more peaceful, and opportunities for getting scraps of food and money also seemed endless. There was also the added comfort of ‘strangers’ as bumping into those you know was bound to make you feel somewhat uncomfortable.
The children living in the streets, he said, often resorted to drugs as a means of putting on the bravado requisite for attacking people and stealing from them without having to carry the burden of guilt, and to avoid the ‘trivial’ worries about life and the future.
The transformation in Charles’ life began after a chance encounter with a white woman by the name Magretta in 2000, while begging for some money.
“She told me that she couldn’t give me money in the street, but I should come to Just Children Foundation and get help and go to school,” recalled Charles.
It was a struggle to convince his three friends, who only agreed to take him to the gate, but they all ended up at the foundation, although the three friends could not resist the lure of the streets and were to slip back into the life they had always known and understood.
“I started living here. I was clean, bathing everyday and going for prayers, although I did not understand anything about prayer at that time,” he said.
He later went to Mazowe Bridge School in Mt. Darwin where he did Grade 6 -7, during which time he was elected the school head boy. After passing his examinations, he proceeded to Kamanika School where he did Form 1 to 3, before being transferred to Buhera in 2005, where he finished off with his Form 4 studies, coming out with flying colours.
Grateful to God for how he had restored his life through JCF, Charles retraced his footsteps back to the foundation, where he worked as a grounds man, but is currently a trainee counselor. He is also planning to pursue his Advanced Level studies.
“It is God who showed me the way through his love,” he said. “It was not by any human endeavour but through grace.”
Studying the Bible, he said, has transformed his life in a way he could never have imagined possible.