Street workers take on the same role as social workers, the only difference is they work directly with children and youth living on the streets.
Through my dissertation research, I have had the privilege of hearing the voices of a few street workers throughout interviews.
I have learned what their job means to them and how they are creating a positive influence on public, private, and the state. As my dissertation is focused on discrimination, I am also looking at children’s rights and how these are often ignored because the children are not in traditional housing, education and/or jobs.
Children and youth are dehumanised, leading them to further lose faith in themselves. Street Workers are there to provide new faith by giving them a platform to realise their true potential and achieve their dreams. By allowing the the children to realise that they will achieve anything they want to some day because they are as just as worthy as any other person.
The street workers that I have interviewed all say that the first and most important step to breaking discrimination is to build trust with street-connected children. Many of the children and youth see adults as somebody that will disapprove of their lifestyle and may even cause harm. Often the reason that children live and work on the streets is because they did not feel comfortable being at home; they were treated badly by their parents. It can be difficult to prove to these children that, as a street worker, you are there to listen to them and give them guidance.
One street worker said that trust is “fundamental” to ensuring that the street child accesses their rights. “Their stories […] views and opinions are only said to people they trust” and it is key to building a relationship with the child. Once the child opens up to an adult, the adults can begin to understand their struggle and offer support. This leads to “building self confidence” so that the child does not let various forms of discrimination affect them so much. Giving the child a platform to speak about their experiences of discrimination is very important because it allows to child to share the burden and talk through how that discrimination affects them.
Another step to breaking down discrimination is to raise awareness in the community. Many of these ways are through creative means. Perhaps this is because people are more likely to listen and remember when they are engaged rather than just having a conversation.
One way that street workers in Freetown, Sierra Leone advocate against discrimination is through the use of the radio. The radio is the most trusted form of media in Sierra Leone and so nearly everybody in the country listens in every day. This huge platform is used to raise awareness about children’s rights and debunking myths about street-connected children. The more that people on the radio talk about street connected children, the more sensitised that the public become to their needs and rights, it is less of a taboo subject. Not only are discussions held on the radio but also jingles are created to spread awareness. Street workers argue that this is a very successful method of spreading the message because stories are listened to by many people in many communities.
In Kolkata, India, one particular street worker is lobbying not only the public sphere, but also reaching out to police and other services to raise awareness about street-connected children. The first step to do this was to hold a workshop where children drew pictures of their relationship with the police. Some of these were positive and some were negative. When he showed these to the head of police in Kolkata, the pictures had a big impact. Through listening to the children’s concerns and giving them a platform to show these concerns to the police, the street worker was able to make a huge difference. The street workers now hold regular workshops with the police to sensitise them to the needs of a street-connected child.
However, it is not just the street workers and adults that are raising awareness in community. A group of street-connected children in Delhi, India, have begun writing and printing a newspaper. The newspaper discusses key issues as a street-connected child as well as discussing why their rights matter. Their aim is to prove to the readers that they want their voices heard. The writers have found a way to connect with the general public which shows those reading it that they are human and deserve to be treat like humans. It is and interesting insight in to the life of a street-connected child, especially for those who cannot relate.
Bridging the Gap
Street workers bridge the gap between street-connected children and rest of the world. Discrimination is a very negative act that street-connected children and youth have to face on a daily basis. However, what I have learned through research for my dissertation is that there are often positive stories to come out of this, and people are making huge strides to create a more equal world where the rights of a street-connected child are put first.