In my few years of working with street children, I’ve observed a certain phenomenon that I’d also observed in the many years I sought for a lasting relationship with a man. It will happen when they are ready, and not by your pushing.
It’s a weird comparison, but thinking about the boys who we have helped, and those who have stuck it out at home, the common characteristic is ‘maturity’. I always assumed that the younger ones would jump at the opportunities available to them, or would be easier to rehabilitate and mould. However, I’ve found that they are more restless, and eager to experiment with their own independence, even if it means more months or years on the streets. It’s almost as though they feel they are being deprived of a monumental experience.
Yes, they will receive your offer of help, and be sheltered and cared for by you. They will do the things you ask them to do, as long as they can see immediate benefits. When you talk of their future, they nod along, but it doesn’t resonate with them. They don’t believe you when you say that there’s no future in the streets. It was there you found them, and as far as they can see, that’s working out ok!
They say experience is the best teacher, but I think for them it is the ‘preferred’ teacher. Though you might never forget the lessons learnt by experience, it takes a wise person to learn from mature wisdom passed on by those who know better, whether through personal experience or not.
I feel the older population of street kids are ready because, quite simply, they’ve had enough! They’ve been in one, two, three, maybe more centres, where people have reached out to them to nurture and counsel them. They’ve experienced all sorts on the streets, from drugs to sex, violence and sickness too, and they’ve finally made up their mind that they want more. How did they get to this point?
It was by exposure to the good and the bad, and an exercise of their will. If they hadn’t been exposed to the good, which is the care from charities working with street kids, they might not know that there’s an alternative. But if they were forced to reside in a place, the freedom of the streets would seem more alluring.
So what am I saying..? I’m saying it is ok to work with 24 kids who have been on the streets and only have six to show for your hard work. I’m saying that our work in their lives will never be fruitless because by mere exposure to the good we offer, we have changed their world and course. I’m saying that we shouldn’t be discouraged when another reconciled child leaves home again for the streets. We should remember how long it took many of us to settle down and choose the good from the bad. We should continue to show them the better way, and when they’re ready…they will be the wiser!