Keeping kids from begging on the streets

Namhla Tshisela

Namhla Tshisela

Noon at the Roly Poly/Homeless Talk preschool in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, is an eerily quiet time.

The swings and slides in the brightly coloured playground look deserted without children on them. The children are sleeping.

The preschool offers its services to children of the homeless. Parents pay a minimal fee and the rest is subsidised by Homeless Talk and the Metro Evangelical Society.

The children receive three nutritious meals every day and are prepared for "big" school. The school ensures a safe environment for the children who wouldotherwise be exposed to begging and danger.

"You often find mothers selling newspapers with babies strapped on their backs. Children are exposed to danger, toxic car fumes and are at risk of accidents," said David Majoka of Homeless Talk.

The preschool started admitting the children a few years ago, in response to mothers using children to beg.

"Begging women with children are able to get a lot of money on the streets. Some even borrow children to get more money," said Eve Jammy of the Rosebank Homeless Association.

The non-governmental organisation produces three publications -Homeless Talk, Homeless Cars and The Big Issue which are sold by homeless and unemployed people at busy intersections.

Majoka said the organisation offered vendors "starter packs" containing an ID card, 10 copies of the newspapers and 50 magazines. Once they have established themselves, they can buy them at a discounted rate of R2 each, instead of R5.

"They keep the profits and tips," said Majoka.

He said the initiative was to discourage people , and particularly children, from begging in the streets.

Nelisiwe Ngwenya, 35, is a mother of six. A friend who used to sell the newspaper introduced her to Homeless Talk. She and her children shares a room in a dilapidated flat.

"I used to wash taxis to make ends meet," Ngwenya said.

She is now a caregiver at the school and looks after the children, including her four-year-old twins.