Listening to children should be valued

For many years, I have been wondering the reason as to why any child would run away from home to the streets that that everyone knows can be so dangerous. This has been crossing my mind and I thought I should share it with you.

This time I would love us to learn together and I will request your thoughts, comments and questions in this learning process, don’t be shy!

What can we learn together?

In one of my handbooks, I found this statement. “Children often behave the way they behave not because of their making but because the people they stay with always giving a deaf ear to them when they are saying something”. It is a subject matter that I have found interesting.

My name is Sam, a social worker working with children on the streets, I have handled so many counselling sessions of children on the streets and have worked so much on the resettlement program (family re-integration). When doing this, I have been to families of these children to find out the possible reasons that might have made these children to leave home to the streets. One of the conclusions I have come out with is that, parents and guardians often only partly listen to their children.

When making surveys, the common reasons people or parents give for their children leaving to the streets are: children are disobedient, children don’t want to go to school, and children don’t know what they want, group influence and others. Instead of asking ourselves the reasons as to why our children behave the way they do, we always hurry to conclude on what they have become and that they are in the wrong/ bad children.

I think it is time for us to understand what listening really is as parents. It is not only what you hear with your ears, it is using the different sense organs we have been given to derive a meaning from what our eyes and ears feel. We see our children hiding from us when they see us and we take it for granted, instead of asking why is my child hiding away? You conclude how bad he or she has become.

Other parents have had children who don’t want to stay home during day. They spend the day with their friends and come back home just to sleep. And the conclusion the parent draws is to put the TV on every time and build a wall fence around their garden for children to avoid them from going to meet the groups at the village. But for sure, we have seen lots of children who jump the wall fences to go meet their friends. The reason as to why they have gone out to meet their group of friend is because they have time for them, give them answers to the lots of worldly questions they have and often give them happiness and understand them more than you the parent.

Parents tend to be very busy to the extent that they leave home in morning very early and come back home late in the night when all the children are asleep. This means that the parent will not have time to share and listen to and with their children. They have justified this with the notion that we have to look for money to care for our family, which is right, but what is the state of the family you’re working for? Even though we provide our children with other basics such as shelter, food, clothes and others, just as we do to our loved ones, there is nothing sweeter in a relationship that being given time and being listened to. Try it out with your children and you will see how your family flourishe.

Rob’s Story

Rob is twelve years old; he escaped from home in the beginning of 2016 and started living on the streets of Jinja Uganda. Before running away from home, he used to misbehave in that he refused to do homework many times, refused to attend mosque programs because they are Muslims at home. He could also go steal people’s property in the neighbourhood which made the grandmother and the father punish him heavily by canes and slaps. They concluded to calling him a thief and not finding out why he is doing all the sorts of behaviours.

After some time on the streets, I met him and talked to him. Initially he lied about his story but I expected that. He gave lots of false information but I chose to show that I trusted him. I discussed with him about going to the S.A.L.V.E. halfway home and he accepted; he became so friendly to me and the more we talked, he brought out the stories behind his mind. He asked whether I can get a day and he takes me to his home, I said yes. At home there was a grandmother and we had a very good conversation.

Discussion with the grandmother

When asked about what she knows about Rob, she said “Rob is bad behaved and I can’t stay with him”. Of course she was right; no one would like to stay with a thief, disobedient and careless boy as she named him. She told me the father doesn’t know how to discipline Rob when he makes a mistake. “He doesn’t know how to cane him” she said. In Uganda, people think that discipline is inflicting pain to someone. She said his father is alive but useless; he just drinks too much alcohol and is jobless. Any money he gets, is used for drinking. When talking to the chairperson of the local council, he told me that the grandmother is rarely at home.

That is the situation; everyone wanted to blame the other one. I just had to talk to Rob to understand the situation and settle home and because he is my friend, he accepted. I believe in him but would like your help to make Rob settle home and have a brighter future. We have so far had one lesson with the father and grandmother on how to interact with children and especially to show love and listen to Rob and I feel there should be more.

I wish Rob had someone to listen to him; he would have loved to stay with that person and feel the warm love. He doesn’t have that right now unfortunately, but he could do. Perhaps the father and grandmother of Rob also had no-one listening to them when they were a child. They could learn to change. Help us to help Rob settle by making a donation towards our follow up visits to teach the father and grandmother how to listen to Rob, and to help more children on the street who are experiencing this kind of hard life.

With you, we can do this. Every child deserves a caring family home and a chance to be heard.

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