My name is James* and I am now 15 years old.
I started my journey to being an addict at the age of 5 when my mother died. From my mother, we are five children, but the moment she died I felt like I was on my own. The reason being, in the process of grieving I was separated from my siblings, and up to now, I have never seen them and don’t know where they are. My father at that time had two wives but wasn’t seeming responsible about our well being as children.
I was taken to my step mother’s home and the condition there wasn’t good because of being mistreated. She obviously didn’t want me there and nor did the other children so they abused me. A year later my step-mother also died and this was the start of even more suffering in life. My step-brothers only minded about themselves, my father married another wife and totally abandoned us, he could barely spare time to check on us to see how we are faring. We lived in a house as children alone and had to fend for ourselves despite our young age if we wanted to eat.
To me this was too much, but nothing I could do about it. So I started looking for scrap metal to sell and get some money to buy what to eat. I never knew what street was, not until I meant some other children who were also looking for scrap metal and told me about street life. I started by being a day street child and could go back home and sleep. But my step-brothers, the way they were treating me forced me to finally leave home and started being a full-time street child.
My life on the street
While living on the street, life became even harder. It was full of hustling to be able to survive. We were bullied by the elder children, they could beat us and also steal our little money.
I started to take drugs especially Mafuta (aeroplane fuel) to not think about home, the cold and also not to feel hungry. We could steal people’s things to go and sell in the scrapyard to get money.
I lost trust in people, developed issues of controlling my temper and learnt to be self-centred. No one else cared for me, so I would focus on that and not care for others. My worst experience on the street was when I was taken to the children’s prison called Kapiringinsa. The situation there was really not good, but the most annoying part is my relatives never bothered to look for me through all my struggles.
While on the street, a team of staffs from S.A.L.V.E. approached me several times and they shared to me how they can help me to change my life because most of the times they could find me I was drunk on the drugs.
Two times I was taken to their rehabilitation centre, but I could come back on the street because I had developed trust issues and also the urge to take drugs. However, they never gave up on me and still looked for me on the street and encouraged me to attend their Drop In Centre.
One time on the street, I was coming from selling my scrap metal and I had bought food to eat, but before I could taste it because I was so hungry I fell down and collapsed. I had taken so many drugs I had not eaten food for days.
After some time I gained my consciousness and when I was in the hospital I was so surprised and touched to see the staffs from S.A.L.V.E. taking care of me. They narrated to me of how I ended up in the hospital. My friends from the street ran to the Drop In Centre and informed staffs who hurriedly ran to the street and rushed me to the hospital in a critical condition of vomiting and also having diarrhoea. This changed my life greatly and from there I committed myself to attend the Rehabilitation programme because now I could see the drugs had started affecting me seriously.
My life in Drug Rehab at S.A.L.V.E.
I joined the rehab in late 2018 and I stayed a long time there as they saw I needed enough time. It was quite challenging, but am so happy with myself, the staffs and children who tirelessly helped me to achieve this. Most of the people never thought I would make it.
While in the rehab my desire of taking drugs gradually reduced, until I could feel bad whenever I smelled the Mafuta on my friends. I fully recovered and was ready for building a future, but the challenge came when it was time to connect with my relatives. Many times we contacted my father to come for family counselling many but kept on not turning up and this made me feel so bad and felt like I was meant not to be loved. Many times I could feel lonely, however, the staffs kept on encouraging me that I am loved and one day we shall find your other relatives who will also love you unconditionally. They were my source of support.
I never knew any of my other relatives and where they stay, besides my step-brothers who also never wished to stay with me. After failing to connect with my father yet again, one day my elder step-brother was contacted and gave us information about one of our grandparents. He surprised me as he was so supportive, as he took us there since I didn’t know the place.
When we reached my grandmother’s place everyone was so happy to see us. I narrated my story to them of how I have been suffering and how our father abandoned us. They were loving, they gave me a sense of belonging and accepted to stay with me as their child. Now I have a loving family and I feel whole again.
My education life
I had stopped going to school in Primary Two, but because of my desire to go back to school and achieve my dream of being a pilot or simular, S.A.L.V.E. gave me a chance to go back to school. Now I am in Primary Three. I know I am big for my class, but I don’t mind about it. I have some catching up to do.
Thank you so much S.A.L.V.E. for giving me hope, believing in me when everyone else had given up and being a true source of support to the children living on the street.
I now have a family and a future.
*James’ name has been changed in this public forum in line with our child protection policy.