street kids

"The words to say it ...."

Annette Cockburn

"What," we asked, "have you learned at the Homestead?" (this was a serious research question!). One child said "I learned to go to bed early", another said, "I learned to find God". Another declared that he had learned "not to make a noise when big shots come to visit The Homestead". The most poignant response was: "At The Homestead I learned, for the first time, how it is to be happy."

It is nearly dark, a winterís evening. Iím walking through a deserted subway in the suburbs. A group of large youths are coming towards me. Are they menacing? We draw level, the tallest sticks out his hand, "Hello Prinsipaal" - I no longer recognise him, but respond effusively! An unexpected "perk" in this job - protection!

Most of our appliances are pretty old, and rattle, roar and splutter. The washing machine at Patrickís House was packing up. Every day, our new domestic worker (who happens to be a man) did battle with it. First the pump and then the gears! We got a new one, he appeared in the office: "There s something terribly wrong with the new machine - it makes only a very quiet noise!"

Edmond is difficult, 16 years old, in adaptation class at school, and often has to be cajoled to go to school. Suddenly he was leaving Patrickís House in the mornings happily, rushing off to the bus stop. Heíd fallen in love with the bus driverís daughter! He asks me one afternoon if he might phone his old social worker at Child Welfare Society. "Yes," I say distractedly. After a while I become aware of whispering and murmuring and the overuse of the word ďliefĒ (love) ď"Edmond!" I say, "you are not talking to your social worker!" He puts the phone down, smiles beatifically at me ď"Itís true Prinsipaal," he says, "I got the wrong number!"

The story of Desmond is part of the oral tradition in our culture, and I think it deserves a wider audience. Called "Hoppy", for obvious reasons, he is a one-legged child who lives "in" and "out" of the Homestead. Beautiful and cheerful, he flies around the city on his crutches. After much red tape, Archie arranges for him to get a prosthesis from Red Cross Hospital. Repeated attempts to persuade him to wear it are unsuccessful - and finally he explains: "Itís bad for business!" he says!

I am at a meeting at the Bonnytoun Place of Safety. A big group of boys are playing outside. Suddenly, one of our old boys sees me; waves and shouts "Hello Prinsipaal!" A dozen ex-Homesteaders crowd around the window.

I leave the meeting, the children are obviously wanting to talk to me, perhaps they are unhappy, or missing us. I open the window, Waldo is the first to speak: "Gimme 20 cents Prinsipaal!"

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