Street Boys Do Cry
Riding home the other day on a strip of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the pain of one young man made me cry.
We were at a gateless “tollgate,” and the only toll was on our vehicle, which rattled along over potholes and de-tarred strips of road. On both sides of the expressway were rusty oil tankers, eating up an unfair portion of the eroded road, so that we were forced to squeeze our way through a bottleneck. And people were out en masse, selling their ware or cleaning their tankers in this makeshift garage. Just another day on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. I had been this way many times.
I don’t know what made me look as we drove through the quagmire of oil tankers, impatient drivers, and teenage street vendors weaving in and out and throwing themselves at vehicles driving along, willing to take their chances with a wayward driver rather than starve to death.
I don’t know what made me look, or how I could have noticed amidst such chaos; but I saw him, a young man not yet eighteen, blackened by the sun and overused engine oil, leaning against a beat-up tanker on the side of the road with his face in his hands. He was flanked on the left and on the right by two young men about his age. They just stood, wordlessly transmitting comfort in street lingo. And all around the young man raged a mass of yelling bodies, but he was clearly alone.
What had happened? Street boys don’t cry….They must keep up a tough exterior to survive. Did someone steal his money, money he had saved up for school? What unpleasant word had reached his ear to break the hardness of his façade? Had his mother died in the village, the one for whose sake he had come out into the city to find work?
Tears accompanied my thoughts and my heart ached for the untold sorrow of this young man. “Please embrace him, God,” I prayed.
Our vehicle moved along, but the five-second vignette of pain I had just seen was permanently stamped in my mind.
Many such vignettes are played out every day on streets and in towns all over Nigeria and many developing countries. Young people forgotten, or thrust into unsafe livelihoods as a matter of survival. “Indeed,” avows UN-HABITAT, “young people, many in the developing world condemned to live on the streets, are on the frontline of growing urban poverty, child trafficking, sexual exploitation, high unemployment, crime and violence, HIV/AIDS and other diseases.” And young women in this situation are especially vulnerable.
We hear their stories in the news. Depending on where you live, you might even encounter them every day. But what are we DOING? It’s the question I’ve been asking myself for many months…to be honest, for a few years, now. It is the question that led me to WorldPulse, and I am glad to say I have heard many encouraging answers, so far.
Gifty Pearl, giving light to the eyes and lives of 30 young “visually impaired gems…”
Tosin (Olowotee) mentoring disadvantaged youth…
Grace (The Afrika Way) seeking to “to protect, educate and mentor the girl child…”
The whole WorldPulse community, speaking out, acting out, and reaching out on behalf of the marginalized, forgotten, voiceless.
This is a note to bolster you on. To say “well done,” and “thank you,” and “keep up the good work.”
I am also writing to bring to your attention a growing problem in my country that seems to continually be overlooked by the government. The neglect of youth has been the theme of many a campaign in Nigeria through the years, but as mere observation testifies, the problem only seems to be scaling to larger proportions. Today on the streets of Nigeria, you might encounter: an uneducated boy who been orphaned by AIDS or malaria and has no other home; a partially-educated young man whose parents can no longer afford to continue his education and have sent him out to make a living somehow; a young girl under sixteen condemned to a life on the streets when she was married off to a crippled beggar—a better lot, her parents believed, than living in penury and waiting around for an offer of marriage.
These are not hypothetical situations. These are the real life stories of young people who once had dreams or maybe have never even had a chance to dream at all.
I’d like to invite you to be an advocate for marginalized youth in your communities and around the world. I’d like to invite you to create the future you wish to see in your communities by investing in young men and women. I’d like to invite you to share your ideas, thoughts, and suggestions for dealing with the problem of youth and children at risk.
As I go about my way tomorrow and in days to come, when I encounter another boy or girl eking out an existence on the streets, I will think to myself, “They are not forgotten. There is a whole community of women speaking out for them.”