AFCZ: Helping those Living and Dying on the Street in Zambia

By Katarzyna Rybarczyk

Carol McBrady sitting on a bench with 4 men under a graffitied wall
How Carol McBrady is Saving Zambia’s Street Children

Street children are kids who spend most of the time in the streets. Some of them have families but come from households where there is extreme poverty, violence, and drug abuse. Others have no home but the streets. 

The UN estimates there are around 150 million street children worldwide but the exact numbers are unknown. In Zambia, certain reports say there are 75,000 street children and others argue that their population reaches 500,000.

Carol McBrady and Action For Children ~ Zambia

Carol McBrady, known around Zambia’s capital Lusaka as ‘Mama Carol,’ dedicated her life to rescuing Zambia’s street children and helping them get a better future. Over the last twenty years, Carol opened three homes where children she rescues live and founded an NGO called Action for Children Zambia

In each of the homes, children get a bed in a shared room and regular meals. During the first month, they need to get off drugs and attend counselling sessions. When they are ready, they start going to school.  

group of children smiling and waving

Salvation Home is a place where children who may have homes and families but who need counselling or drug detox stay. 

Redemption House is intended for the older boys and Carol is currently looking at adding more rooms to be able to accommodate even more children. 

kids working on farm

Finally, the farm, which is home to the largest number of children, is where they can stay long-term. After finishing classes, boys help cultivate fruit and vegetables.  

man collecting farm goods

What makes Carol’s approach to rehabilitating street children highly successful is that she teaches them how to operate as a family. Children who come to Carol are not put in a regular programme that isolates them from regular life where there are ups and downs. 

While living in one of the homes they must commit to fulfilling obligations such as cleaning the house, working at the farm, or helping the youngest do their homework. Carol and the children live together and take care of each other, they become a real family. 

smiling man and youngsters

After living with Carol for a while, some of the older boys become ‘uncles’ whose job is to ‘take care of the kids and prepare meals,’ Chris who has been living with Carol for 9 years explained to me and added that ‘we call this house family. We have all people who are needed to have a family. We have grandparents, uncles, and children of different ages.’

happy man with boy on his shoulders

Manda Raban who has been living with Carol for fifteen years told me, ‘when I joined Action for Children Zambia I became a part of the family. Each person is our brother, sister, we consider each other to be a family. There are a lot of things I am grateful for. The way I look right now, it’s not how I looked before I met Mama Carol.’  

smiling man waving with greener in background

Nonetheless, it is important to note that the process of rehabilitating street children does not come without challenges. Many struggle to adapt to a way of living where they have responsibilities and some run away.

boy smiling

‘Addiction is the main reason for children to run away. If they want to live here, they need to stop using drugs,’ said Timothy who left the streets ten years ago. Carol also told me that sometimes children run away after they steal something and are worried about the consequences. Or, they decide to leave once talking to her and the counsellors makes them open up about trauma they experienced. 

But Carol offers them unconditional parental love and welcomes them back if they want to try to change their lives again. And, even if some make a decision to go back to living in the streets, she still cares about them and lets them know that if they ever need it, they can turn to her for help.  

woman hugging a man around the neck

When asked what they are most grateful for to Action for Children Zambia, most of the former street kids said ‘support.’

Carol gives a second chance to children who had been abandoned by their families and left to their own devices with no choice but to beg for money. Through her work, she helped hundreds of children who used to do drugs and engage in criminal activities when living in the streets complete an education and get jobs allowing them to reintegrate into Zambian society and live independently. 

About the author:

Katarzyna Rybarczyk writes about humanitarian issues and crises in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. 

Follow Katarzyna on Instagram.

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