In her first blog post Talvike Mändla talked about the problem of homelessness among some children in Georgia. This week she looks again at the problem, and asks again what every day people can do to help the situation.
To improve the state of the children on the streets, we must start from the roots – the reasons that drive people to the streets. According to data from 2013, about 10 % of Georgians live under poverty line. This means thousands of families, thousands of children, who are in the risk of homelessness or having to work on the streets.
Another problem is unemployment, which in 2013 was 14,7%. This is the official data from the Statistics Department of Georgia. According to other sources, the unofficial unemployment rate might even reach 30%. It is difficult to find work in any country, with or without education. It´s the economy, the system, that accepts only the strongest personalities and beats the others.
Problems can also start from within the family. There are children who are forced to leave their homes due to mental and physical abuse, or parents, who have fallen for alcoholism. Children might want to escape from a change in their environment, like parents divorce or moving to a new town. These are very stressful events and children, who don´t know how to manage difficult emotions, find it easier to leave home than to face the situation.
In February 2013 UNICEF began a program to help the vulnerable children in Georgia. Its activities were set to take place in Tbilisi, Batumi and Kutaisi and meant setting up day-care centers, transition centers and mobile teams of social workers, psychologists and teachers to help children individually. The two year project is still in work, the centers have been set up in Tbilisi. There is also a center in Rustavi.
There has to be a change on the policy level. The social benefits should response to the needs. In addition to money, people need education, opportunity to learn a profession and find work. Social workers should be more aware of the risk-families. If not more, it will make it possible to gather data about how many families and children are really on the streets. With real figures, the policy-makers might see the need for change more clearly.
But this is all the music of the future. Someone in some higher place will do some things and make it all better. Maybe. But you can help today.
If you see a child begging on the street, go to them, sit down next to them and say: “Hello!”. Ask them their name, their favorite color, what they dream of being when they grows up and if they have a place to sleep. Take them to a cafe and buy them a warm, healthy meal. This shows that you care, you give away what is nowadays the most important resource – time. Be cautious, however, that next time the child might bring with them their mother, father and six little sisters.
Giving children gifts, such as clothes, sweets or toys, might seem like an easy way to help, but may actually lead to bigger problems. The child will see you as a vending machine, someone to get new and better things from. It might also create conflicts among the children. There is always a competition about who earns the most money, who has the most cigarettes, who has the nicest shoes. And in the end, those, who are stronger, will take what they can from the weak.
Instead, donate to the daycare centers and shelters. Bring them clothes and books. Give money, if you can. Give time by volunteering to play and do homework with the children. Paint and sing with them. Play football. Make them feel as a part of your world, a part of the society, a normal child with a real childhood.
*** Talvike Mändla is an Estonian graduate with a degree in Special Education. She is currently volunteering on a one-year placement in Zugdidi, Georgia. You can read more of here work on her blog.