Durban, South Africa

Umthombo was launched in 2004 by a group of former street children together with experienced, grass-roots, street children activists. It grew out of the Durban Street Team (DST), a pioneering, street-based partnership project working with street children on Durban’s city streets since 1998. The word Umthombo means “well-spring” in the Nguni languages of Southern Africa. These springs can often be identified by a particular tree that grows close to them; the Umthombo tree. The soil around the tree is always moist. In the often dry and parched areas of South Africa an Umthombo tree is a sign of hope.

Umthombo is a unique South African street child organisation led, predominantly by former street children. It aims to change the way that society perceives and treats street children through educating society about the realities of the street child experience. It is developing and implementing strategies to address the issue in South African cities. It is based in Durban and also has offices in East London.

Umthombo operates SAFESPACE which is a drop-in centre for street children in Durban. Based in the Point area, it operates a range of services and programs designed by the team of social workers that empower children to be able to leave street-life. Among other activities, the children can learn confidence through playing competitive football, and through surfing. Umthombo was the local host organisation for the Street Child World Cup held in Durban in March 2010.

Umthombo believes that street children and former street children are a crucial resource in the development and implementation of strategies to address their needs. They are so often left out of the decision making process and when they do speak out they are often not taken seriously. However, their insight and leadership can change the way society perceives and treats street children. Umthombo employs former street children at all levels within the organisation including senior management (the board includes former street children) and is led by their ideas, spirit and example

Umthombo was the local host for the Street Child World Cup in 2010, and sent a team to Rio in 2014.

Have a look at these three videos to get a flavour of some of Umthombo’s work:

Durban street children part 1

Durban street children – interventions Part 2

Children’s rights expressed in South African style (using artwork from the Street Child World Cup)