The best way of finding out about the needs and resilience of street children, and what is being done to provide them with education, health care and opportunity, is to go visiting, or even better, volunteering.

People who have travelled in Africa, Asia or South America may already have bumped into the ‘street child’ phenomenon when accosted by children begging. Some will have seen children who sleep on the streets or on railway platforms, sometimes in small tight-knit groups. Basic and easily visible work activities of such children include the collection of plastic bottles and cardboard for sale, working as washers-up in small restaurants, and organising car parking in crowded streets.

You can learn a lot by visiting, and seeing how local NGOs can gain the trust of street children, and provide them with some stability, opportunity, and hope.

Most volunteer programmes require that you’re there for long enough to be useful, having got to know the NGO and the children involved AND for them to get to know you. It may take a little while both for your host to get to know what you’re good at, AND for you to find out yourself – as you’ll be in a totally new environment. NGOs commonly require that a volunteer is able to stay for a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks, though they may be able to use people who can only spend a shorter time, by getting them to do different jobs, not necessarily with the children they are supporting.

Visiting and volunteering

Both visiting and volunteering will probably involve you funding yourself.

You will need to check out how well the host organisation is able to utilise volunteers, as unless they have a properly run ‘programme’ this can be a bit hit and miss. For example, the NGOs we support all operate in different ways, and many are not set up to accommodate volunteers.

There are two organisations that we know well who offer volunteering opportunities, and they are:

CENIT in Quito, Ecuador. Typically they have 40-50 foreign volunteers at any one time as well as local permanent staff, and it is ideally suited to Spanish students on their year abroad or who have just left university. See website: http://www.cenitecuador.org/em/volunteers/faq and

* the Salaam Baakak Trust in Delhi, see http://www.salaambaalaktrust.com/  where their volunteering opportunities are well described.

In addition, StreetInvest can provide good volunteering opportunities, and we will be happy to put people in touch.

We are going to develop these pages on visiting and volunteering. In the meantime, if we can help with advice or suggestions, please get in contact, via: volunteering@sssk.org.uk

Ultimately, any decision about visiting or volunteering is down to the individual, and you need to establish for yourself with the host organisation that an arrangement or placement is appropriate for you. We have a range of local contacts related to the NGOs we support, and the Consortium for Street Children will have many more. If we can help we will. 

Note that individual NGOs will have specific criteria when looking for volunteers. Most obviously, this may involve speaking the appropriate local language and/or to be able to commit the right amount of time. Also it will be necessary to follow the latest Safeguarding policies which are intended both to protect the children involved, and the volunteer/visitor. For example we would advise that you get a DBS statement.

We would also like to suggest that people look for the volunteering opportunities here at home with some of the development agencies, many of whom are working in relevant areas to tackle poverty and deprivation which lies behind the situation of many of the street children whom our NGOs seek to help.

Let us know how you get on as we’d love to hear about your experiences. It’s important for SSSK to have students who have the enthusiasm and take the trouble to go and SEE things.