The winner of the 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report art contest, Khalid Mohamed Hammad Elkhateem, knows the importance of education. His winning artwork “In the middle of nowhere” describes how youth of today are lost in the mismatch of skills and work. In this guest blog, Khalid shares the remarkable story of how he escaped life on the streets of Sudan and got the skills and education he needed to improve his own situation.
My name is Khalid Mohamed Hammad Elkhateem. I grew up in the Nuba Mountain region of Sudan with seven siblings. When I was six months old, we had to move to Khartoum because of wars in Nuba Mountain. My father died when I was three, and my mother was left with little money and little support from our relatives to take care of us and pay for our schooling. My mother worked in the market to earn some money. I also worked there when I could in between school.
After third grade, I left school to work. Later, my mother married another man, who didn’t take care of us but instead made our life harder. In the end, I left home to live on the streets. God looked after us, and a good volunteer from Canada called Babra gave us food, played with us and gave us soap to wash our clothes. The policemen sometimes made us clean their cars and their compounds, and even poured cold water on us. Some street children were sexually abused by policemen and others because no one looked after us. In this harsh environment, many street children started to fight to protect themselves.
After some years on the streets, the police caught most of the street children in Bahri and took us to the court in Omdurman. We were sent to a camp for displaced children. We were given clothes and food. The children there asked us for news from the outside world, about news from their relatives, and about how we were caught. After a month, I got used to life in the camp. Although there was a lot of trouble and abuse, I was with my new family there.
While living in this camp, I heard many life stories, and heard why other kids had left their families. I learned that live is not easy – not only for me, but also for others. No one came to visit me, so I spent most of my time drawing pictures about my family, school and sometimes I looked at magazines, wishing I could learn how to read them. One day my supervisor asked me what I wanted to do with my future, and I said I want to help all the street children in the world and promote human rights. He just laughed at me, but I said “you will see, one day”. One day my friend told me I had a visitor. I couldn’t believe it, but it turned out my stepfather had come to take me back home.
When I came home my mother embraced me and cried, saying she was sorry for everything. I felt sorry for her, but the situation at home had not improved. Only one of my siblings was still in school, two of them had been taken by the government to fight in south Sudan, and my mother had no news from them. The people in my region saw me as a street child, and assumed I was dangerous. “Don’t play with Khalid”, parents warned their children. I left home once again to live on the streets.
Later I was chosen by an organization called the Child Development Foundation to be trained in carpentry, mechanics and wiring electricity for four months. During my time there I composed a play about education for street children, which we performed at our graduation party. I went home and showed my mother the certificate, she was so proud. I was also selected to join a Youth Forum by UNICEF and Plan Sudan. When I went to bed that night I kept thinking about all these other children of my age, who had gone to school, had families and protection. “Why me?” I asked myself. I decided that night to try hard to get back to school.
I went home and told my mother I wanted to go to school again. She asked me if I should start in fourth grade, since I had left after third. “No, I want to start from eight grade”, I told her. “Are you sure you can make it?” she asked. I managed to get into eight grade. I could read books well, but struggled with mathematics. At the end of the term I did not perform poorly, and passed my exams – which meant I could go to high school. I was so happy, and my mother and my friends on the streets were so happy for me.
I started high school, but since I had no money, I had to leave after just a few weeks and go back to the street. I managed to get training and work experience through different organizations, including teaching painting to other boys and girls. After two years, I managed to gather enough money to go back to high school and graduate. After high school, I enrolled in Sudan University for Sciences and Technology’s Fine and Applied Arts faculty, where I am still a student. I had become an example for other street children, that it is possible to get an education no matter how difficult life is. I want to help my friends on the street to go to workshops and school, and to change the attitudes people have towards street children.
My artwork “In the middle of nowhere” is made up of uncertain shapes and quite ambiguous features to reflect how the link between youth, skills and jobs remains “in the middle of nowhere”. It shows the difficult situation many children and young people are in today, as the 2012 EFA Global Monitoring Report, Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work shows. I hope my story and my art can inspire street children and other marginalized children to not give up their hope to get an education.