Hard Floor, Cold Night and Warm Compassion

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“Sometimes the policemen laugh; they think it’s a big joke,” said Michael Mudau, a boy who lives on the streets.

A midday meal at Hilbrow’s Twilight Children Shelter is the only meal for Michael. Sleep is something that is hard to come by. Gun shots, seeing people running with stolen items and constant gang fights are normal in Michael’s life.  One night when Michael did fall asleep, it was cut short when he woke up to the smell of fire. Someone burnt his blanket.  Michael says he is thankful not to be a female on the streets. They are constantly threatened by rape, prostitution and human trafficking. This is the shockingly cruel and inhumane world of homeless youth.

I suddenly wake. With my eyes wide open I reach for my glasses. I can’t find them. I start to silently panic. Then I realize…they were on my face. I look around and everyone’s fast asleep. It’s 1:30 am and I try to make myself warm and comfortable. I feel the ice cold air against my face as I try to close my eyes and sleep.  I wake again four more times during that night, somewhat uncomfortable even though I was in the safety of Christ Church College school grounds surrounded by caring teachers and friends.  There were no marauding gangs or burning blankets or lurking rapists.  I think about the people living on the streets and can only imagine how afraid and alone they must feel.

My experience of the Nelson Mandela School SleepOut™, held on 27 July, will never come close to the real experience of Michael and his friends on the street. I will never fully understand all the issues that homeless youth face but on that night I got a tiny taste of the homeless experience.  And it reminded me of how privileged I am.  While I may never know what it is like to be a homeless girl menstruating, I will always have compassion.  I will always want to make the world a better place. I will always be an advocate for the rights of homeless children and youth on the streets.

Our School SleepOut™ event was a life changing experience for me and those participating in it. Through our involvement in this event we gave people the opportunity to experience homelessness, we educated the participants about issues that homeless people face and we collected donations to benefit an under-privileged school.  One thing was for certain, we all left that morning feeling a lot more compassionate and socially conscious.

I am forever grateful to The SleepOut™ Movement for the experience and opportunity to change the lives of the people around me as well as to help an under-privileged school in Soweto.  At the beginning of my SleepOut™ Brand Ambassador journey I had goals. I wanted to motivate and inspire my peers to be more socially conscious and to take action on social issues.  I also wanted my community to get a better understanding of what homeless people go through. Although we had a hard floor on a cold night, we generated lots of warm compassion.  Working with the SleepOut™ Movement helped me to accomplish my goals.

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Kristen Peters

I am in Grade 9 at Christ Church College in Midrand, Gauteng. I’ve been brought up in a middle class family with access to excellent education. But I know that this is not the situation for all South Africans. As the Representative Class Leader (RCL) for two years, I represented the views and concerns of my class to the leadership structures of the school. During this period I took on some project responsibilities and collected food and toiletries to distribute to needy and underprivileged learners at the Nokuphila School in Ivory Park.