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Former street children run luxury safari lodge

By Tom Walsh for CNN
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Second chances for 'street boys'
  • Street children are a common sight in the tourist town of Arusha
  • Many street children are addicted to drugs -- glue sniffing is particularly prevalent
  • Kiboko Lodge is the first luxury safari resort to be entirely staffed by former street children
  • The Watoto Foundation gives the boys an education, life skills and opportunities for the future

Arusha, Tanzania (CNN) -- In Tanzania, homeless boys living on the streets are seen by many residents as a menace, dangerous or trouble-makers.

The small town of Arusha, near the Kenyan border, is known as the tourism capital of Tanzania, acting as a base for many safari companies offering drives to the Serengeti and beyond.

However, as the sun goes down over this peaceful town, a darker and more sinister side emerges. Wherever you go in the town, lining the pavements and walkways are street children, young boys living on the fringes of society.

But the Watoto Foundation has come up with a unique way to help Tanzania's street children rebuild their lives, and boost the tourism industry in the area at the same time.

Its Kiboko Lodge is thought to be the first luxury safari resort in the world entirely staffed by former street children. The lodge is built with Kilimanjaro in sight and guests can enjoy beautiful sunsets and fine cuisine expertly prepared by former street kids.

Those former street kids include Emmanuel Mallya, 25, just one of the organization's success stories.

"I like to cook because even when I was young, when I see my mum cooking or my sister cooking I want to interrupt them cooking (and say) 'I want to help with you,' so I like it from my heart," Mallya said.

Now, even I can do something, I know I have something to my head to do, and I'm very proud about it.
--Emmanuel Mallya, former street child

He is originally from nearby town Moshi and says not only is he proud of his job but also incredibly fortunate considering his past on the streets. For the first time in his life, Mallya is making his own salary, and his own future.

"It is a big difference between when I was in Moshi and now," he said. "Because now, even I can do something, I know I have something to my head to do, and I'm very proud about it. I'm a cook, and I like it. It's a big difference."

Noud Van Hout is the founder of the Watoto Foundation and Kiboko Lodge. He says the whole point of the projects is to equip children with skills for the future, providing them with everything from a basic education, to learning new skills -- ending with their own jobs.

The long journey from homelessness to employment starts on the streets. Each night, Aristide Nshange, a social worker and teacher from the Watoto Foundation, drives around Arusha to speak with homeless children and convince them to come to the charity's care home center.

"We are going there to talk with them, to counsel them, to tell them the way how it's bad for them to be on the street, because on the street there is no future for their life," said Nshange.

He says it can, at times, be a tough job because most of the boys who live on the streets have become accustomed to the dangerous lifestyle that goes with it.

Drug addiction among the street children is rife, as well as sexual abuse from older boys. One particular problem is the use of glue by the children. It is a lethal and potent mixture of gasoline and industrial solvent which when inhaled gives the boys a toxic high.

The condition is very bad for them because they don't have a good place to sleep during the night, they're not getting enough food to eat.
--Aristide Nshange, social worker
  • Arusha
  • Tanzania
  • Homelessness

"The condition is very bad for them because they don't have a good place to sleep during the night, they're not getting enough food to eat," Nshange continued. "If they have a problem or are sick they cannot go to the hospital to get medication free of charge because they don't have money to pay."

Those who take up Nshange on his offer are welcomed at the Watoto Foundation drop-in center, known as the first port of call for street children.

At the center the young boys are counseled and provided with a basic education, recreational facilities, and most of all safety.

The emphasis at the foundation is on discipline and the center operates a zero-tolerance policy to drugs. At any one time the center can house 12 boys aged 13 to 18.

Most of the boys who are brought to the home don't know how to read or write and they are taught as soon as they arrive. Whilst any boy can leave at any time, they also have the option to take an exam in order to pass onto the foundation's second center for street children.

The second center is in Makumira, a small village in the Arusha region. The facilities are built upon 17 acres of lush farmland and here the former street kids take part in vocational training.

The center is a self-sufficient organic farm and a successful business, with clients across the country. Entrepreneurship is encouraged among the residents and everything from picnic tables to chicken eggs are sold on.

As for Mallya, he has put the past behind him and has his own future planned out, building on the skills he's learnt at the lodge.

"I have a plan, big plan, to my life, and I have to work hard because I want to open my own restaurant or lodge," he said.