As I walked to work, I passed motionless bodies lying in the dirt, their clothes impregnated in this grey filth. A closer glance revealed that this pile of rags is a young human life, probably no older than 16 years. What can I do?

The sight, which I saw when visiting North Khartoum recently, saddens me no less than when it confronted me the first time with the reality of how hard life is in Sudan.

REMAINS OF THE DAY: Remnants of glue used for sniffing on the streets of North Khartoum.


"I have witnessed poverty before in the countries of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, but nothing borders on this kind of hopelessness; a hopelessness where the adults of society are fuelling the glue-sniffing addictions of the youth around them. Some people here call it survival."

On a walk back to where I was staying, I saw a couple sitting in the squalor with their young daughter. Both adults had what are, in these parts, the symbols of hopelessness expressed on their faces - a rag stuffed in their mouth so they could inhale glue or benzene. Their senses were numbed, their faces were blank; their small, maybe two-year-old child stood naked with her hand holding on to a small fruit juice container, sucking out the last remains that someone else had just discarded. 

What can I do? The street is littered with this kind of human life, the problem is too immense. What can I do? I continued to walk past as I did every day, and the parable of the Good Samaritan rushes through my mind.

That afternoon, on my walk back, I passed empty tubes of 'Diamond' glue littering the street. I wonder if the manufacturer knows how many people the glue is killing or whether they care?

The motionless bodies I saw earlier, meanwhile, have come to life - but maybe life is the wrong word to try and describe their existence. The filth around them has grown; piles of half-eaten discarded food lay on the ground covered in grey dirt, with a hand occasionally selecting a piece and putting it to their mouth.

There are boys sitting in circles talking, sometimes gambling, but their faces are all the same. A rag stuffed in their mouth; grey, dirt-covered skin. Hair so disgusting that my words can’t describe it. New tubes of glue litter their little circles. Ten meters further on is an amputee, sitting out of his wheel chair in the dirt, talking with a couple of boys. Out of his pocket comes a new tube of glue, money is exchanged and the eager teenagers take the tube, pierce its top and covers rags with the glue before putting it into their mouths ever so quickly. My mind cannot understand this hopelessness, but what can I do?

I have witnessed poverty before in the countries of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Malawi, but nothing borders on this kind of hopelessness; a hopelessness where the adults of society are fuelling the glue-sniffing addictions of the youth around them. Some people here call it survival.

The next day I come out of the veritable fortress where I am staying and look out on to the dusty road, first left and then right, until my attention is drawn to a lifeless human form laying against the wall of our house. A closer inspection reveals a teenager using his sandals for a pillow. He is completely out of it and it’s only 10.30am. I venture out past this motionless body form lying only metres from my door on my way to do some jobs. Oh, Lord what can I do?

While walking to do my errands I tossed my dilemma around with God. "Lord, this is your problem. Do something! It’s all too difficult!" Eventually I ask the Lord: "If there is anything you want me to do, you need to show me". I laid a fleece out to the Lord, saying if that pile of rags was still lying next to the house when I return, I would do something. I have no idea what that something could be given the difficulties posed by the communication barrier. I do not speak enough Arabic to save myself let alone work out or understand this situation. Hopefully, by the time I have returned to where I was staying, the situation will have moved on. Something deep inside me reminds me that this person is God’s creation; someone that He loves and died for. I had a gut-feeling this boy was still going to be there on my return.

An hour later, on my return, the young teenage boy had not moved. What do I do now? God has answered my prayer; He is challenging me to be a Good Samaritan and not overlook the needs He has placed in front of me. I think back to all those times I have walked around these spaced-out kids; even, at times, walking on the other side of the street to avoid seeing their hopelessness. Now I must truly face it. I arrive at the gate and look again at this motionless body - what should I do? I quickly decide to go inside. Guilt instantly rose within me. I had made an agreement with my God and I had not kept my part of the agreement. Yet despite my guilt, our gracious Lord gave me a second chance and prompted me to go back outside.

So I went outside again. The boy was still there but my next door neighbour was standing outside his door. We exchanged greetings. I discussed the issue of this boy with him. I sensed an anger rising in his voice which I thought strange. My neighbour went straight to the boy and shook him until he woke up. The lad staggered to his feet, not knowing where he was, or probably what day it was. I waited for the boy’s reaction? Would it be violent?

"What do I do now? God has answered my prayer; He is challenging me to be a Good Samaritan and not overlook the needs He has placed in front of me."

Instead, his reaction was one of meekness. My neighbour was the one who was reacting against him - abusing him and, I think, threatening him in Arabic which made me cringe. With my limited understanding of Arabic, my interpretation was "get out of here and don’t come back".

I felt sad for the boy and was confused by my neighbour’s aggressiveness. I didn’t know what to say except “How can I help boys like this?” My neighbour did not answer my question, but told me about the boy’s situation. Some days before he had been sleeping in a similar position and my neighbour was in his car backing out to go to work. Fortunately, people had stopped my neighbour who, unsure why, had gotten out and seen that the car’s back wheel was within inches of the boy’s head. No damage was done, but my neighbour was shaken to such an extent that when he saw the same boy in a similar position this time, it instantly brought back the memory of nearly running over him.

So where did this leave me with my dilemma? The lad had now bolted out of sight - was this my answer? Steer clear? Something within me said no, so I walked in the same direction the boy had gone, thinking that if I found him, I would rely on God to show me what He wants me to do. The first corner I walked to I found the boy sitting against the wall in the shade with a blank look on his dust-covered face. Now, what do I do? I walked up to him and knelt down so I was at his level. I tried to communicate with him - it was proving difficult, but there was an understanding. He was hungry and thirsty, so I walked him around to our local corner store. I brought him a drink; bread roll and he chose something to put in the roll. He communicated to me that his name was Deegl by writing it in the dirt.

How can I help Deegl; this boy that God has brought across my path? All the problems quickly flashed through my head, but I decided if I could get him to understand, I would give him the job of cleaning up outside where I was staying and try to get to know him and his situation. So I tried to explain to him that glue and benzene sniffing was bad for him, but that if he came back in two days time, not spaced-out, I would pay him for doing a couple of jobs. He seemed to understand. I believe the Holy Spirit was guiding our communications and hand gestures. I handed it all over to the Lord - if He wished this relationship to develop, then so be it.

Two days later at 8.30am, 30 minutes earlier than arranged, our door bell rang. I opened the door and there stood Deegl before me, wide-eyed and obviously not under the influence of glue or benzene. He cleaned up outside our flat that morning and I happily paid him with some money and a bread roll with peanut butter. I told him to come back every two days which he has continued to do.

The next day Deegl came back and he did the same job of cleaning outside. When I went to check on him, my neighbour was also outside with his two little daughters. I told him the story about the lad cleaning up and how he seemed to have stopped glue sniffing. My neighbour called him over and I found out a little more about him. Deegl is 15 years old and from the Nubian Mountains in southern Sudan. He was forced away from his home a result of the war and became a street kid. My neighbour still seemed to speak sternly to Deegl but now he is cleaning outside my neighbour’s house as well.

When Deegl came the next time, he had another lad with him. This new boy kept his distance and sat on the opposite corner while Deegl cleaned up. Two days later the same boy was with Deegl but this time he came over with Deegl and started to help him. I asked Deegl what was his name? He said it was Emmanuel. 

So now we have two boys cleaning outside; at this rate I'll be able to clean up the entire block. When they both finish outside, they come inside to the courtyard. We have a sink in the courtyard which I suggest they use to wash in and clean up. This seems to be a great luxury to them - just standing back and watching them giggling as teenagers can do is such a blessing. After the dust and dirt is washed away from their faces, it is as though two new boys were standing before me.

Some friends from home gave us some secondhand clothes for the boys, and it seemed like Christmas from their reactions of appreciation when clothes were given to them.

Both Deegl and Emmanuel have continued to come every second day. I wonder how many more may come? What will I do? The voice inside me says: “Hand it over to Me, I will not give you more than you can handle”.

There is a huge need for help to be given to kids like Deegl and Emmanuel and when I look at the problem it always seems insurmountable. But it is not our problem; it is the Lord’s. Our Lord has placed us in positions were He wants us to serve Him, not just solve the problem. He wants us to serve Him in the plans He has to save a dying world. Just by being available. God will make a way where there seems to be no way. I do not know where God is leading me with helping Deegl and Emmanuel and maybe others, but by developing a relationships and showing God’s love to the street kids, anything is possible.

Please pray for the street kids of North Khartoum. 

* The author's name and other details in the story have been changed for security reasons.

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