Troubled teens dig deep for African children

THEIR lives have been touched by hardship and despair, some have endured the harshest of childhoods, for others there has been immeasurable heartbreak.

The troubled teens who find sanctuary and support for their problems at a city centre cafe probably have enough to think about without worrying about the plight of others.

But thousands of miles away in a small village in Tanzania, there is deprivation and misery, too. For its youngsters, there is no clean running water, no money and, for many, no education or route out.

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On the surface it might seem there could be little other than a joint understanding of the cruelties of life to link the teens who gather at the Victoria Terrace 6VT Youth Cafe with those being raised in the harsh poverty of Samuye, in the heart of Africa.

Yet, in a remarkable show of empathy and selflessness, the Edinburgh youngsters have put their difficulties aside and poured effort and their scant savings into improving the lives and prospects of Samuye's teens.

The youngsters – some of them under local authority care, others from broken homes and some who have witnessed the scourge of alcohol and drugs at first hand – have raised hundreds of pounds in order to help a small Edinburgh-based charity provide essential aid for the poverty-stricken village.

Some have handed over pennies from leftover pocket money, others have bowled over youth workers by handing over their meagre possessions to sell.

The youngsters have been so touched by the plight of one family in particular, led by an ageing grandmother who cares for more than a dozen grandchildren after their parents died from Aids, that they have even pledged to "adopt" them.

Their links with the African village are now set to become even stronger. This week, one of the 6VT Youth Cafe's workers will fly to Tanzania to witness the difference the children's efforts are making and assess whether city youngsters could eventually be based in the village and replicate the work of the Edinburgh organisation.

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The Edinburgh youngsters' compassion towards Samuye's children – in spite of their own troubles – is remarkable, says Lesley Lynch, of city-based charity Sashita, founded just two years ago.

"Many of the children at the Youth Cafe have very little themselves," she says. "Some have hardly been to school, some have been touched by HIV and Aids, which could be part of the reason why they are so keen to help.

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"I went along to the Youth Cafe to talk about the charity's work and fill in a gap one evening. Later the workers said they had never seen the kids so quiet and so taken by it all.

"These are children that many people might think would be the last to want to do something for others. What they are doing is amazing."

Launched about 15 years ago, the cafe in Victoria Terrace is a meeting place for teenagers and also provides programmes for vulnerable children who have home or school problems or have been referred there for offending. Some have experienced severe poverty and some have lost parents to drink or drugs.

Dot Horne, the cafe's director, says the youngsters' response has been remarkable.

She says: "Some of these kids come from difficult backgrounds, but they compare poverty in this country with what it is like there and realise that there are actually people who are a lot worse off.

"They might not have the iPod and the big car and things their neighbours' children have. But they can look at other people in this village and see how little they have got.

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"They are handing over their small amounts of copper change or buying toothbrushes to be sent to the village, knowing that they aren't going to get anything back from it other than knowing they are contributing immensely to someone else's life. This has been a great educational tool."

Money raised by the youngsters has helped support Helena and her grandchildren and aided Sashita projects which include the creation of a new well and plans for a community centre.

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It's hoped that future fundraising will lead to exchange programmes.

Youth Cafe worker Diane Elliott, 36, will travel to Samuye on Monday. She says: "The idea is to go and see what it is like and if we can arrange for Edinburgh youngsters to go out there in a couple of years to set up a version of the Youth Cafe in the village.

"I'll be taking things like toys and crayons, paper and pens, skipping ropes and medical supplies. Simple things like a toothbrush make such a massive difference to the children there – and it's something that kids here can easily buy for a few pence.

"When they heard how girls over there who wear pants have less chance of being raped, they went home and made sure their parents went off to buy dozens of pairs of pants.

"And they were shocked to be told that the children could only go to school if they could buy a uniform, which meant many girls didn't get an education.

"They have found that things which don't cost a lot of money to us are invaluable over there."

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Single mum and mature student Diane, who was partly raised in local authority homes and foster care, has also been personally touched by the plight of the Tanzanian villagers.

"It's been hard finding the money to go, but once we'd seen how every penny we raised could make such a big difference, I had to do it," she says.

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"The kids are so enthusiastic about it, they are desperate to go over and see it themselves.

"They want to help. They can see that everything they do makes a huge difference."

Find out more about Sashita's work at Contact the Youth Cafe on 0131-220 2108 and

A charity football match between a Sashita Select XI and Hearts Legends will be held on 12 September at the Spartans Community Football Academy, Ainslie Park, Pilton Drive


WHILE some teenagers spend their pocket money on music and mobiles, Louise Ferguson, 17, and Joey Black, 16, are more likely to put their cash and effort towards helping the children of Tanzania.

"Being involved in this makes you feel like you're really making a difference, says Louise, of Meadowbank, who has sold her own possessions to raise money for charity. Joey, meanwhile, is about to raise cash by having his long hair cut off.

He says: "When you see how difficult their lives are, and find there is something you can do to help, it makes you realise that there's more to life than material things."

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