‘Power of poetry’: Lemn Sissay aims to inspire Retrak’s street children mission

Renowned poet Lemn Sissay MBE has enough African spirit in him to encourage Retrak in completing their ultimate goal of a world without street children.

Celebrated poet and children’s campaigner, Sissay, 46, was appointed the first patron of Manchester faith-based development agency Retrak at the start of this month.

The charity, headed up by Sir Peter Fahy, former Chief of Greater Manchester Police, works to reach the streets of South America and Africa for a future where no child separated from their families is forced to live without a home.  

“With the continued support from its donors, I firmly believe that Retrak will continue to thrive and achieve its vision of working towards a world where no child is forced to live on the street,” Sissay told MM.

“Their proven grass-roots sustainable approach helps give real alternatives to children to build a better future and make a positive difference to their lives. Retrak is a small charity with a big vision and I hugely admire that.”

Sissay comes from a background in touch with the children supported by Retrak.

Born in Wigan, the British author spent his adolescence in a series of children’s homes after his mother, an Ethiopian refugee, was duped into giving him up for adoption in 1996.

“I was honoured to be asked to become a patron and it was a very easy decision to make. I said yes instantly.

“There are so many links in my life to Retrak’s, not least my Ethiopian heritage, as this is one of the countries where Retrak works to rescue street children and to strengthen vulnerable families.”

As a new patron of the charity Sissay will work to raise awareness of Retrak’s profile and its initiatives supporting some of the world’s most vulnerable children and families.

“As I support the charity’s core beliefs that children belong in safe caring families and not in institutions, I will echo Retrak’s excellent work by helping to speak up for children living on the street.

“I also hope to inspire Retrak’s staff through the power of poetry.”

Retrak began in Uganda in 1994 as a football club called the Tigers Club Project to provide street children with the opportunity to play and escape their problems.

Since then the organisation registered in Uganda and became a charity in the UK in 1997 with a sister charity in America.

Retrak has grown from these roots and now operates in Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania.

Their mission is to transform highly vulnerable children’s lives, preserve families, and empower communities.

Work begins with outreach on the streets, and is supported by foster care, independent living and self-help groups. This beginning-to-end approach has helped children to return to their home to their immediate or biological families.

Working with tens of thousands of people, Retrak puts the children first no matter what creed, colour, faith base or gender.

Last year their impressive growth was displayed when they recorded 51 children fostered and 817 unified with their families compared to just the one child fostered and 124 unified with their families in 2009.

Sir Peter, who joined Retrak as CEO in November 2015, met Sissay in his role as Chancellor of Manchester University and knew instantly he was somebody he wanted to work with.

“I was struck by his great humanity, his warmth and his passion,” said Sir Peter.

“Like Retrak, Sissay’s heart is in Manchester but his soul is in Africa. There are so many links in Lemn’s story to the work of Retrak; his Ethiopian heritage, a country Retrak works in to rescue street children and to strengthen vulnerable families; his separation from his mother and rejection by his foster parents, his difficult time in the care system and the feeling, like so many street children, that he was an inconvenience.

“Although Lemn’s story is personal to him, every child living on the street faces a similar challenge of overcoming rejection, abandonment and isolation in order to realise their potential. As Lemn says, he wants to be characterised not by his scars but by his ability to heal.”

Sir Peter concluded that Lemn’s powerful example will be shared with young people who are in desperate need of emotional healing.

If you would like to get involved to help a worthy cause such as Retrak, there are plenty of voluntary opportunities, organised events and ways of helping out on the website:

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