Nermine is one of the street children the night patrol have got to know.


Khaled always stops at a place where he knows a lot of street children usually sleep.


Nermine and Nawal dance and the boys clap the beat in the back of the bus as dawn breaks over Cairo.


The night patrol is used to looking for street children.



The children are night animals and those who are not too ill or hungry keep themselves awake.


The atmosphere changes when Ahmed says disapprovingly that nice girls don't dance like that.


The patrol offers food, a bed and clean clothes. And, if they want it, help to leave the streets.



They love their work but rarely manage to persuade a street child to give up their free way of life.


The children are each other's family and have been known to kill for each other.


It is 5 am and time for the boys to go in to the hostel.


The girls fall asleep on a pile of newspapers in the back of the bus.


The sun rises but the patrol's work is not finished.


The makeshift sleeping place was abandoned. A new shift starts for the social workers who work during the day.
The Night Patrol
While other familes in Cairo are gathered round the table for dinner, Ahmed Samy Ali and Khaled Abo-El Fadl start up their bus and take to the streets to meet the children who do not have a home, or at least, not one they want to go to.

“I never think about tomorrow. I think about what’s happening now.”   

Ahmed Samy Ali and Khaled Abo-El Fadl.
What: Social workers who seek out street children.

In the front of the vehicle there are some seats and a table. On the table is a notebook. At the back of the bus there is an open space with a pile of newspapers in a corner.  

There are lots of people out and about despite the darkness. The two men scan the streets methodically. It takes a trained eye to spot a street child, since many of the children and teenagers do their best to avoid looking like ragamuffins in the hope of being met with a little more tolerance.  On first sight a street child can appear to be quite smartly dressed. He or she might work in a café during the day and sleep out at night.

Three boys and two girls approach us immediately, and are welcomed warmly.

Our first stop is on a main road near an industrial estate. Three boys and two girls approach us immediately, and are welcomed warmly, as if they were relatives come to call. The children form an orderly queue while their names are entered in the little book. They are: Mohammed with the unruly curls, silent Islam and flirtatious Khalad. At the back of the queue are Nawal, in a black headcloth, and Nermine, in a pink sweater which has seen better days. She offers us small hard sweets from a roll of paper.

Tonight they do not want to sleep outdoors. Maybe they are tired, have slept badly or need new clothes. They know what lies ahead: several hours travelling round to the main places where the street children hang out, then a lift to one of the hostels which they hope will have a spare bed.

We make several stops, and Ahmed and Khaled jump out and exchange a few words with groups of children. We see how most of the children shake their heads. No, tonight they are staying outdoors. At a traffic island we pick up a small disheveled boy, who is high on drugs. Street children are constantly inventing new drugs; they find new substances to sniff and they know how to mix culinary spices to make a heroin-like intoxicant.

 They talk to gang leaders, usually an older teenager, to keep up with what is happening on the street, who is fighting with who, and who has become ill or been injured.

The work of the Hope Village mobile team is based on establishing trust. They talk to gang leaders, usually an older teenager, to keep up with what is happening on the street, who is fighting with who, and who has become ill or been injured. They seek out new arrivals, explain what they do and show pictures of children who have left the streets and are living a safer life. They offer the children medical examinations. 

They know that using force and punishments have no effect on a street child. All they can do is point out that life away from the streets has its advantages; that they do have the chance to live a different life.
Each child they sign in has a journal, and a social worker investigates each child’s own story. If they can, they visit the parents and try to put the pieces of the jigsaw together and see through the lies. A girl might claim that her parents are dead, even though both are still alive.
They have learned that it is easier for male co-workers to get through to the girls. In her eyes, a man has a higher status. Many girls miss their father, and his support.

Many girls miss their father, and his support.

The social workers are puzzled by the rise in the number of street children and the fact that they do not always come from the poorest backgrounds. Most of the street children have been more or less thrown out from poor families, but they are seeing a new group of children who have left ‘normal’ families. It may be that there is a gap in Egypt between new and old customs. Society may have changed, but the families have not always changed, say the social workers.  Many families still insist on traditional discipline and arranged marriages. Young women are still getting married without knowing why, the city’s women are having babies but not with the old village spirit of community, where older women were traditionally there for support. The family might appear normal but inside it is broken. 

The hours pass. The bus jolts along and Nawal sits shaking on a small folding seat. She is one of eight siblings. Three of her sisters live on the streets. She is twelve now. We ask her what she is good at, and she looks at us, unsure what we mean. “Nothing.”

What’s your home-life like?
She smiles and shakes her head apologetically; she does not understand the question.
What are you going to do tomorrow?
“I never think about tomorrow. I think about what’s happening now.”

Nermine starts dancing in the back of the bus, the boys clap their hands and cheer and Nawal dives into the fun in a flash. They are told to quieten down, and Nermine makes it clear she thinks the grown-ups are being boring. Her entire family live on the streets and support themselves by begging. She herself prefers to wash cars.

The bus will be on the road until 9 o’clock in the morning. At about 2 am it turns into a quiet back street, to the boys’ hostel. They can sleep here, and in the morning they can have a shower and put on clean clothes. Maybe one of them will want to stay on for a while. Maybe. It is not very likely. We ask Ahmed and Khaled if any of these six children will leave the streets and Khaled pokes his head into the back of the bus for a few seconds.
“Yes, Mohammad,” he says confidently.

In a good environment, he will begin to feel better and develop positively.

How can you be so sure?
“You can see it in his eyes. My experience tells me he wants something else, you can see it in his eyes. In a good environment, he will begin to feel better and develop positively.”

The girls’ hostel has already closed. Now we understand the reason for the pile of newspapers in the back. The girls spread them out, lie down on top of them, and are soon fast asleep.