New approach to helping Kenya's street
On almost any day, at almost any time, children
dressed in rags with bottles filled with glue pressed to their faces
stake out the major intersections of Kenya's capital. No one is sure how
many children live on the streets of this city of three million, but
they certainly number in the tens of thousands. Many have lost parents
to HIV/Aids and other diseases. Some have been cast out of their homes.
Many are runaways.
Kenya, like most African countries, depends on private
groups to help these needy children. One group in Nairobi, the Undugu
Society founded in 1973, cannot take in all of the children in need, so
it is organising the children to help themselves, said John Mshindi, a
social worker with the group. "We bring the children into groups of 25
to form an organisation," he said as one group of boys played soccer
behind him. "They have leaders and develop rules and regulations to
govern them." The groups identify the problems they face and help come
up with solutions. The Undugu Society provides food and helps out, but
insists that the children be sober to attend the meetings. Sniffing glue
and smoking marijuana are often the only comforts street children know.
On the poorest continent in the world, the children are the poorest of
the poor, depending on begging, theft and prostitution to survive.
Street children describe a life of almost constant
violence and fear. Stronger children regularly beat the others, police
raid their hideouts and sexual abuse is rampant, the children say. "Life
in the street was so hard, sometimes we sleep without eating, we sleep
outside, we have no shelter," said Angela Onjiku (17) who lived on the
streets and now attends secondary school with financial help from Undugu.
"There is a lot of raping and drug abuse." In their Undugu groups, the
street children identify other children in need of immediate rescue and
those who want to go into rehabilitation are given the chance, Mshindi
said. For the rest, Undugu, which means solidarity in Swahili, offers
food, counseling and sports.
For those who want to get off the streets, the group
takes in children between seven and 17 years old. They first go to a
rehabilitation centre to help them stop using drugs and adjust to normal
life. Then the children attend an accelerated primary school. Most will
get some kind of vocational training, while others will be sponsored for
secondary school. Undugu finances its operations through donations and
the sale of curios, jewellery, furniture, stationary and other items
made by the children in the vocational programmes. Onjiku, the teen who
once lived on the streets, credits Undugu for helping her make the
transition to the classroom and she has hope for the first time of
attending university. "I'd like to be a journalist and show people the
street kids," she said, wearing her school uniform. "Take them to the
slums and show them how life is."
2 May 2006