International Day of the Street Children is a significant day for us. Many of the boys who live with us on Doyle Farm have come from life on the streets. Rafiki Mwema’s Feeding Program meets the basic needs of a group of around 90 street children who have banded together for safety and friendship – a family of sorts. International Day for Street Children recognises the humanity, dignity and defiance of street children in the face of unimaginable hardships.
On International Day of the Street Children, we want the world to know that the children we care for at the Feeding Program are worthy of dignity, respect and love.
Kenya’s street children: Shunned by their own communities
It’s unclear how many children are living on the streets in Kenya. A 2021 report by Railway Children [PDF] quotes research from 2007, which estimated that between 250,000 and 300,000 children are homeless. However, an article covering the International Day for Street Children march in Nakuru notes that a 2018 national census counted 46,639 street children.
In Nakuru, local non-profit and community groups, including Rafiki Mwema, have seen a huge jump in the number of children joining street families during the pandemic. It’s believed that there are over 1,500 children living on Nakuru’s streets. As businesses shut down during the pandemic, work disappeared, especially for the poorest. In addition, parents and caregivers who had been living elsewhere to make a living were forced to return home when their jobs disappeared – and domestic violence increased.
More than half of Kenya’s population are children. Around 37 per cent are aged 0-14 years and 23 per cent are aged 10-19. Nearly half of Kenya’s population live in poverty. Those living on and under the poverty line tend to do work that requires them to leave home for the day and for long hours – leaving their children to fend for themselves. Some mothers turn to sex work, which takes them out of the house at night or puts their children in harm’s way. Sometimes caregivers simply disappear, abandoning their children. Children living in poverty are at far higher risk of exploitation, rejection, and physical and sexual abuse. These tragic situations are why so many children are living on the street. What was happening to them at home was unendurable, and so they hoped for a better life on the street.
They gift us with their trust
Behind the smiles and laughter of each boy at the Feeding Program is a story that is hard to hear. Somehow, despite what they’ve been through, many of these boys still find so much delight in life – whether it’s face painting, soccer matches or playing hide and seek. When a boy opens up to our Feeding Program team, they listen. Aunty Conci, who manages the program, says, “Sometimes it’s not easy to listen to the stories but it’s you who they choose to tell their heavy burden to.” To be gifted with such trust is incredibly special.
Life on the street is no life at all
Life on the street is horrific. The more inexperienced a child is, the more vulnerable they are to those who would do them harm. All street children are subjected to shocking violence and many are sexually abused. Some give in to the abuse in exchange for a hot cup of tea or a meal. They have cuts, bruises and wounds on the outside where we can see, and deep inside their hearts and minds where we can’t see. They have gone from one life of hell to another. To numb hunger and cold, and their feelings of despair, loneliness, fear and shame, they sniff glue constantly. If they fall ill or are injured, doctors and hospitals turn them away. They are unwanted and feared in their communities. They face the bleakest of futures.
Building trust through meeting needs
When we were planning to start the Feeding Program, we heard many well-intentioned warnings. We were told that these children were violent and savage, and that we would be in danger. We were told that they would lie to us, steal from us and cheat us. How glad we are that we went ahead anyway!
We do all we can to give these boys brighter futures. We’ve introduced reading, math and writing lessons, and daily art and craft activities – in addition to much-loved games of soccer. For just a little while, out on the field and kicking the ball, they can forget about the reality of their lives. Our hope is that through these activities, some might build skills that will help them find work and escape life on the street.
We hire a public washroom so the boys can bathe and wash their one set of clothes. And we provide first aid care, and cover all medical and hospital fees when the illnesses or injuries need more expert health care. It’s hectic, noisy, messy and very, very real – but always underpinned by genuine respect, kindness and acceptance, which these boys so rarely experience. We meet them where they are, with no judgement and no strings attached.
Providing a lifeline when there is no other hope
It’s our team’s greatest joy to see a life transformed. These are just two stories of achievement that we’ve been privileged to be a part of.
We met Micah* more than two years ago when we first started the Feeding Program. Like many of the boys, he used glue, and sometimes other drugs, to cope with life on the street. A year ago, he fell very, very ill and we raced him to hospital, where he was diagnosed with TB. His treatment took a long six months, and for the medication to work, he had to go cold turkey – an incredibly difficult experience. Micah’s body craved the drugs, and in those moments when it felt too much to bear, he could only cry.
The Feeding Program was his anchor throughout this time. He centred his life around just making it to the daily meal. And even after a full recovery from TB, Micah has stayed clean. To avoid temptation, he comes to the sports ground, where the boys gather before their meal, as early as possible. He gets involved in all the activities and minimises his contact with his old group of boys. He’s shown so much courage and resilience to get to where he is today, and we are so happy that Micah is alive, strong and healthy.
Aliya* came into contact with the boys who attend the Feeding Program because she was unwanted at home, and so she would spend as much time as possible out on the streets. She met one of the boys who attends the Feeding Program and when they became parents, Aliya’s mother kicked her out.
But life on the street is no place for a newborn, and Aliya’s baby quickly became very ill. She came to us for help, and after her baby recovered, we knew we had to help her build a better life. So we organised a place for her to live and asked her what kind of work she’d enjoy. She thought she’d enjoy making clothing, so we enrolled her in a dress-making course. Six months on, Aliya is loving the course and doing well. Our team has never seen her smile so much. We’re so proud of her and can’t wait to see what comes next.
Giving hope to children in crisis
At Rafiki Mwema, our vision for the future is big and bold. We want to equip and empower every child and young adult who attends the Feeding Program with an education and skills to find work. We want to help them escape the street by finding homes with loving forever families, beat their glue addictions, and begin to heal from their complex trauma through support and therapy. But first, we meet their basic needs – because no one can learn when they are hungry, exhausted and afraid.
Once a week, we hold an outdoor class. Aunty Esther arrives at the sports ground with a whiteboard and a box of notebooks, pencils and pens. Somehow, despite the hunger, glue addiction, and outdoor distractions, the boys are making an amazing effort. With even the most basic of math, reading and writing skills, these boys will have a much better chance to find work and escape life on the street.
Help us give these boys the chance to take hold of a better life
The lives of these boys revolve around survival. The Feeding Program offers them hope for a future in which they don’t just survive, but thrive. We thought we’d trial a few new activities, including art, beading and lessons – just to see how it would go. And the boys are loving it! So we want to turn these activities into a full service and make an even bigger impact.
If you’d like to help, please consider becoming a regular donor to the Feeding Program today.
*Names changed for privacy reasons.