By Ann Wambui
June 5, 2019, a rainy Wednesday at around 7:45 AM my colleague and I left Nairobi for Lodwar, Turkana county in the Northern part of Kenya. After a few hours of settling in the town we sought out to meet some of the officials who would be helping us move around to collect children voices for a documentary for the Day of the African Child to be marked on June 16, 2019.
The theme of this day is “Humanitarian Action” and therefore our focus this time was on vulnerable children so our concern was much on children living in the streets. This is because despite the Ksh7.9bn that orphans and vulnerable children were allocated in the 2018/19 budget, children are still living in the streets with all the push and pull factors still unresolved. This trickles down from death/abandonment by bread winners, available money from begging, freedom to move around the streets and independence just to mention a few.
In this town, mobility is either by walking, motorbike or taxi which is relatively expensive but business still goes on. As we later came to learn, there are no short-route matatus operating in this county, however, there are shuttles going for long distances example Eldoret, Nakuru or Nairobi.
Our expectation was to get views from children about the available and accessible assistance they get from humanitarian organizations. But this changed while we got there because the family we spoke to, had a different story.
Florence Ekadeli is a wife and a mother to four children living in a beautiful homestead in Kanamkemer. Part of her worry are the children she sees in the streets begging and running around when they should be in schools or somewhere with family. Which is why she took the initiative to go where these families are based in the market area and have a conversation to see how she can help. It is after this, that she took in four children who were willing and ready to go to school.
“I am not happy when I walk around and see children especially on weekdays begging. I often ask myself what can I do to help and that is why I decided to have take them to school because they deserve an education and a better life.”
Her story changed our perspective because what she did was an act of humanity. And sometimes it is not always about what organizations or the government can do, but us as community members, can do in our capabilities to take care of others.
While filming with our subject family, we paid a visit to Sokoni, a market place constructed but not in use, where a group of families living in the streets have made home. Children from infancy to adolescents are all living together in four walled-rooms and have taken responsibilities of taking care of each other as a unit.
Some girls have bore children in the same place and the unit continues to grow which means there are a lot of things at stake including birth certificates for the newborns as well as the mothers because truth is, most of them have no parents, meaning the family and life they know is that of the street. Vaccination for the infants becomes another hustle yet the same budget seeks to further expand access to affordable healthcare, by allocating Ksh2.0 billion which leads me to ask, isn’t the universal healthcare meant for each citizen of Kenya?
Through the interactions with these amazing, calm, beautiful souls, they shared of how the authorities beat them at times when they are found wandering the streets looking for meal. While all this is happening, some of the boys said they often have to hawk tomatoes or potatoes or push a wheelbarrow for some women in the market, and in return get food or Shs.50. (This is not right by any chance)
From the gatherings, and words from one of the older boys, seemingly their spokesperson, one thing clear and that is their willingness to get an education. To go to school and get a basic education like the rest of the “normal” children who enjoy privileges.
From the whole experience, we took home that community members have a role to play in children’s upbringing and this includes those not from the same home or family. The government and humanitarian organizations can do much but as individuals, we can play our part. It could be that there is a children shelter that you volunteer in in your free time, it could be a feeding program with the little that you get, getting to do such kind of things with your family or as neighbors.
Encouraging the spirit of sharing and exhibiting that sometimes it is not about the amount of resources you have but using the little or available to serve all. Children living in the streets have been assumed to be rough and mean, but it is not in their nature. They maybe this way because they also feel threatened by people who assume they are thieves anytime they are chilling somewhere or in a crowd. These are children just like any other needing love and affection. Next time you are walking somewhere and a child approaches you, do not shun them away, if you have coins/notes to spare, go to a hotel or a shop and buy her/him a meal. Our children are important, all our African children are important.
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