*Stephen not the real name
t is a chilly Friday morning as I patiently wait in Mr. Mwangi’s office. Mr. Mwangi is the head of NYS Primary School, Gilgil and can best be described as a jovial, gigantic built and welcoming man. As I wait, while sipping from a sizzling hot mug of white coffee, I have the privilege of perusing through Stephen’s academic file.
Stephen is the reason why I am here. He is in the examination room and I am waiting for him to conclude his exam, so that he could narrate his life story. After 30 minutes of perusing through the file, my mind wanders off to two days earlier when I met Stephen. On Wednesday evening, at around five o’clock, as I walked the streets of Gilgil. The wind was blowing strongly and the sky was dark grey. It was evident that sooner or later, the town would experience a heavy downpour. Like everyone else, I was in a rush to avoid being caught in the rain. Then he caught my eye. He was in no hurry like the rest of the crowd; he wore no sweater no shoes and no trousers (just a worn out tee and a pair of shorts). He dragged his feet as if they were a tone heavy while he hang an almost empty dirty looking sack on his shoulders. I felt an urge to speak to this boy. He looked weary.
My train of thought is disrupted by a knock on the door. Mr. Mwangi then summons whoever is at the door in. It is Stephen. He looks neat and very presentable, however, there is a distant look in his eyes and he looks tired. I choose to ignore the tired look and compliment him. There is a little blush on his face immediately I do. Mr. Mwangi then excuses himself out of the office to give us room to talk.
I proceed to ask Stephen how he is doing and he confesses that he is not doing fine. He explains that he did not have breakfast in the morning and had no dinner the previous night since there was nothing to eat in the house. He then confides in me that he was tired because they sleep on old garments instead of mattresses and cover themselves with the same too. Even during harsh climatic conditions.
Stephen is a 13-year-old reformed street boy. He is the second born in a home of three children. He is currently in class six whereas he dropped out of school when he was 7 years old and ran away to the streets. Stephen lives with his grandparents and his elder brother (who is in form one in a neighboring school). His parents are casual laborers in Nakuru, but unfortunately he does not know exactly where they live. They do not often visit, and Stephen can hardly recall the last time he saw them. His grandparents are very old and do not work. They therefore depend on Stephen and his brother. His brother does casual jobs over the weekend and in the evening after school for a small charge.
His reason to run to the streets was out of the circumstance that his aging and ailing grandmother was not in a position to feed him or his elder brother and hence they would go on for days on empty stomachs. After two years in the streets, he resolved to return home since life in the street was equally unbearable. With his return, he decided to collect old, rusting metallic materials in the streets and sell them to ‘Jua-Kali’ artisans.
Ever since returning home and joining school, his evening routine is the same. Immediately he leaves school, he collects any metallic material he comes across and searches for a buyer. It then occurs to me that on the evening I met him, he was carrying out his daily after school routine. He admits that it is not easy to find the material and it’s more difficult to find a buyer.
That was the case the previous day. All the artisans he approached turned him down saying that the collected material was of low quality and that is how they ended up with no dinner nor breakfast. Despite these challenges, he tries hard not to give up since he relies on the few coins he makes for food.
I asked him why he decided to go back to school after being on the street for two years and he told me that even as he lived in the streets, his dream of one day becoming a doctor never faded.
So he decided to go back and make his dreams come true. He admits that some of the pupils discriminated against him and did not want to associate with him at first, but his teachers were supportive and when necessary went to the extent of punishing the bullies.
His school performance is quite impressive. He was position three out of 58 students and scored 381 marks in the previous end of term examination. Speaking to his class teacher, she admitted that sometimes Stephen is jovial and cooperative but other times he is rude and keeps to himself. She adds by saying that the staff encourages and supports him when they can. She is proud of his performance and she believes that the future is bright for young Stephen.
Stephen is just one of the reformed street boys. There are many more and even a larger number who are on the streets. All these children could reform. All they need is some affection and soon they can rekindle their dreams.
It is very true we tend to avoid the street children like plagues because of their uncouth behavior of thieving and insulting us. But how many times have you as a person stopped and tried to think what led to their situation?
Some of them do this to remain relevant or even to express their anger and humiliation.
There exist government run rehabilitation centers, remand homes and rescue centers in various parts of the country. This is where people on the street should be held before reintegrating them with their families. However, the street families refuse and remain adamant to be confined in these homes. Their main reason being, the deplorable conditions in these facilities. For one, they are usually congested, dirty unhygienic and the staff tends to treat them harshly.
Stephen is just one of the many who left the streets because life there is unbearable. Where else can they go? Who can assist them and readily integrate them back into the society? Let us ponder on this, if street life is unbearable and yet the street families prefer being in the streets than being in the rescue centers, what exactly should you and I do to make their lives more bearable?? Article 53 of the Kenyan Constitution states that every child is entitled basic nutrition, shelter and heath care and should be protected from abuse, neglect and all forms of violence.It is in fact the government’s mandate to protect and fulfill the human rights of all.
The CRADLE in collaboration with other stakeholders and actors have been working together to protect the rights of children.
Views, comments and suggestions are welcome