When you see them going about their day in the street or about to cross your path, what’s the first thing that goes through you mind? It’s subconscious really. We clutch our bags and cross over to the opposite lane in an attempt to get out of their path.
Some steal or ‘borrow’ from us while others politely ask for food or a handout and sometimes we give in to their pleas and other times a feeling crosses our minds that wametuzoea.
I remember walking with my friends on a Friday night along Muindi Mbingu street, keenly aware of my environment as the street is famous for street kids waiting for handouts from the people leaving the numerous food joints that grace the area. As we crossed paths with a group of them, I locked eyes with one. I recognized him but he immediately looked away and continued engaging with his crew. I racked my brain trying to remember where I knew him from and it was then that I recalled a conversation I had had with one of our interns at Volunteers For Kenya earlier that week. She had mentioned having seen one of the kids we used to work with from Young Life Africa (YLA) Children’s home on the street. It was him.
I stopped, turned back and yelled, ‘Daniel!’ He stopped and looked at me, shocked that I remembered his name. I ushered my friends to go ahead and began bombarding him with questions.
‘What are you doing here? Why aren’t you at the home?’ and so on. With his face down he began to mumble that he didn’t like school and he found the chores that they did at the home hard. He wanted a simple, easy life with no responsibilities and the streets could give him that. While we continued to interact further, I bought him and his friends something to eat as I made a call to the YLA home manager. He told me it wasn’t the first time Daniel had ran away. It was a recurrent occurrence and each time he came back he managed to convince others to ran away with him. It was a typical case of a rotten apple spoils the bunch.
He was happy with his choice and there’s not much anyone could do. As I watched him walk away in disbelief, joking with his friends glue in hand, I reached out to the only person I knew who could help in such a situation, Fredrick Mwaura.
This is a name that’s well known among the street kids especially those around Mathare and Mlango kubwa. Fred has been carrying out a street feeding program in Mlango Kubwa for about 7 years now. It all began when he took over the program from his mother, who ran a street rehabilitation center called Joy Divine Children’s Home.
Today, 18 years later, Joy Divine has rehabilitated over 200 street kids with some already in campus studying courses such as Engineering, Communications, and Media and Piloting in renowned institutions in the country. He also runs a program called Joy Divine Gives Back where the beneficiaries of the program can pay it forward. The street feeding is one of those programs that also engages volunteers from all over the world. It is through this program that he and his team are able to engage with the VIPs (that is how they refer to the street dwellers) and create a relationship with them.
With time, some approach them requesting for help to go back home, while others desire to quit the street life and go back to school. He offers to assist them, on condition that they undergo rehabilitation.
Fortunately, Fred has an amazing network of donors and volunteers who help him care for the reformed kids but it is not a task for the faint-hearted. He has had instances where he pays the school fees and the kids ran away from school shortly after and he has to track them down. ‘It’s a journey with its highs and lows but the high moments make it all worth it,’ he says, being the ever-optimistic person he is.
I call Fred and we talk for a few minutes where he reassured me that there was nothing more I could have done. I bid him goodbye and promise to join him for the street feeding program they hold every Saturday where they cook porridge and lunch for over 300 VIPs and offer them donated clothes. Other programs that Joy Divine takes part in include:
- Educating financially challenged children.
- Reconciling rescued street children with their families.
- Holding soccer tournaments/leagues for the street dwellers.
- Carrying out medical camps for the homeless.
- A legacy program where foodstuffs are donated to the elderly.
- Holding boot camps to train and mentor the street residents.
- They also have a future plan to open a vocational and ICT centre in their Isinya property where the home is located.
Taking part in programs like this, I began to see the VIPs as human beings rather than a nuisance in society. They take part in crime because that is all they know but it doesn’t make them less human. Hopefully, with more programs like this, change will gradually continue to take place as we wait for the government to take its role, whenever that will be. If you would like to support Fred in any way or volunteer with them, kindly follow their facebook page, Joy Divine Gives Back, or check out their website. You could also leave a comment below and we’ll be sure to connect you!
See you in the next Street Feeding!