Friday, April 16

Nine and a half months in Kenya: Street children

I think it surprised me to find homeless people in Nakuru after walking through Githima, the neighborhood the center borders where the roads are dust, the houses are one-room, concrete rows and there are no street lights because every bulb has been stolen. It's a fairly common statistic that half, a quater, a third of the world lives on less than a dollar a day. Some of those people live in Githima where a room can be rented for 1,600 shillings a month (about 21 dollars at 75 shillings to the dollar). The rest can go to food. It may not be a totally safe life, it may not be a healthy life, it require involve scratching to make through every thirty days, but it's a life with a home and better than the alternative of life with no home and sleeping in ditches.

The other factor is just how many people in Nakuru are doing something. Again, these may not be high paying jobs and most are a few steps below menial labor, but there are jobs for people who couldn't make it through primary and chances to afford one of those rooms in Githim. There are bike drivers and motorcycle riders for those who only know how to get from one point to another. In Gilani's, Nakuru's major supermarket and wholesaler, there is a cashier and packer personally assigned to every row. These aren't floaters moving between registers as customers come up. They stay there and wait. That's not counting the people in the aisles proper, waiting to assist shoppers or the ones stocking shelves.

Of course, none of this makes a difference for Nakuru's street children. Sixteen hundred may be affordable rent, but it doesn't make a difference if you're too young to hold a job. I don't know where they come from, but knowing the stories of some of the kids at the center and those whom the Children's Office have dumped on us, their parents probably abandoned them. Maybe because they didn't have the money, maybe because they didn't want the responsibility anymore and wanted a new life. Who knows? Who cares? The point is they're on the streets.

Most of them hang out around the Coca-Cola warehouse. When the empties come in, the movers don't mind if the kids lick out the drops. It's easy enough to recognize them when they fan out from there. No matter what they're wearing, the kids are a uniform tan color, close to that of desert fatigues. It's the layers of Nakuru dust. They're normally wearing a coat. Even during the height of the dry season, the nights in equatorial Africa can get cold, and when you have nowhere to keep it safe, you keep it with you. Most keep hanging off their lips a flask-sized plastic bottle, empty but for an amber layer of glue on the bottom. It's the same glue the shoe fundis use to attach the soles to the rest. Sometimes you can see a group of them crouching in a circle on the edge of the street, rolling dice and dropping cards. I don't know what they're gambling for, what they have that they could wager.

People who aren't Kenyans and who have money care about the street kids. Not the Kenyans. Donors come in and meet with the city officials and organize meals and clothing donations and classes for the kids. They take them out of the city to give them a fresh start away from their old haunts. This happened last October. For near three weeks you couldn't find a street kid in all of Nakuru.

Then they were back. The donors had left, the cooperating officials had sold what the donors had brought, and kids were back in Nakuru. Not the same ones should the donors come back and recognize them, but a new set, previously of Kisumu or Nairobi, ready for some new bleeding heart to feel for their plight and offer them a better chance with the aid of the local officials who best understand their problems and the solutions.

There's a reason poverty is systemic. It profits some an awful lot.

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