Friday, February 25, 2011

David's First Day of School

(Joseph, Alfred, George and David in uniform at Il Polei Primary School)

When I first started sending kids to school and decided that it was something I wanted to continue doing, I became worried that I might not be able to find the right kids who really wanted to go. One of the tactics I used was to have the kids who were already in school recruit other kids that they knew couldn’t afford to go to school, and really wanted to.

David is my first student that was recruited by other students. Alfred and his brother Joseph came to me one day and said that they knew a boy who was really smart and could not afford to go to school. David had been at the same detention center as Joseph (although in a different grade). I said great, and not thinking much of it, invited him to one of our study sessions.

In the study session I was honestly not very impressed. Later I realized that I was kind of to blame because we ended up studying in a place that had a TV on. Kind of stupid I know, but there aren’t a lot of places in town that will allow a study group of street children. David ended up watching TV over his book for most of the study session, and I decided that he wasn’t a good fit for what I was trying to do.

Weeks went by and I was working hard trying to find a place in a school for George and Joseph. I didn’t even consider trying to convince a school to let David in, since he obviously didn’t want it that badly. He came to me day after day and asked about going to school. I told him that he didn’t seem very serious in his study session. He then started coming to town and showing me the work he had been doing in his notebook that I had given him (I found that giving the boys study guides was a cheap way of figuring out who is interested and who isn’t). He had done a good deal of work and done it well. A week later he came to me with his report card from the detention center. He was ranked number one in his class for the majority of his time there (and though both the competition and quality of education were suspect it still said a lot about his drive for education).

This document changed everything and it was easy to convince the principal of Il Polei Primary to let him attend just by showing his marks.

This is the second of four videos that the ActionAid volunteers made. The group spent the day with David and myself, visiting his home and bringing him up to Il Polei for his first day of school. Their video is aptly named: David’s first day of school. Please again, remember that these are amateur videos that were edited in a matter of hours. The sound on the video isn’t the best, but try to listen carefully to what these boys say. From David saying he is glad that he no longer has to eat “dust bin food” to Alfred saying that he has proved street boys are clever, this video captures a wide range of the ups and downs of poverty stricken youth.

I would like to give a special thanks to Amanda Brinkloev, Emilie Bak, Catherine Jesting and Signe Anderson (pictured above with the boys) for making an amazing video, also Il Polei Primary School!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Meet George

(Left to right: Joseph, George and Alfred)

“Little George,” (as he is known to me) is a charmer. This has made his life as a street boy very comfortable. I first started seeing him around on the streets about a month into my first visit to Kenya. He was kicked out of school because his shoes had holes. In the street he always insisted that he wanted to go back to school but always had a huge smile on his face and was obviously having too much fun. He spent a few minutes on the street asking for money and once he had enough for the day he was off to play pool, or playstation, or watch a movie. George is so charismatic that people ENJOY it when he asks them for money. It reminds me of the Tom Brady Saturday Night live Sexual harassment video…which if you haven’t seen check it

After a couple weeks George was able to get some shoes and go back to school. Two weeks later he was out again saying that his uniform was too ratty and he had been kicked out. Despite the fact that George probably made more money begging in a day than the average manual laborer he never went back to school. He was always just playing pool. We had many serious talks about the importance of school and he seemed like he understood. During tutoring sessions he always showed up, and paid lots of attention. I knew however that he needed to be sent to school out of town, otherwise the pull from the streets would be too much for him and he would likely run away.

Ill Polei Primary (the same school that Alfred and Joseph go to) agreed to let me bring kids from town to their rural school and in exchange we agreed that I would create scholarships for three of their poorest student at the school to become boarding students. Rural students are one of the most important demographics to target when it comes to education. Uneducated rural children in the best of circumstances stay at home and do what their families have done for generations. In the worst of cases (such as the drought that we are experiencing now) they are forced to venture into cities in search of employment or food. Their lack of education and street smarts make them easy targets for the people in the city and they often become the most vulnerable of street kids. Educated rural students often return to their villages and use their knowledge to improve the circumstances for their whole community. This is why rural education is so important to me, and why this situation was more than just a compromise for me, it was a win-win.

A British woman from town named Marisa heard that I was sending George to school and offered to help find some of the things he needed. She recruited her friends and in a week we had donations for almost everything he needed to go to school!

(Thank you to Marisa and Friends, pictured here with George)

George has also found his own sponsors! Some students from an American University met George and decided to sponsor him. George wasn’t quite ready to go to school at that time, and the students left soon after, but we have stayed in touch and they are looking forward to sponsoring him!

(George at Il Polei school showing off his skills as an acrobat)

Thursday, February 3, 2011


(Part of the former Main Street Gang, from left to right, Joseph, George, David and Richard)

Richard is one of the first street boys I met in Nanyuki. I have always been impressed with his bright demeanor despite the fact that he has been in the streets for many years. He has always avoided doing glue because he says "if you do glue, the other kids see you and (they) will go do it". In order to make money he begs or carries water from the river to local businesses. At age 16 he is truly a positive role model to the other street kids. His primary caretaker is his grandmother who is unemployed and responsible for the well being of eight grandchildren. She is a sweet woman and when I met her she invited me in and showed me the death certificate for Richards mother who had been killed in a car accident.

I had hoped that Richard would be the first of the boys to join Alfred in School. At the tutoring sessions however, he showed a lack of concentration. Eventually he started forgetting his books and saying he would come "next time". After years being out of school it was obvious that Richard had lost either the interest or the concentration required for academics.

When I returned to Kenya from my trip to the US I was sad to find out that Richard was no longer in Nanyuki. Often the street kids will disappear, most of the time just relocating to a new place where they might find better luck. Sometimes however the kids disappear because they are arrested, have an accident, or are sometimes kidnapped. I was hopeful for the best, but you never know.

Two months later Richard returned. He had been in Malindi on the coast because his grandmother was ill. I decided that while he was here I wouldn't let the opportunity to help him pass me by. Richard (with help from some of his educated friends) has turned in a business proposal to me. If he has a bicycle he will be able to bring water to many more businesses per day. He estimates that with a bike he should be able to make over 100 shillings per day. This is easily enough money for him to live on, while paying back the loan for the bicycle. He will be getting his bicycle in the next couple weeks and starting his new life as a working man.

This past month I have been collaborating with the Danish NGO ActionAid (formerly MS) which has a platform located on Daraja's campus. I worked with some of their volunteers to create a series of videos on the street kids and their lives. This video is about Likii Village the area that accounts for about 70% of the street children in Nanyuki. It is also the proposed location of the kitchen project I am trying to implement. Richard (who is from Likii) is featured predominately in the video and watching it is a good way to see what he is all about. The video is intended to be an amateur introduction to the issues, it was made in one day and has some sound problems so don't be too hard on it!

Special thanks to: Marie Lunau, Ida Peterson, Simone Bakke, Ida Marie Odgaard for making a great film!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Alfred's brother Joseph

It has been such a long time since I have written that I don’t even know where to start. The past month has been a busy and productive one, but also a difficult one for me concerning technology. I have had to deal with two of my most vital possessions (my phone and computer) breaking, and my most entertaining possession (my Ipod) being stolen. I have concluded that this is just part of life, and a part that ultimately reminds me that material possessions aren't that important.

Upon reaching Kenya, this most recent time, I received two pieces of good news from Alfred. The first is that he was no longer just first in his class. His latest test results had propelled him to being first in his entire district for his grade level. This is obviously a huge achievement and if he continues to do this well he can hope to get a scholarship to a top Kenyan high school.

The second piece of good news was that his brother Joseph had been released from a juvenile detention facility. Two years before he had been picked up off the street by police and sent to this facility. He was eleven years old and had committed no crime except for not being able to afford food and therefore leaving school. He attended school at the facility but most of the time the teachers did not. After being released from the facility he was again left up to his own devices and forced to find food on the street.

Joseph and his Father

I was very familiar with his family and his situation and after some study sessions with him I was thoroughly convinced that he was interested in going back to school. I was able to sponsor him without too much trouble and as of last week he had joined his brother at Il Polei Primary School.

Joseph (left) is joined by his brother Alfred on his first day of school