Friday, May 18, 2012

"These Are Your Children;" the Campaign For Street Kids

“These are the children of Nanyuki,” Joseph, former street kid now enrolled in school through the Simama Project said. He stood on a stage, surrounded by Simama employees and former and current street kids. He looked out into the audience, a mixture of Nanyuki citizens, street kids, and participants of the Campaign for Street Kids. Though when he spoke, he spoke directly to the citizens of Nanyuki. “These are your children. They are not dangerous. They deserve to be fed, sheltered, and the right to an education.” He paused for a moment. “I know,” he said, “because I was one of them.”
 (Joseph onstage speaking to the citizens of Nanyuki)

A few weeks ago, the Simama Project was invited to participate in a campaign for street children put on by Mt. Kenya Activista in conjunction with Actionaid. The idea was simple, but important: spark awareness around the issue of homeless children who live in the streets of Nanyuki. Volunteers, activists, students and community members mobilized and marched across Nanyuki. Our voice was heard through chants, songs, and flash dances. Our message was clear: despite them being the most neglected part of this society, the street kids are members of the Nanyuki community. We should take care of them instead of the more commonly used tactic, throwing them in jail.

As we marched and danced through the streets, the most incredible part of the day happened. Street kids came out of nowhere and everywhere, joining us. They didn’t know where we had come from or where we were going, but the joy was obvious and beautiful when they realized that those things didn’t matter. What mattered was that the very reason we were there at all was for them. For many of these kids, this was the first moment in their entire lives that they felt acknowledged, recognized, and respected. We waved for them to join us, and join us they did. They marched, sang, high-fived and danced with us until we reached our destination.

Mohammed, a boy who is in school but spends any free time looking for scraps of food wherever he can find them, joined us. Confused at first, he looked up at one of the Actionaid volunteers. I heard him say to her, “This is for me?”

“It sure is,” she replied to him with a smile. 
 (Mohammed at the rally)

The parade ended in Nanyuki’s central park, home to about 35 of the town’s hundreds of homeless youth. The program with fully stocked with skits, speakers, and even a dance competition for intermission (guess which part the kids loved the most?). Actionaid members put on a short drama highlighting common issues Kenyan children deal with that could potentially land them in the street.

The Simama Project took the stage afterward. In the spirit of the same solidarity the Project operates under on a daily bases, a large group of us ascended to the stage. First to speak on our behalf was Joseph, a former street boy himself who is now a very successful standard 8 student. He looked out into the audience and found his voice, surprisingly powerful and moving for a kid whose first public speaking appearance was at that very moment. He called upon the citizens of Nanyuki to take action. He urged them to embrace, instead of shun the street kids, to help, instead of ignore them. “We must take care of our own,” he said, “and we must do it together.”

The audience was visibly touched by his words. He stepped back into the group to an overwhelming applause.

Next to speak was one of the Simama Project’s founding board members, Josephine. Josephine is a champion for children’s’ rights and gender-based violence issues. After her, I had an opportunity to say a few words. I introduced the project to the community at large, many of whom had not yet heard of us. I encouraged community members to reach out to us. I offered the Project as a vehicle for change. We are here to help, I said, and are seeking to establish a relationship that is beneficial to the kids, which in turn will help create a better Nanyuki.

As soon as we got off stage, two men approached me. They said that they were part of a group of street kids that had listened to us speak.  They were interested in what we do, and they had more than fifteen kids who wanted to go to school.  I walked with him to meet the kids. I peered into about 15 faces with both hope and sadness. These were kids who clearly wanted to go to school. I weighed Simama’s mission against what we were immediately capable of financially. Eventually, with proper resources, we would be able to help them all.

Today, we could only afford to help one.
 (Meeting with the Bogoria Self-Help Group.  Kids who want desperately to go to school)

I left the decision up to the group. The results were close, between a small, young kid named Abdi, and Michael, a taller, slightly older kid. Ultimately, after going through the process of a case study and tutoring, Abdi became the newest Simama Project kid, and is now attending Il Polei with Alfred and the other kids.  Michael and the other 13 kids are still out there.  We hope to be able to find the resources to assist them shortly.
 (Abdi, studying for school)

The Simama Project is grateful to Actionaid for putting on a successful event that built upon the momentum of what we have been fighting to establish in this community. They took a serious cause and delivered an important message through fun and a unique way of creating buzz.

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