Empowering Children, Communities and Families through Education

Following a recent attack on the Somali-Kenyan border where five people were shot dead including two policeman and a teacher, the Garissa Branch Chairman of the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), Ibrahim Atosh, said this week that it was concerned about the safety of its members in areas of Kenya bordering Somalia, and would support a withdrawal of teachers in the region until the government could guarantee their safety.

With such a move on the horizon, and with many schools already closed in the area, it is understandable that the affected teachers are not able or willing to work under such a cloud of fear until additional security measures are put in place. However, in the long term, it is the children themselves that are disturbed most significantly and such moves historically have long-lasting effects not seen by many.

It was just under a year ago in Thika when, in a similar vein, 6,000 teachers in the area were advised not to go to work by their Union Officials in a row of pay, and such a demonstration, irrespective of its own merits, had far-reaching effects on our work at AfCiC. With schools closing and with many of poorest children unable to eat having previously relied on school feeding programmes, Thika and the surrounding areas saw a huge influx of children coming to the street.

IMG_8099Once children are on the street, living a life of apparent freedom can seem so appealing in comparison to the order, discipline and relative structure of school and home, and once there, can often be very hard to pull away from, even with NGO’s such as AfCiC working with them and for them. The draw of making their own money through either begging or informal work (such as collecting scrap metal or carrying bags, luggage and shopping) and often the use and subsequent addiction to glue or ‘musi’, can make this move away from street life very difficult for the child. We at AfCiC see this tussle every day when boys we work with, when given the opportunity to come to our rehabilitation centre (Interim Care Centre) for 6-8 months, choose the streets instead, often purely because of the addiction they have built up, and their struggle to pull away from that.

So it is on this basis that we base much of our education empowerment work – on the belief that prevention through education is the key instrument to seeing a long-term street-child free town, and hopefully building a model which can be replicated elsewhere.

We operate a School Dropout Prevention Programme (SDPP), designed to identify those children most at risk in coming to the streets, and responding to that risk before they do. This process takes a number of forms;

  • School feeding programmes, operating in 3 local schools and where over 1500 children are provided with well-cooked and nutritious meals every day.
  • Payment for school uniforms, desk fees and equipment, an amount of money that, even with the provision of ‘free primary school’, can be prohibitive to many children and their families.
  • Child Sponsorship, a programme that allows us to place children who cannot be supported by their family in either boarding or day schools when the ‘free’ option is not appropriate. In addition to helping children go to primary school, through the help of donors, we facilitate access for some children into secondary schools – schools that always require fees – fees which are unaffordable to most children and their families.
  • Holiday clubs in each school holiday, designed to provide an alternative activity at a time when many children, without regular school and a meal each day, head to the street for food, money and entertainment.
  • Advocacy work, where AfCiC staff go into local schools in the to help children and teachers alike to understand and participate in debate in issues such as child rights, child abuse, HIV/Aids and parental responsibilities. Through Child Rights Clubs in local schools, we have reached over 4000 children as a way of increasing child participation in these matters, and have widened child access to education.
  • Teacher training, where we work with teachers to help them understand and identify when a child is most at risk to going to the street, and what they can do to help prevent that situation.

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Even with these tools, ‘education empowerment’ doesn’t always have to focus on what we traditionally see as the home of education: a school. Whilst children are the focus of our work, it would be negligent of us to disregard parents and communities, individuals who are at the root of why children come to the street, and are arguably the stakeholders with the most power to prevent a child’s first transition from school to street.

Street children are, in many ways, just the fruit of a bad tree, with the root of that tree being the households, communities and wider society from which they come. Poverty, in whatever form, means many households cannot afford to provide their children with basic food and shelter, and a lack of education on HIV/Aids and protection, as well as a culture of large families, means planning ahead financially for extended families does not happen. Many parents, man, woman or both, are dogged by alcoholism, and child abuse, whether mental, physical, sexual, or through neglect, is common in families, and provides even more incentive for children to leave a dysfunctional home for a similarly dysfunctional life on the street.

Education focussing on these stakeholders is equally, if not more, important as educating our children, and we work with community leaders and many parents to help them change their situations, often by creating small businesses that they can hopefully sustain in the future.

On a wider scale, the problems we see here in Thika and Kenya are not new – they are problems that are duplicated across the developing world. The 2nd Millennium Development Goal (MDG) (as a whole group they are a set of goals aimed at bringing a focus to 8 key issues of development by 2015) is focussed on Education, specifically that every child across the world should have access to free primary school education. The UN have noted that enrolment in primary education in developing regions reach 90% in 2010, up from 82% in 1999, though in 2010,  they also note that 61 million children of primary school age were out of school, with more than half of these children (33 million) coming from sub-Saharan Africa.

However, what they fail to note is that even with the provision of primary school education, free or not, there are many hidden barriers to children actually taking up that offering, and that Education has to be focussed on more than just teaching in schools, if we are to move to a time when children are not ‘pushed’ to the streets due to a lack of care and basic provision in their family and community.

Whether or not teachers in the Garissa area strike or not, and that choice will still affect children in some way, in the long-run it is a holistic view of education, focussing not solely on children, that will help families and communities take up their responsibility of care for the children in their charge, and in the long-term, see children at-risk of going to the street find care and support much closer to home.