At AfCiC, we feel it is hugely important that our work is not without direction and strategy. Whilst to some extent, the work we do is as a response to the local situation; one where children from a very young age, for a whole variety of reasons, take to the street and experience physical, mental and sexual abuse, with no shelter, no love and no care; we also know that by working in a sheltered manner, directed purely by the situation we see right in front of us, we would not be able to provide best practice, we would not be able to link our work to that of other NGO’s in Kenya, in Africa and beyond, and we would not be able to look at ourselves in the context of wider needs and problems.
One focus of our work in recent years has been the Millennium Development Goals. In September 2000, “building upon a decade of major United Nations (UN) conferences and summits, world leaders came together…to adopt the UN Millennium Declaration, committing their nations to new global partnerships to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets – with a deadline of 2015 – that have become known as the Millennium Developments Goals” (www.un.org).
The MDG’s are a set of 8 targets which range from “halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education”, and each of these targets, if met, would greatly decrease the number of children going to the streets in Thika and the surrounding towns. The issue of street children is not as easily solved as ‘halving extreme poverty’, or meeting any other of these MDG’s, but what these goals do achieve is to galvanise the strategies and efforts of continents, the countries within those continents, and the organisations and people within those countries who are in positions where they can help in their own small way. The MDG’s also help organisations like AfCiC to understand the issues facing children, their families and their communities, in a global context.
For example, MDG 2, relating to providing universal primary education for all, has had huge consequences in Kenya, and most notably for AfCiC, in Thika. Whilst not necessarily linked directly to the MDG, it has only been since January 2003 that Kenya has officially had ‘free primary education’ widely understood to be a tool to ensure that for the poorest families, finances are no longer a barrier to school entry for children. However, whilst the number of children on the street has significantly reduced because of this policy, it does not however tell the whole story. Entry into schools for children is not completely free. Parents and guardians are still required to buy at least one school uniform for the child, as well as a desk and a chair, and also books, shoes and numerous other things that a child needs to study. The financial implications of this still see many families unable, or unwilling, to pay for their children to enter school, resulting in the child going to the streets either during the day to supplement the family income, or ‘full-time’, choosing a life on the street instead of one at home where food is sometimes harder to come by than some form of abuse.
AfCiC works with many families in the local area, both those of the children we work with directly, but also families with whom our paths have crossed at some point, and whose children we would consider ‘vulnerable’, potential future street children. We run both a child and family sponsorship programme, designed to link donors and supporters directly with families in the most need. Children who benefit from the child Sponsorship programme often require boarding school education due to un-feasible home-life conditions, and families benefiting from our family sponsorship programme are often assisted with the tools to create their own Income Generating Activities (IGA’s) so that they can begin to provide for their children in the long term rather than consistently looking for short survival.
The MDG’s, however, are not our only global focus. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) forms much of the basis for our work with schools, advocacy clubs and our own legal aid programme (KCLAW), where we endeavour to empower children to claim the rights duly owed them. Again, like the MDG’s, having a written policy and a plan to achieve it does not necessarily mean that those hoping to benefit do so. The UNCRC provides a long list of rights that children are owed, but children themselves are often oblivious to these, believing that abuse and neglect are either their own fault, or if nothing else, just a normal part of growing up. In our child rights clubs which operate in nearly 10 schools in the local area, children are educated about the rights they as children have, and are encouraged to share experiences, debate solutions, and talk about issues that are very much taboo in their homes and in local culture.
Working in line with global initiatives like this both gives hope for the future, but also highlights the need to effectively translate global goals into a local context, as the issues surrounding universal primary education emphasised. Another example we see here in Thika, and more widely in Kenya, is the issue of children’s food at schools. In many countries, particularly in the west, schools provide school lunches for their children. However, in many places in Kenya, it is the role of NGO’s like AfCiC to pay for or facilitate school feeding programmes that ensure hunger is not a reason to skip school and go to the street. The objective of MDG 1 (c) is that between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people suffering from hunger should be halved, and whilst in the short term, AfCiC is able to provide a hot meal each day for hundreds of children in Thika, the situation is not sustainable and nor should it be. The sad reality of life for many children in Thika is that they get more freedom, more security and often more food whilst living on the streets than they do at home and in school, meaning that the horror of street life is not always the worst case scenario.
Local factors hugely affect how we deal with children and other stakeholders in Thika, but we are of the belief and vision that those local factors are broadly similar in other towns in Kenya, and potentially even across other African countries. In the long term, by documenting our work and slowly building up a system of best practice, we hope that not only will we be able to have a positive impact on the lives of the children, families and communities who we work with in Thika, but also creating ways in which our work can be transferred to other organisations. Likewise, we work with many other organisations in Kenya and beyond from whom we learn and transfer knowledge.
Life for all of us is full of balances. We have to be able to respond to the local situation as we have a responsibility here to meet the needs of children. However, we also have to be aware of other organisations and how they work well and not so well, and importantly, how the work we are doing is linked to global objectives to fight many of the issues that cause children to come to the street in the first place, including hunger, poverty, education provision and HIV/AIDS.