Picture children playing on the school playground. All the laughter, giggles, screams, yells and occasional cries leaves you yearning for your tender days. You look over your shoulder, surveying the area for any other adults in sight. You spot a colleague and you quickly rethink joining the children. But you keep on watching them, a smile slowly forming at the edge of your mouth because there is nothing more pleasant than the joy and laughter expressed by these little angels.
Lost in your world, you do not hear as a teacher slowly advances towards you. She talks but you cannot make out her words, all you wish for is her silence. She is now an intruder in your perfect moment. She taps you again and you turn around. You cannot ignore her; well your parents brought you up to be cultured.
She does not express the same joy as you while watching the children. She holds her cheek instead in sadness, you are intrigued. Being the ever curious self, you waste no time in enquiring if everything is okay. She shakes her head and sighs. She looks into the distant as if she too wants to get lost in thought.
She then looks at you, wondering how oblivious you can be to what is in front of you.’ The children’s laughter is because of the hope they have. Your coming today, signifies that tomorrow there will be food for lunch’ she explains. Immediately you are embarrassed. You and your colleagues did not bring any food. Your pockets are shallow; they cannot afford food for over two hundred students. Slowly your smile fades away.
She points out to the poster on the kitchen window. It reads ‘no food’. ‘That poster has been there for the most part of the term’, she says. ‘Well, not that poster per se, but like ones,’ she adds. The school cannot afford lunch for the children, heck, it cannot even afford to fix the broken windows and doors that now act as the school’s trademark.
So you take a second look at the children, promising yourself to be keener. You see a boy donned in a brown shirt. ‘Isn’t that supposed to be white?’ you ask. Your disbelief is clearly written all over your face as she turns to tell you of how she too had spotted a boy in a similar shirt. When she reprimanded him, he meekly answered ‘nguo za kubadilisha ndio sina’ (I do not have a change of clothes). She had since learnt not to ask the obvious, and sadly, so have you.
A child trots to where you are standing and holds your hand. You slowly look down, smiling at the child. Just as you are about to ask for her name, she quickly scampers away. You notice that her dress is torn, and you can see her thighs almost her buttocks. Just then you notice your male colleague who has just joined you trying to look away. He too is not sure whether what he saw was real or a flicker of his imagination.
As if that is not enough, the teacher points you to another short boy. ‘He always tops my class’, she says. She talks very highly of him, expressing her pride as a mother would of her son. She tells you that he never misses school. Just the other day, he had fainted during a mathematics lesson. He had not eaten for days, she tells you.
His parents cannot afford to put food on the table each and everyday, so they send him off to school. Not to reap the sweet fruits of education, but in order that he may get something for his grumbling tummy. They are not aware that what awaits him is a ‘no food poster’ instead of a handful of beans and maize.
His is not a unique story; it is the same with most children in the school. No supper and ‘strong tea’ for breakfast is the lifestyle they know best. On lucky days, the ‘strong tea’ is laced with a tinge of sugar. Having taken breakfast, the kids are then sent off to school a few kilometres away. For these children, school breaks off at 3p.m. They are neither near nor done with the syllabus, but how can you keep starving children in school claiming that the fountain of knowledge will satisfy their hunger?
You decide to talk to a boy standing close. You ask him what his dream is. He looks at you and says that he wants to be a chef. Interested, you ask him why. “So that I can have plenty to eat and give my friends”, he answers. You are lost for words wondering how ones dream can be food, just food. But how can you blame him after what you have seen and heard? The children here are taught to share what little they have, not out of cultivation of the value of generosity, but because it is necessarily as a survival tactic. You cannot hold the tears any longer, this could be your child, you think to yourself.
You are fighting back tears, and so is your colleague. But the children you bleed for are happily playing, hungry but happy. You envy them; you remember the trivial things that easily take your happiness away. Yet in the midst of all these problems, these children have hope. Hope is what fuels them; hope that tomorrow there will be smoke coming from the kitchen and the ‘no food’ poster gone.
Just earlier in the office your colleague had asked you what your proudest moment was and you got frustrated that you could not pin point one huge achievement. “Why am I so selfish?” You ask yourself. You vow that next time anyone asks you of your proudest moment, you will talk of the time that your heart broke; the time that you saw the ‘no food’ poster; the way that those kids opened your eyes to a world that you were totally oblivious of, or rather that you chose to ignore.
There is no shame in lacking, you conclude. So you decide to do everything in your power to brighten their smile, a smile that does not bespeak of hope, but of satisfaction. Vowing to always live by Edward Everett word’s, ‘I am only one, I cannot do everything, but I can do something, therefore I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do’.
Article 260 of the Kenyan Constitution provides that an “adult” means an individual who has attained the age of eighteen years and “child” means an individual who has not attained the age of eighteen years.
The legal definition is clear and succinct. The logic of the ‘age of majority’ (i.e. the state of ceasing to be a minor) in most jurisdictions seem to control the duration of parental guidance and care. Therefore, in Kenya, when a person turns eighteen, he/she is considered ‘mature’ enough and according to the Age of Majority Act, will ‘cease to be under any disability by reason of age’.
It has been argued that ‘age of majority’ is legal guesswork; an assumption that children attain maturity at eighteen and not before or after. The utter impossibility of testing each child to ascertain maturity makes the legal age of majority acceptable and even fair. A Kenyan child will typically finish his secondary education at eighteen. Tertiary schooling (university, college etc.) is considered a privilege, yet often, to ascertain future success, a necessity.
Be that as it may, this is the law; that a child is a human person below the age of eighteen. When suspects arraigned in court over charges of early marriage or defilement, a common defense raised is that the victim or complainant ‘looked mature enough’ or ‘is a grown woman’. This seems ludicrous to me. Physical size and human perception are not fair or reasonable measures of age and the law thinks that as well.
A news story was doing the rounds this past week about secondary school children who were arrested for indecent behaviour, drunk and disorderliness and possession of drugs. There were headed to Nairobi aboard a colourful matatu that was thumping loud music. While this news was upsetting and need our attention, what followed was the release of a video showing a girl, almost nude, undergoing a search at the police station. The video itself was an indecent, depraved, violation of that girl’s rights and privacy. You wonder what the person filming this was thinking; he/she deserves to be brought before court and immediately fired from his post.
Choruses that the secondary school students are ‘grown adults’ is no excuse. The entire incident was handled poorly. If anything, the charges preferred against these students showed just how immature and in need of parental guidance they were. And that is exactly what they are, Children!
I would agree that comparing a five year old and a fifteen year old is improbable. The latter understands right from wrong, can legally be criminally liable while the former can barely read or write. But I maintain that both of them are children. And they are children deserving of our protection (parents, schools, society, police officers, and courts), attention, forgiveness and care.
Bad behaviour in children cannot be excused, rather punished and reprimanded. Yet they remain children; in need of second chances and should not have to carry childhood mistakes into adulthood.
Shunning street children because they seem ‘worldly’ and ‘know a lot’ and running away from them because they look dangerous is another sign that we have forgotten that they are children. Which is why, when social workers talk to them about AfCiC and our Interim Care Centre, they agree to leave the streets. Because inherently, they are still children who crave care and comfort. Taking a house girl or shamba boy and putting them to work instead of school, simply because they are ‘big’ and ‘asked for it’ does not make them any less children and any less like your children.
Let children be children.
Most people might have heard about the recent case relating to the youthful school boys and girls who were caught by the police pursuing some exploits that were clearly out of line. This entailed their hijinks which possibly had been going on for several terms or for extended duration until they were finally caught trying to further this caper.
The school going children are just so credulous and unquestioning with a natural inclination to follow whatever is perceived as cool in the society. They are therefore easily swayed to engage in whatever their peers are doing devoid of any pensive thinking about the consequences emanating from their actions. These proclivities might become a norm or usual habit if they are not detected early and inhibited. However, what matters most is what we do as the society and what the government does upon the detection of such instances where our young and green children do engage in such acts.
It is vital that we ensure that the privacy of these children is protected while we are dealing with such cases. Article 28 of our Constitution provides for the right to human dignity where every person has an inherent dignity and the right to have that dignity respected and protected. Article 31 further provides for the right to privacy where every person has the right to privacy which includes the right not to have-:
a) Their person, home or property searched;
b) Their possessions seized
c) Information relating to their family or private affairs unnecessarily required or revealed; or
d) The privacy of their communications infringed.
These rights are also applicable to the children. It is vital that we protect their privacy thus ensuring that we guide them appropriately without exposing them to the media and the general public since the impact of such on the ingenuous children could be calamitous especially pertaining to their psychological health thus severely impacting them and rendering the whole process of rehabilitation self-defeating.
The police officer in charge in this instance found it necessary to post pictures of the children online for reasons only known to him. This led to scathing attacks from various factions who perceived that as a massive violation or infringement of the right to privacy. I concur with them as we have all previously made mistakes and the best way to bring the problems to a better resolve was not through getting publicly shunned by our peers and the society in general after publication of our acts or omissions on social media.
What about we go back to embracing the ancient cult of political and judicial correctness where the right procedures are employed dealing with such matters especially those touching on our young children. Otherwise, all the vituperative oral exchanges and public sharing of the children’s mistakes while infringing on their privacy does not aid anybody. Some might be deemed as jocular chatter but ultimately, it will not be for the benefit of these children hence instead of chastising them, we can alternatively join hands and collectively aid them reform.
I hope we will see people revolving around all the arms of government who don’t behave like puppets or robotic mice. This is because we live in a very delicate era where the public especially on social media are primarily focused on torching every slight slip of the tongue or any omission of that sort.
The impact is often detrimental elevating to such ludicrous levels that even an apology to the affected children doesn’t seem to be enough.
I presume that all the children were falling on their swords as the inevitable furore erupted and instead of further castigation, what about we cut this children some slack and give them a second chance to ensure that they can bounce back and learn from their mistakes instead of making a lot of unnecessary noise from this either intended or inadvertent acts. If we can try and have an eclectic view of things, we can realize that the children will be more vicious and revenge with the same intensity and gusto that we are sticking it out to them if the matter is not handled as required.
It is under this “new” Constitution that Kenya must reach its Zenith of influence as one of the bulwarks of democracy, and this will not be attained if these supposedly “minor” human rights violations are not brought to a halt. It is only through the observance of human rights especially those touching on our children that our country will be perceived as the quintessence or paragon of democracy. This is because the children are the most vulnerable hence it is the duty of the government and ours as citizens to follow the constitution and other human rights instruments which contain the pith of all of our rights and accompanying duties and responsibilities.
This sort of cruxes can only be resolved if we do not fight one wrong with another.
Let us protect our children!
The authority of a critic stems from his assumed position as a person with extensive knowledge on the subject over which he criticizes. However, scholars will tell us that criticism is largely instinctive, borne out of human being’s natural inclination to show preference when presented with works of art (see A. Ford: Origin of Criticism). I think we can agree that a huge component of criticism is its one-sidedness. Whether a kind or cruel response, criticism involves a pedestal for the critic and a lowly seat for the creator, yet the latter put effort into his art.
Before we get into a winded philosophical debate on criticism, let me explain what prompted this post. Here at AfCiC, we are in the service of assistance. Helping children; helping them via their parents, schools, communities and churches. It is help we are happy and proud to give. It is help that is given partly because it is our responsibility and partly from an understanding that the condition of the children in our society is a reflection on us. Nelson Mandela put it better, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
We often become the mouthpiece for these children, our children. And part of such privilege includes speaking to others; ensuring that the issues and solutions to these issues are shared. Standing on one end of the conversation, it feels like we are critics inundating you with our plentiful information and shaming you into action. I had begun the post today with a comment on our school feeding program. There is a public school (Karibaribi primary school) which sits in the middle of an affluent neighbourhood, surrounded by great looking homes and churches, yet its students, many from disadvantaged homes, spend days hungry. Which is why I began the post with musings on criticism. But I will tell you why this is different; it is different because we too feel overwhelmed at times. It feels like there is a lot of ill in the world and not enough time and resources to protect our children from these dangers. What rejuvenates us, is the joy in saving one. Seeing one child in school, two children safe from the streets, five children enjoying a meal in school; these small but large victories offer heady hope that nothing else can.
This is the take-away, ‘I am only one, I cannot do everything, but I can do something, therefore I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do – Edward Everett’. (thanks Nellius for the quote)
‘Lack of information’ is the definition of ignorance but where ignorance is deliberate; it becomes a woeful and personal fault.
According to the Penal Code, it is not a defense in a court of law. We all must have had moments in our lives where our lack of awareness of an issue left us feeling ashamed. Where a problem easily solved was happening before our eyes, in our communities and in our towns. We passed these problems on our way to work, as we had lunch in nice restaurants, as we yelled at our TV sets in response to the mindless rhetoric of our leaders, as we drove and walked and slept. I was comforted by the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.”
This past week, AfCiC visited the three public schools in which it runs feeding programmes.1 Lunch is provided to poor children in schools to improve attendance, performance, concentration and prevent children from resorting to street life. An evaluation report proved the programme’s importance by showing improved results in these schools.
As part of the process, a few children were interviewed. While all accounts given were moving, the one rendered by the youngest boy was by far the most touching. Not because his narrative was different but because his understanding and reaction to the situation was deeply personal. He told us of how he had tea and a piece of ugali early in the morning before his trek to school.2 His mother had not packed him some lunch so he borrowed from his classmates. He recounted that as he looked away in the distance, tears on the brink of falling…it all felt hopeless and that is the most apt description. We intend to post the full documentary on this website soon.
Which is why this article began with the definition of ignorance. Despite news articles and the presence of these schools in our communities, we choose to ignore the basic problems faced by these children, our children. I felt shame. I, a fully functioning adult, cannot have a productive day if I do not eat. Yet we expect the same of these schools. When national examination results are released by the Ministry of Education, the entire country falls over itself to explain poor results. Free education means little when children are hungry and demotivated.
It often repeated that teaching a man to fish is the best way to help. Education is the only way in which these children can transform their lives and those of their families. Yet a receptive child is one with food in his/her belly. If as a country we wish to grow, then the onus is on us to ensure that children brimming with potential are provided with the tools necessary to achieve said potential.
To assist such children, deposit any food stuff, clothes, funds and anything you conceive would help a child, with AfCiC Offices at Imara Plaza, 3rd Floor. Most importantly, be aware of your surroundings and help where you can, after all, “A man is responsible for his ignorance.”3
1 St. Patrick’s Primary School, Garissa Road Primary School & Karibaribi Primary School
2 ugali (n.) a dish with dough-like consistency made with maize meal and water
3 Milan Kundera, Laughable Loves