We consider the history of Thika, and of Kenya, very important in understanding the social, political and economic landscape in which we now operate. Outside of Kenya, Thika is synonymous only with Elspeth Huxley’s novel, the ‘Flame Trees of Thika’. The novel is based on Huxley’s own experiences as a colonial English family settling in Thika, in what was then British East Africa, in 1912, and shows Thika as a predominantly rural place, with a growing coffee plantation culture, where the white settlers and Kikuyu tribe lived in some kind of harmony. The Thika of today, however, is very, very different.
Thika is located approximately 40 kilometres from the capital, Nairobi, and the district has a population of over 645,000 people. It has, in recent years, grown to be part of Kenya’s industrial heartland, with extensive coffee and pineapple plantations dominating the geographical landscape. However, the collapse of the Kenyan coffee market in the 1990s as well as a countrywide, continued economic decline caused unemployment rates to dramatically increase, and neighbouring slums like Kiandutu (the second biggest slum in the country), Kiang’ombe, Gacagi and Matharau, to grow. With the post-election violence in 2007- 2008, the slums experienced massive growth in population as people migrated from Rift Valley province and Nyanza and settled in the slum areas.
These impoverished conditions have resulted in an increase in the number of children living and working on the streets, where they are vulnerable to violations of their rights, encountering verbal, physical, and sexual abuse in their daily lives. They have difficulties accessing basic services and few of them benefit from any formal education. A significant number of these boys and girls seek temporary relief from their situation through substance abuse, primarily glue sniffing. In this situation, they also become socially excluded, becoming trapped in a cycle of poverty, violence and abuse.
In August 2004, AfCiC Kenya was commissioned by the Thika District Children’s Office to conduct a census of the population of street children in Thika. The census identified about 400 street children. 70% of the street children interviewed came directly from Thika, 90% of which were from Kiandutu (the local slum area). Over 93% had attended school at some point in their life, and most of the children under 16 years reported that they would return to school if given the opportunity.
We see the education of both the children, and of the families and communities from which they come, as integral to working towards a better future for these children.