Kenya street children

A lot of the problem with street children in Kenya is the problem of stereotyping. We might assume that as children ending up on the streets they are beyond help. In the photograph above the three girls all had difficult upbringings and ended up on the streets.  'Happy' on the left is now working in Nairobi in tourism, Beatrice in middle is a qualified health worker and is employed by Moving Mountains, and Fredah on the right studied journalism and is now working in hotel management in Dubai.

Moving Mountains tackles this problem of stereotypes, especially amongst visitors coming on trips to Kenya, and maintains long term support for children all the way into adulthood.

How does the Kenya school expedition help with rehabilitating street children in Kenya?

The background to this whole programme begins with an idea to take street children off the streets and try to give them a life, an identity and some hope in their future. They are given clothes, a school uniform, a place in which to meet safely, regular food and an opportunity for education. Mostly we give them company and friendship and a sort of surrogate family which is a big security for them. This was the vision of the founder Gavin Bate since 1991. Now it is a successful and fulfilling programme. Every year we run camps or jamborees to which many of the children who are being supported get to attend, as well the visitors from abroad on their school expedition. The joint experience of running a camp is at the heart of the programme. It has been running for many years now and adults still remember their first 'Sisi Kwa Sisi' when they were children, and they see it now as an important part of their growing up and gaining confidence. 

The street children of course have become a huge problem and embarrassment to the government. They terrorise tourists in gangs, they thieve, sniff glue and cause damage. They are an eyesore to a nation which depends largely on tourism for it's revenue and the problem has often become chaotic in the big cities, where special squads of riot police have resorted to arcane methods of ‘discipline’. One of the biggest fears for any kid on the streets is the threat of the police who routinely throw them into jails and then demand bribes to get them out again.

But these children are victims of a society with problems of overpopulation, poverty, disease, poor economy, corrupt governance and the absence of a welfare state system. The child fatality rate is high and the ones who survive are, by a simple process of natural selection, remarkably hardy and smart. It has increasingly been the job of NGO's ( non-Governmental Organisations ) to tackle a situation that the World Health Organisation once described as ' the single biggest social problem on earth'. In Nairobi alone there are an estimated 35,000 street children (up to aged 15), and about 7 million world-wide.

Beginnings of the Street child rehabilitation programme

Gavin Bate started the programme in 1991 during many years spent in Africa and in particular Kenya. A stint driving overland trucks resulted in staying in slums with his Kenyan colleagues. Later he got involved with driving the convoys of aid supplies into refugee camps, particularly in northern Kenya and along the border regions with Somalia, Eritrea and once to Rwanda. The experience completely completely captivated him.  Indeed it's hard not to be touched by it.

Using his mountaineering expeditions over the years to raise money and awareness he initially helped to develop plots of land and do small grass roots projects like repairing taps, rooves and facilities in shanty towns. He also started supporting street kids and spent a long time in the ghettoes finding out about their lives and learning to speak their language. The climbing became linked to his charity work and this became linked to the company. A sort of triangle wherein commerce supports charity and climbing provided a platform to promote both. It became an exercise in both commercial and social entrepeneurialism and Gavin worked for years and years during the 90’s to build the foundations – ever so slowly – for what he felt would be a great and robust enterprise later on in life. This vision is encapsulated in the School Expedition.

Gavin started taking small groups of visitors to Kenya to help with these projects, people who had a real interest and concern for street children and who wanted to do something to help. Small efforts can make a difference and the simple contact with foreigners was often a catalyst for releasing all sorts of potential in the kids.

Some of the kids turned their backs on the streets and began trying to live a better life in school and back in home with their families. 

In some cases and after much effort, we were able to reunite the kids with what family they had left, long since lost in the maze of shanty towns, and offer help to the mothers in the form of clean, safe shelters for bringing up babies. Counselling the mothers was just as important as talking to the children - in reality trying to change the ways of a generation was like trying to stem a tidal wave with a paddle. But perseverance paid off and gradually the results began to show.

“Over the years I have seen thousands of street kids reunited with families and it’s hardly surprising that this is bedrock of our rehabilitation programme”, says Gavin, “inevitably you question a world in which the existence of such astonishing poverty is so prevalent, but the shining truth is the equally as astonishing power of a family unit. In Africa it is everything.”

As the number of children began to grow we began to run bigger rehabilitation camps which we called Sisi Kwa Sisi, Swahili for 'Being Together'. Bringing all the kids together from all over Kenya and from differing tribes was a fantastic experience and these camps became the focal point for the year, receiving increasing publicity in Kenya and visits by Government ministers.

An amazing fact began to show itself. These kids, sharp as a pin, began to excel in school. Some of them do go back to the streets, tempted by the 'excitement' of life there and it is important to understand that no programme like this can be 100% successful. Over the last number of years we have been helping to develop various sites and schools by putting in kitchen shelters, hostels, toilets and water pipelines. We also renovate slum schools. 

Some groups run camps for these children, with campfires, cooking outdoors and making things like tables out of wood. It will be basic and quite different to anything you have experienced before. It will be a community rehabilitation camp - that is, a camp for street children whereby everyone will be helping to do a variety of projects around the site to help improve facilities. The emphasis is on everyone working together for the common good.

We also run more project-orientated trips where you stay in local hostels and work in a slum school like Muthurwa where we have spent years educating children. The project is often quite daunting, renovating classrooms, repairing rooves, building toilets. You name it, we can do it. You don't have to be a carpenter or experienced, you just need to have the will to help out. Every minute will be worthwhile and you'll be also doing a bit of teaching, spending a day in the slums with the kids visiting their homes, taking the kids on outings in Nairobi and even taking them on weekend camps into the Rift Valley. It's tremendous fun and deeply fulfilling.

At the camp you will be in small groups to work closely with up to ten or fifteen children at a time, you will gradually get to know their names, characters, life history and circumstances. You'll know which ones are the troublemakers and which ones aren't. At the end of the day kids are kids, the world over. After a day or two the initial barriers are broken down and suddenly, like a tidal wave, the children pour out all their natural exuberance and love to you. They will vie for your attention, look for your praise, hold onto you, touch you and accept you as a mother or father figure. How can these kids, who have so little, give so much you will be asking yourself constantly.

It is perhaps daunting to imagine how big an impact you can make on another person's life, and make no mistake about it, you will; therein lies the satisfaction. However minuscule the effort may appear relative to the global size of the problem, it is important to understand that every child is one life, and helping one life may be just about the best thing you will feel you have ever done.