May 4, 2020

A spanner in the works

Street Smart team
Street Smart team

At the end of every financial year, we sit down and plan our work for the following year.  We work out our budgets and workplans based on projected income and the results we would like to see.  We assess the number of children we can reach on the streets with a view to reintegrating them into safe and loving families and we work out how much support we can give those families to ensure the child can stay at home and the family have their basic needs met.  We look at education for the child that is taken home, and their siblings.  We also look at potential training and assistance in setting up income generation for older siblings or parent.  Taking a child home is a waste of resources unless we can ensure that the home is secure in terms of food and income, that any counselling of family members needed can be undertaken, and that those who should be in school have their needs met to enable that.    This is why we have a good success rate with our reintegrations and we can reduce the numbers of children from a family returning to the streets and prevent younger members of that family taking to the streets.  

Well, this year is a little bit different to our usual!  In the latter part of March, the Kenyan government announced a serious of measures to reduce the impact of Coronavirus in the country.  Being a third world country, we simply do not have the medical resources to cope with a large outbreak, nor do the majority of the population have access to any type of medical insurance or social security to cover medical costs or to compensate for loss of work at this time.  Schools were closed and gatherings banned.  This has not stopped our outreach work but has considerably changed how we work and what we can do.  We are now working well away from our projected plan for 2020.

At one stage, Kitale had a major lockdown.  This has been eased but there are still many restrictions in force.  We have a curfew from 7pm to 5am.  This has meant our outreach workers have not been able to do night time street patrols to check up on those living on the streets.  Our Street Smart drop in centre was closed as it was deemed to be a school or gathering place.  So, we have had to revert to our workers doing daytime street patrols and outreach.  We have not been able to utilise our mobile school.  We have continued to reintegrate children home and to provide aid at home.  As we are trying to reintegrate children at a faster rate than in the past, we are taking them home before we have implemented some of our medium to long term programs such as training, counselling and business set up.  This means we are diverting funds from the Street Smart centre into providing emergency food parcels, blankets etc and our staff are making more home visits than usual.  We are anxious to get as many children off the streets as possible.  We realise that they are going to homes where they are receiving little by way of home schooling and where the main breadwinners have likely had their income affected by coronavirus closures, but they are safer there.  We are going through a very wet rainy season and, if we continue with the curfews and lockdowns, those children are in danger from police patrols and beatings in addition to illness.  

During this trying time, we ask you to imagine what it is like for a household where income has been affected by coronavirus restrictions, there is no social security or unemployment benefit, there are likely no resources for home education, there is no internet or television for entertainment - and it is raining.  Please don't forget these children.  We are trying to make their lives more comfortable until such time as coronavirus can be controlled.  There is hope!

Street Smart Family worker with reintegrated child
Street Smart Family worker with reintegrated child
Mar 23, 2020

Expect the Unexpected

That dreaded word 'coronavirus'.  We all hoped it wouldn't get this far.  We all hoped a cure, a vaccine, a faster prevention campaign would happen.  But, we are not going to be spared.  These are trying times for everyone, everywhere.  Some have more than others.  Some have nothing at all. This virus does not discriminate. So, we have to find ways to keep our work going, to encourage people, to 'lower the curve'.

To be fair, the Kenyan government took more rapid and more decisive action than many others.  As soon as the first case arrived, they closed down the borders to all except returning citizens and residents who were all told to self-isolate.  Schools were closed and people told to avoid mass gatherings and to isolate if they felt illl.  We have more cases now but, a week after this action was taken, we are still in single digits - so far! 

Our small town of Kitale had its first suspected case announced on the news last night - a Kenyan student who had returned from the USA.  Until now, perhaps, we have still been able to have our heads in the sand to some extent, but now this deadly visitor has reached our own town.

We took action a week ago to enable the majority of our staff to work from home or to use phone calls to conduct social work as much as possible.  We told our kids on the street that we would be maintaining our drop in centre on an emergency basis only, and that they now needed to go home or to friends or relatives and avoid the town centre and crowds, and we would assist in getting them there.  Most took heed.  Our social workers are urging families to stay home or to stay with relatives in rural environments if they possibly can.  They are urging them to maintain distance from people, teaching how to cough and sneeze to avoid spreading any contagion, the importance of hand washing and the importance of avoiding contact with those who are elderly or have compromised immunity.   To some degree, this crisis is helping us reintegrate children and youths faster but, sadly, that is a difficult situation to maintain as they are going home to no schools being open, household food supplies being affected by panic buyig, household income being affected by many lose their income. 

We work in a country where there is no welfare state,no unemployment benefit, no free healthcare, nothing to offset financial ruin or hunger for those who need it most.  The government is not likely to step in and pay wages in endangered industries.  Tourism is this country's lifeblood and hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions have closed and staff have been laid off, unpaid, indefinitely.  In towns that do not rely on tourism, anyone involved in the travel, retail and entertainment business has seen their income drop.  Those in the casual labour sector are still managing to keep their heads above water to some degree but soon the lack of money available to those who have lost their jobs, will filter down to them.  Schools are closed indefinitely and those children, without enough food on the table, with pressures at home, will start to come back to Kitale's streets.  We are trying to help with extra food baskets for those in need and suggestions on how to cope, assisting people to get to family in safe areas etc.

Our work goes on.  We need your help to keep families safe and with food on their table. This virus is not going to stop us doing what we need to do - we will just do things differently! Please help!  

Mar 6, 2020

No time to relax

School dormitory destroyed by landslide
School dormitory destroyed by landslide

The same people displaced by drought in the past couple of years, were subjected to unprecedented rains and floods from November last year - this rain continued into what should have been the dry season and brought more disaster to those already worn down by the climate.


Whole families were swept away in mudslides.  Mothers lost children.  Many lost their homes and livelihoods, their livestock, their crops.  We had an incredibly busy December/January/February.   We worked with those who set up emergency camps for internally displaced people from areas that are usually arid and drought ridden but, suddenly were under water and mud.  We concentrated our efforts in West Pokot in an area known as Tamkal in a camp for over300 displaced people - one of three such camps. We sent in emergency supplies, sent in a trained trauma counsellor, arranged boarding school places for children who had lost their homes, their schools and family members.  This involved transforming a small nearby day school into a boarding facility in the space of a few weeks and obtaining sponsorship for those children.  The school is close to family and all the children were kept in the same school to minimise trauma.  They are in far more comfortable surroundings than emergency pop-up tents in a camp and, knowing their children are safe,enables their parents to concentrate on their own healing and recovery.  They are doing well in school and we are seeing smiles more frequently. We also requested another charity to hold a mobile medical clinic in the area to treat injuries sustained in the landslides and floods, in addition to illnesses such as pneumonia, malaria etc.

This work (emergency aid) is a little beyond our usual remit, however, when this happens on the doorstep,it is impossible not to become involved and to do what we can.  It was a challenge as many roads and bridges were destroyed - and have still not been repaired.

Closer to home, on the outskirts of Kitale town,we also assisted in flood relief for homes flooded by local rivers bursting their banks.

In the meantime, we have continued with our work for those displaced by the earlier drought and our students/apprentices all went into their training courses in January after the Christmas break.  We wish we could stem the tide of youths heading to urban surroundings to make a living, but we have to accept that climate change is impacting their traditional homes and making it more difficult than ever before for families to survive in these rural, usually arid, regions.  Therefore, the best we can do is train them to be able to survive and make a decent living wherever they may be.  

Thank you for all your support.  If anyone is interested in sponsoring a child from the landslide victims, please contact us!

IDP camp for flood and landslide survivors
IDP camp for flood and landslide survivors
Classroom in the new school prepared for survivors
Classroom in the new school prepared for survivors
Mud slides covering what used to be a village
Mud slides covering what used to be a village
Damaged school caused by rocks from landslide
Damaged school caused by rocks from landslide
Road bridge destroyed by floods
Road bridge destroyed by floods
 
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