They scattered in every direction, some walking hastily, others literally running from one street to the other. They kept track of our movements. They thought we were the police or the children officers pursuing to arrest them. This had happened many times before; many of them have spent nights in police custody in their youthful lives. It was about 10 pm on October 2, 2013.
Thanks to Life Bloom’s program Mentor approach, two of our adult mentors, who have since left street life and now work as Program Officers at Life Bloom, were able to create a rapport with a couple of the girls. We talked a little that night from the corridors of a bar; some of them were drunk with alcohol. I was glad they could begin to realize that we are their friends, and had not come to arrest them. They are aged between 13-17 years. The majority of them are already mothers, they do not go to school, they live on their own in small rooms in the slums of Naivasha, and earn their living and support their children from proceeds earned from the streets of Naivasha: selling their bodies.
This is the world of teenage sex workers in Naivasha.
A week after this experience, I sat among the 24 of them at our facility in Naivasha: Life Bloom. The room is small in size, and some sat on the floor. Though a bit suspicious, they had agreed to meet as a group and share about their experiences.
I sense tension build up in my systems long before we started the session. I was aware that my emotions would be swaying in all directions in a short while. I kept wondering how we got “our” innocent children into this kind of life and living, many times I found myself fighting back tears of anger (towards our society) in between trying to front a re-assuring smile for the girls hoping to convey the message that “finally, you kids are home, this is your space, our space, where you can find your footing and move on with your life in dignity”.
“Tell us about yourself’’ I threw the inviting statement to the group:
The answers came: “My name is (Jane, Mary, etc). I sell my body at the lodging on Kariuki Chotara road, (or) I sell from the house where I live, I bring my clients home during the day. I do it from the streets, inside people’s cars, or just besides the big trucks at night.”
“When did you begin practicing sex work,” I asked.
“I was 9 years old; At fifteen; Last year; I don’t know because I started a long time ago,” the responses varied.
“How much are you paid?”
In flew the responses: “Sometimes 50sh (less than 1US$,) other times 200sh (2.5 $); Sometimes I have 5 men in 24 hrs, other times I go home empty handed, hoping to get clients the following day”.
“So how did you get into this trade?”
In came their responses, “I was introduced by my friends; my neighbors; my mother/sisters; I was house help and became pregnant of the man of the house, I was thrown out, I went to the streets, because I couldn’t go back home.”
The more they got into the sharing, the more these girls seemed to lose track of what the four babies who were in the room were doing. When they were served lunch, they continued to eat as their babies continued to cry; they didn’t seem the least connected to the babies, to motherhood. Our staff, Trizer, and another adult mentor, Carol, stepped in to feed the babies.
The girls disclosed how they lock up their babies in the houses at night, as they go to the streets. They talked about their own parents, some of their mothers work at the flower farms, others were sex workers too, and some of the girls are orphans. Some have been married over and over again.
My heart was pierced by their innocent looks, their referring to me as Teacher Catherine throughout the session. I kept thinking about how nice it would be to have these innocent souls in classroom one day, they looked very eager to learn.
They asked me questions too: some asked how they could get back to school, others wanted to set up businesses, others wanted to go back to their parents. A few others asked that the government set up policies that could allow them to be in the streets 24/7, and be assured of their security--they have known no other business in their lives, other than selling their bodies.
‘How do we engage these young ones to learn when we at Life Bloom are so limited in terms of resources and we at times aren’t even able to pay staff salaries?’ I kept asking myself. ‘How best can we share HOPE with them?’
What kind of a generation are we raising? I thought of what the future possibly holds for these and many other girls, the future of their babies, their natural need to live and experience their childhood like millions of other girls do by going to school. I thought of the many dangers and their level of vulnerability: domestic and international sex trafficking and sex tourism, which is becoming a fast growing and threatening industry.
Since Oct 8th, Life Bloom facility receives an average of two girls from the streets every day. They seem to know what they want with their lives: to get back on course towards living in dignity. I SEE HOPE: Life Bloom and her partners, both in Kenya and abroad, have supported more than 5000 women in the last 10 years! 703 of these women are beneficiaries of structured certificate courses supported by Project Baobab, Global Fund for Women, Global Women Water Initiative, The Presbyterian Church of Tacoma, Kenya Help, WCC/EHAIA, Circle of Concerned Woman Theologians-Kenya, Global Giving, and our many committed friends from Kenya and the USA, and many others.
And yes! There is more hope, and lots of it, too! When Life Bloom completes building the classrooms for the “One Stop Center” in Naivasha, we will offer trainings and other very needed services to at least 200 of our women and girls annually – we will have the ability for taking what Life Bloom does to a much larger scale. I and we hope that will happen soon….very soon! But we need much more support to get there!
THANKS ALL FOR BEING PART OF LIFE BLOOM'S JOURNEY SINCE 2004.