Rebecca and Students
This past August a close friend of Jitegemee, Rebecca Abou-Chedid, made her first visit to Machakos to visit the program. We often ask visitors to share their impressions with others who have not had a chance to visit themselves, and Rebecca was kind enough to do so. Below is her unedited entry, we hope it give you a little more insight into the work and results of the program.
After eight years of hearing about this amazing place, on August 9, 2011 I was finally able to visit Jitegemee, a school for street children in Machakos, Kenya founed and supported by a dear friend that I respect and admire. Jitegemee means “sustain yourself” in Swahili and its programs focus on equipping children with the skills and self-confidence to succeed, “teaching them to fish” as the saying goes. If a child is below a certain age when he comes to Jitegemee, he is sponsored to complete his secondary education. Older children enter the vocational program which pairs each student with a mentor who will teach her a skill like welding, auto repair, or knitting, so that she is able to earn money for the first time in her life. An impressive 80% of Jitegemee graduates find employment in their field.
When Jitegemee brings in a new child they do everything they can to find a relative or concerned neighbor who will take the child in. The school believes that having a home is integral to a child’s rehabilitation. We arrived during the annual parents’ meeting with the school’s dedicated teachers. Many of the people in the room were not the actual parents of these children, some are grandparents or other relatives, some are neighbors, but they are all invested in their success.
After we were welcomed by the parents, we got to meet the kids! Jitegemee has grown to serve over 190 students and a few were selected from each grade level to meet with our delegation. Each class had prepared a poem and dance performance. We were then split up into groups so that each of us could get to know a few children better. My group included Dennis and Cecilia, who are in secondary school and both want to be doctors, as well as Fildemah, Angela, and Florence who are seamstresses. We had lunch together (Jitegemee provides a hot lunch for each child in the program on a daily basis) and I learned how each child had come to Jitegemee. None of the children were supported by their parents for one reason or another. Dennis's mother died during childbirth so he never met her and has been raised by his grandmother. More than one child simply told me that their parents "could no longer fulfill my needs." All of the kids told me that they sniffed glue and took a list of other easily available drugs while they were on the street.
After lunch we went into downtown Machakos so that the vocational kids could show us where they work. As we walked into town, they showed me the police station and told me that before coming to Jitegemee if the weather was bad they would get themselves arrested on purpose so that they would have shelter for the night. We visited the shops where Angela, Fildemah, and Florence knit sweaters and make clothes. Part of the Jitegemee training is to teach the kids salesmanship and I can attest that they're doing a great job! I bought two children's sweaters from Angela, a cardigan from Fildemah, and Florence took my measurements to make me a dress. They were proud to sell their work and kept telling me I looked "smart" in my sweater. As we walked through the marketplace the kids were very protective of me, holding my hand and throwing their arms around me so that it was clear I was their visitor.
I felt profoundly humbled around these kids. They've dealt with more hardship at such a young age than many of us will ever see. Rather than feel sorry for themselves, they were funny, happy, and empowered. I have been learning about Jitegemee's work for eight years and it was so meaningful for me to finally see it first-hand. Jitegemee is literally saving lives.
The next step for Jitegemee is to build a permanent home for the school, including a computer center and library. I've committed to helping raise money and in-kind donations for what will undoubtedly be an amazing facility and second home for hundreds of children. If you're looking for a really special organization to donate to, one that is making a huge difference in the lives of children, please consider making a contribution to Jitegemee.
Rebecca and Her Group