There has been an increase in the number of children on Kitale's streets. During the long school break (the whole of November and December) this is not unusual as many children just ;hang out' on the streets during an otherwise long, and boring, holiday. This is especially true for those in the slums adjoining the town and also those from close rural communities as the long holidays coincide with the rainy season/drought in Kenya. There is no work to be done on farms due to lack of water. So, in addition to children from the slums going onto the streets in search of excitement, companionship and ways of begging food or money, there is also an influx of children from rural areas who have nothing to do (or eat) on their smallholdings.
We hope this improves when children return to school in January but, sadly, not all return to school. Some have fallen into bad habits during the long holiday and have remained on the streets. Others come from families where the escalating cost of living and higher costs of schooling have meant the family could not meet the demands for uniform, shoes, school fees and, in the case of those in high schools, boarding requirements.
We have noticed a continuous increase in the basic costs of foodstuffs, schooling, housing, transport in the past year and this is hitting hard in communities that were already struggling. We have a young population and there are simply not enough jobs for those who manage to complete education. Many cannot afford to complete education and drop out to join the ever increasing army of 'hustlers' looking for any sort of casual work that will pay something.
We continue to do what we can though and rely on your support to help those who most desperately need a little encouragement and help to get them on their feet. Every child we reintegrate is celebrated and we can then try to keep that family together.
Over the many years that we have been involved in helping street connected children, we have realised that rescuing and reintegrating will always have to happen. It is not a 'sustainable' activity as we will never rescue and reintegrate every child in need as no sooner will we have done that, than another child will be on the street. It is an ongoing battle. The numbers reduce and increase driven by cycles of weather, natural disasters such as drought, school holidays etc.
Although we continue to reach out and provide rescue services, rehabilitating children and reintegrating families, a vital part of our work is preventing children running to the streets or returning to the streets. Over the years, we are becoming more and more involved in helping families to be strengthened in every sense to keep them together and try to avoid their connection to the streets. This holistic approach targets vulnerable families with a view to ensuring that they can eventually be self reliant and less dependent on others. We monitor families for several years after our initial intervention to ensure they are doing well so we can avoid them slipping back to a position that sees a child or youth returning to a life on the streets.
When we reintegrate a child, we look beyond just the child. We look at the whole family. Once we have dealt with the immediate problems that saw the child seeking the streets, we continue to work with the family. We might help short term with monthly food baskets. We help with education - this may be buying a uniform for the child or sibling or it may be talking to the teachers to understand any problems. We see if a family member can enter one of our vocational training programmes or be involved in a bio-intensive farming training course or business grant. We provide counselling services. We aim to leave a healthy family that can care for themselves.
Reintegration goes beyond simply encouraging a child to return home and solve an immediate problem. Reintegration can be a process that is ongoing for a minimum of one year, sometimes longer. And a huge part of our reintegration programme is the prevention element - doing everything we can to ensure the family stay together beyond our initial involvement. It is more costly but our success rates speak for themselves and, after all, prevention is better than cure.
Now that most restrictions have been lifted and there is more freedom of movement, life is going back to how it was pre-Covid on the streets of Kitale, more or less. There have been changed of course. A new road widening scheme bulldozed our our drop-in centre and we have not been in a strong enough financial position to rebuild - property prices, like everything else in Kenya, have sky rocketed. Youths and children are returning to the streets in large numbers including many driven by sever drought in the north (even usually fertile Kitale is suffering drought but not as extreme). Families are struggling with an unbearable price increase on basic commodities such as maize - as much as fifty percent in the past six months.
So now, more than ever, our project to aid street connected youth and assist their families to find ways to support themselves, is vital.
We have been able to get our mobile school up and running again and this is a great aid in connecting with children and forming relationships to enable reintegration.
Hopefully the next step can be a new drop in centre but in the meantime we continue with vital street outreach.
We are still languishing in the heat of an exceptionally long dry hot season. This has brought drought to regions to the north of us where drought is becoming more of a norm than an occasional disaster. This alone is a reason for a surge in the numbers of families and children seeking help in the urban centre of Kitale and the adjacent farmland where rainfall is more frequent.
Unfortunately, we are not just contending with the effects of ongoing drought. We are still being impacted by the affects of Covid 19 on local businesses and household income, not to mention its impact on regular donors who are struggling to send support to us as they have all been affected by the financial woes of Covid.
And, to cap it all, Kenya is currently suffering an economic crisis impacting its poorest members. Our inflation rate is worrying and the worst affected commodities are the basics such as flour, oil, sugar, cereals. Some items have increased by as much as 25 to 30 percent even though the overall inflation rate is much lower. Fuel costs have been creeping up as they are globally.
Kenya faces national elections in early August and we await their outcome - hoping that the results will be met with peace and not a return of the post-election violence witnessed in the past. This year is already one of struggle and we sincerely hope that the discontent and worry we see around at the moment will not translate into taking out frustrations after the election. In the meantime, we are doing our best to reintegrate children off the streets as quickly as we can with the funds available to try and reduce the potential of children being caught up in such issues in August.
2022 is bringing us many challenges but, with your help, we can continue to make life better for many of the children desperately needing help in Kitale and its surrounds. Thank you for your continued support!
I suppose everyone goes through it in life - a really successful day/project/meeting/week etc and you go around with a smile on your face feeling satisfied that your efforts really paid off and something or someone has benefitted as a result. That is the way it is in the charity world - we have weeks when we see tremendous results and, then after a short while of basking in the success of one project, something happens that is beyond our control and we feel helpless again and wonder what we can do to solve a new problem.
We all went through this in 2021 when Covid smacked us in the face and delayed projects, closed projects, affected donations, affected donors, and left so many suffering. But we struggled through and found new ways to approach things, did our best and - at the end of the year - found ourselves smiling (briefly) again when schools went back to normal in Kenya and most people could go back to work.
As we are just about getting all our programs back on track, we have been hit with two new problems which we want to be able to tackle. One is the considerable number of teen pregnancies resulting from children being home, idle and out of school for most of 2020 and the other one is drought which has once again hit northern Kenya.
Both issues will impact street connected children in Kitale, however, the most pressing will be the number of families and children who will flee northern Kenya and take the (only) road down south to Kitale, the first major town on the way out of the arid regions. This situation is a repeat of serious drought which affected us a few years ago and we rallied to deal with the influx of displaced people and to try and retrain and resettle them. It is so upsetting to have to deal with this tragic situation again and we suspect that the impact of climate change on Africa is going to make this a familiar issue in the future. Currently almost a million people are seriously impacted and in need of food and water aid or relocation.
We need help to get new arrivals off the streets and into safe accommodation. We need help to reintegrate children with families and to help those families examine new ways to survive the impact of climate change. This may mean helping them to relocate or helping a family member to learn a trade or set up a small business. These are people unfamiliar with the ways of urban living and the modern world who not only need physical food relief but need to learn new life skills. We have found that working with a family intensively for 6 months to a year enables them to become self supporting and independent. We maintain contact with them for 3 years to ensure that all remains well with them and their input is vital in helping us form suitable programmes for the future.
We are also in the throes of establishing our teen mother programme aimed at preventing those girls from ending up on the streets or destitute and also preventing their children ultimately requiring rescue from the streets.
As Christmas approaches, please consider a small donation to help those whose livelihoods have been destroyed by Covid and drought. Thank you.
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