Since our last report, we are pleased to be able to tell our supporters that, although we are not back to normal, (will we ever be?) we are continuing to make progress and find alternative ways to help children and families in Kitale and surrounding areas. Despite our county being put into another lockdown a month ago, we have still been able to continue our family reintegration and support work. Thankfully, schools and colleges have remained open this year and being able to keep children in the education system this year has been particularly rewarding. We have also been able to place over 100 youths in vocational training programmes which will enable them to find employment or be self-employed when they finish their courses. Fingers crossed, with no further interruptions to education this year, we will be celebrating a lot of graduations at the end of the year.
To date, we have not reopened our Street Smart centre. This has been for a number of reasons including covid regulations, insufficient funding to rebuild it and a new approach that we are working on to enable us to do reintegrations directly from our office to home without needing the intermediary building - at least for the time being. We hope soon to be able to rebuild and start our mobile school again but, for now, it is important that we do as much as possible to prevent children reaching the streets and avoid them being in town for any length of time during curfews, lockdowns and covid in general. So, we continue to work within communities to try and identify problem cases as early as possible and we patrol the streets so our outreach team can get children home or into suitable temporary care as quickly as we can.
Schools are closing today for a two week break after which children will progress into the next academic standard. Due to the long closure last year, holidays have been shortened and terms lengthened to allow a catch-up and avoid children being put back a grade. Usually, the academic year would start in January not the end of July. However, this seems to be working and is certainly preferable to children repeating a year of schooling. An unplanned benefit of the shorter holiday is less likelihood of children taking to the streets after many weeks at home, particularly in cases of little food, abuse, neglect or just boredom. So, we hope that being present in communities over this break, we can keep the numbers on the streets to a manageable level.
We wish you all the best during these difficult times. We have been lucky that, so far, Kenya seems to have kept this pandemic under control and we are not seeing huge numbers of people needing hospitalisation. However, the economic impact has been huge and we have no social security or welfare safety nets.
Thank you for all your support.
2020 was disastrous for our work on the streets of Kitale. The Government lockdown from March until December included closure of our drop-in centre for street children (Street Smart) and not being able to take our mobile school out on the streets. Our outreach workers could do limited work directly on the streets though and we we did manage to reintegrate more children than we thought would be possible. Children on the streets were simply not being tolerated by authorities and could see the wisdom of remaining home through the pandemic. However, remaining at home brought many challenges for families. Children were out of school (schools were closed from March 2020 until January 2021) and therefore posing new challenges to parents who already were coping with limitations on what they themselves could do, loss of employment and income during the lockdown, reduction in household income etc.
We shifted our resources from Street Smart and the Mobile School to providing home-based care for reintegrated children and delivered food parcels throughout the lockdown, while our social workers continued to visit families and children to ensure they were coping with the challenges of Covid 19. So, we were not idle and we were able to help many families.
Sadly, part of the development plans for Kitale include a huge road improvement programme and the road widening not only destroyed our Street Smart centre which was bulldozed overnight, but destroyed small business and market stalls devastating the livelihoods of hundreds of families, many of whom were just recovering from 9 months of lockdowns.
So, although 2021 got off to a rocky start, the opening of schools and lifting of many restrictions in January, has enabled us to switch our focus back into our prevention work and into getting children and youths back into schools and training programmes. We are optimistic that most of our old programmes can start up again in the course of the next three months and we will be able to continue with our reintegration work as intended.
Kenyan schools close this week for a 7 week break while exams take place and we are pleased that we will be able to work with families during this time to ensure their children are prepared to be at home and ready to rejoin school in May. We have seen a rise in teen pregnancies as a result of the long time children and youth spent out of school last year and we are now looking at a new project working with teen mothers - watch this space!
Thanks for all your support during these difficult times.
Usually, our regular reports tend to be about what we have been doing recently. This one is a little different.as we want to focus on why we are so concerned about getting children off the streets - and not just children - entire street families.
Over a year ago, we expressed concern to the authorities about reports of missing children. It appears that similar reports have been made in bigger towns like Nairobi too. Enough concern has been expressed nationwide for journalists to get involved and the BBC Africa Eye have released a documentary called Teh Baby Stealers about babies and young children being taken from street families and mothers living on the streets. This highlights a child trafficking issue that should terrify all of us. The documentary from BBC Africa Eye can be found on You Tube and the link is below.
So often, a woman living on the street going into a police station and reporting a missing child is not treated with the same respect as a woman coming from a 'real' home. It is assumed there must be something wrong with her if she is living on the street - perhaps she has mental issues or she is a prostitute - and she is often met with derision or anger. She is often scared to report the case as she will become the number one suspect and it will be assumed that because she is in financial need she probably either sold the child herself or it died or she killed it or she may not have any paperwork to prove there even was a child. Street mothers are marginalised and do not get much sympathy. In rare cases, someone might take her aside and find out the reasons she is on the street and, in doing so, discover that she is a perfectly good mother who has fallen on hard times. The majority of mothers on the streets are there because they are from backgrounds of abject poverty and have no choice. They may have moved from areas of drought or famine to seek work in towns. They may be running from an abusive relationship. They may have been raped. They do not deserve to lose their children just because they are poor and may already have lost their home.
Young children stolen by traffickers may be lucky enough to be placed in a wealthy household where they are a wanted baby. However, it is just as likely that they are being used for sacrificial rites or organ harvesting and, in the case of older children, the sex trade.
Child trafficking is a worldwide concern and there is a lot of money involved and often bribes ensure that those who should be helping prevent the problem simply turn a blind eye - or think a child is better off with its buyer than living on the streets. The amount of money Anita in this documentary was being offered for one child is the equivalent of 3 months wages for a teacher in Kenya.
There is an urgent need to get mother and child off the streets so they can be together in safety. That is what we try to do every day - to reintegrate families, to keep families together and to keep them from lives on the streets of town where they face danger every day and every night. We aim to help them get employment and keep a roof over their heads and to be able to lock their door at night knowing their children are safe in their beds. Help us please.
We look back at our budget and plan for 2020 and don't know whether to laugh or cry! We are used to dealing with the unexpected in Kenya - or so we thought - but by way of natural disasters in areas outside of Kitale affecting the influx of people to Kitale or possible tribal violence at election times. We were not expecting Covid-19!
Government restrictions severely impacted our work on the streets from mid March onwards. Kenya went into lock-down which closed our Street Smart centre and prevented us using our mobile school. Lock-down and curfew severely restricted our outreach work also. However, we did manage to reintegrate a considerable number of children at the onset of lock-down. This was somewhat rushed but at least the kids were off the streets and we could more easily work with them in their family setting rather than in a heavily-policed town centre. We diverted our funding resources to emergency relief packs for families who suddenly found themselves with school-age children home all day and missing out on possible school feeding programmes and, even worse facing loss of income from jobs that no longer existed. The markets were closed, non-essential businesses were closed and there were restrictions on transport. All of this combined to severely impact the income of those working in businesses that were closed.
Kenya does not have a social welfare system and so there was no income assistance for the thousands who suddenly found themselves with no money coming in. We have been working directly with some of the worst-affected families to ensure they at least have some food on the table.
Like so many, we had not foreseen just how long this crisis would continue. Four months later, the country has just opened to some extent but schools and tourism are still badly affected and many still remain unemployed. Like so many countries, we are faced with the dilemma of opening up and easing lock-down versus climbing covid-19 cases. We expect another lock-down to be imminent as we do not have the medical facilities to cope with vastly increased covid-19 cases and the Government has done an amazing job so far in keeping the numbers at a manageable level but the sacrifice has been the economy.
So, we continue to do our best to ensure that children at least do not go to bed hungry and that we can rescue and reintegrate children from the streets as quickly as possible to ensure they are in a safe home when the next lock-down and curfew hit us.
We are thankful for your support through these trying times. We will continue to try and keep as many families from the brink as we can.
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!
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