The long running TV show, 60 Minutes, once aired a feature story presented by Mike Wallace about street children in Africa. They sniffed glue to give them comfort in their world that seemed hopeless. At the time, my boys were around the ages of the boys in the show and I thought "how sad that is" and " how fortunate we are" but "what are you going to do?" And I went on with my life.
When Pastor John returned from his first mission trip to Kenya, he had noticed the street children in Meru. Mentioning his concern for these kids in one of his Sunday sermons brought back my memories of that TV segment viewed so long ago... And John's question resonated in my soul, "what are we going to do?"
Today we visited the street children, first in their own neighborhood which is an alleyway and a trash heap (heartbreaking, gut wrenching to experience). No human should have to live like that, especially children! To be sure it was safe, Jenifer & Lawrence, two workers for the Kenya Methodist group had gone there in the morning to scope out the situation while we were touring the Methodist children's home and the School for the Deaf . ( Plaques on the walls of buildings at this home showed it had been built mostly by foundations and individuals from the Denver/Colorado Springs area.) They told the kids we wanted to visit and reported back that most were sober and willing to have us come into their territory. They also told us to not carry any cash or valuables with us and designate only one person to have a camera.
While we were visiting with Hillary's grandmother, the remaining men went to see the boys "in seclusion". The Kenyans explained that this is an ancient tribal custom that has survived in their culture. As a rite of passage into manhood, circumcision is performed around the age of 12-13and they withdraw from public for 3 weeks to recover and learn about manhood. Women are forbidden to see them during this time. Reporting to us later, the men in our group said they saw naked boys lying on dirty blankets in a corner of the trash heap ( they had found someone to come back there to do the circumcision , a doctor maybe?)and they were planning to stay there the required time. Our men thought the learning part was not as intended; they were disturbed at what they witnessed and the unsanitary conditions. The boy who seemed to be regarded as the leader of this strange "family" told them that after seclusion the boys were encouraged to change their ways, grow up, stop the glue and work on getting back in school and better themselves. This boy, the leader, Silas, was dressed in a school uniform for the Polytechnic school. He and several others from the street had managed with help of a new church program to get back in school. He told us he started using glue because it gave him comfort when he had no one to care for him after his parents and grandmother had died. He is clean now, going to school and credits Jesus for his life change; he actually seems like a good role model for the crew he leads.
Silas is in blue shirt and tie, his school uniform.
Bishop Catherine, who is in charge of all the Methodist churches and programs in the region we are visiting, walked next to me on the way back to the vans ( we passed a teenage boy who was high on glue; he had the bottle glued to his upper lip hanging under his nose) and she told me a touching story. She said local people all knew about the street kids and they avoided them, feared them, but when our Pastor John had insisted "we need to DO something" she knew she had to be the one to try first since she lived here and carried her responsibilities to God and to her community, so one day she walked back there by herself. She said her hands were shaking because she was scared but she found one of the younger boys to speak to first. She introduced herself and found out his name was Derrick. He wanted her to buy him a cup of tea so she said yes and he told a few more boys standing around nearby to come with them. Soon after entering a nearby hotel and ordering tea and donuts, more & more of these boys showed up from the alley. She got scared of the increasing numbers flowing in so she decided to make a quick exit, telling the owner to give them all tea & donuts and call her with the bill amount. When she went back to pay the next day, she also re-entered the alley to pay a visit. The boys all came out ready to talk to her; she became their friend by serving them a treat. This tore down a barrier and a new ministry to street children began.
Derrick is in the brown shirt.
Now in charge of the programs for Aids Orphans and Street Children, Jenifer has worked to assess needs and learn backgrounds of these kids. She has already helped several get back in school, rent rooms to live in and organized a twice weekly feeding program that is funded by our church, with space and cooks provided by a local church called All Saints. The Kenya local church officials are also in the beginning stages of a plan to bring in some of these boys to the seclusion ceremonies organized by the church. This takes place for 3 weeks at a school campus during December while the schools are on holiday break, in clean conditions under supervision of a medical doctor. During this time, men of the church give lessons on responsibility, goals, attitudes, faith in God, relationships, etc. It is also thought that this would be a good time for them to give up the glue habit. But then, they don't want them to return to the streets so they are reorganizing the current Methodist children's home to be a transition place for these kids to live. We sat in on these discussions at the committee meeting for this program.
After visiting in their home turf, we all left to go to the feeding program at All Saints. Sammy & Nicholas drove us in the vans and the children walked ( like 99% of Kenyans) and met us there. Before lunch we all met together in a church hall where Bishop Catherine and Jenifer spoke and then some of the kids performed: reciting poetry, singing songs and one did a comedy routine. We didn't understand because he was speaking Swahili but the others were cracking up at his presentation. Jenifer later explained that he was doing a parody of the local news. All the kids were attentive and calm. Some fell asleep in their chairs; some spoke of their faith in God and their pleas for his help.
Rap poetry performance.
During their lunch of rice and bean stew we visited with them outside. I talked to two girls, Carolyn & Agnes, who boarded at the Polytechnic school during the week and came to the streets when it closed on weekends and holidays. They were studying to become seamstresses. There was a pregnant girl name Veronica & her boyfriend Titus. There was a baby named Dennis and two young children who pretended to be his parents, Paul and Nancy, and many, many more. In my conversation with Derrick, the one who had first asked Catherine for a cup of tea, I asked his age (10) and how long he had been living in the alley ( a long time but he did not know exactly) and his earliest memory (going to church with his family). Before leaving we gave gifts of t shirts, knitted hats, toothbrushes, plastic bracelets; pens, pencils and spiral note pads went to the 14 who were enrolled in school; soccer balls went to All Saints church to use as recreation on their meal days, Mondays and Wednesdays. Trudy plans to urge our church committee back home to add more feeding days to this program from our support. Knowing her, I think it will get done.
So the good news is, that in the horror of a hopeless situation God's light is starting to shine. "What are we going to do?" We all do our small part.
Matthew 25:35-36, 40. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me...The King will reply , " I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me."