Saturday, November 17, 2012

See Him. See them.

“Wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of ‘God’.”
I try to keep this in mind when I interact with people who have lived or are living on the street. I can’t imagine the painful circumstances that brought them to this point or the pain of actually sleeping on the cold hard ground, but I try to see God in them. Would I ignore God if he was dressed in rags and dirty?
As a woman alone I have felt that it is not good to engage “street people” for fear that they will take advantage of me. That was wrong thinking. But I was always able to justify it in my head. It is one of the many “white” lies I have told myself over the years.
Last week I had the opportunity to visit a feeding program for street boys in an area called Dagoretti Corner in Nairobi. It felt a bit like going to the dentist…I know going will be good for me, but I’m anxious about it nonetheless.
I met my friend Tammy near the matatu stage and we walked into her ‘hood’. She lives in a low-income neighborhood. Around the corner from her apartment building is a tent church, Victory World Outreach, (there are many tent churches here), where the feeding program is housed. Adjacent to the tent is a field surrounded with a barbed wire fence, there are maybe 20 boys barefoot in dirty, torn clothes playing football like they don’t have a care in the world, shouting and laughing and I’m hooked. I feel like I’m in a trance. There in front of me are 20 versions of Jesus, all as beautiful and blessed as the messiah himself.
 The goal is scored between the piles of clothes!
Keeping track of the ball in the long grass is sometimes a problem.
Victory World Outreach Church is in the background.
I shoot a bunch of photos of them playing football and then follow Tammy to the pastor’s office. Pastor Safari is a rare breed among Kenyans. He has not asked for money from Tammy and Amie, the two American women who run the program. Instead he is partnering with them to provide a service for his fellow Kenyans.
Amie Obare is married to a Kenyan and started a feeding program a few years ago with another organization and then had to move on because of corruption. When she started again with Tammy in another site, a lot of the same street boys found her again. She and Tammy moved three weeks ago to this new site at Victory World Outreach. The new site has a kitchen, classroom and bathrooms. The street boys can take showers with cold water! They are thrilled! Although putting back on the dirty clothes isn't the perfect ending. Being clean underneath makes them look brighter.

The younger kids colored in an activity book and made paper airplanes.
Amie said that the majority of them sniff glue, which helps to fend of hunger and cold. However, glue is addictive and once they are addicted they may never leave the streets.
Some of them are given refugee at night behind shops of sympathetic shopkeepers or small jobs and businesses in the area, but none of these boys are able to go to school.
While the big boys play football. The younger boys and one little girl (I think the youngest was about 6); color and do the activities in an activity book. There is only one book so they all share while they wait for lunch.
About 40 minutes before lunch is served when all the showers have been taken, about 37 street kids file into two classrooms. Ages 6-11 in one room with a volunteers doing alphabet exercises and 12 and above in the bigger room talking about the new rules posted that day and getting a short sermon from another volunteer.
 Fredrick and Joseph, share a message with the "big" boys.
 Tracy, in the Friends shirt, and Josephine and I serve up rice and beans to the street boys.
 The littlest street kids, Salome and Gitau, enjoying their lunch.
We fed 40 people all together, including some of the Kenyan volunteers. There was not enough food for Tammy, Amie and I or for Tracy, the young Kenyan woman who will take over the program when Tammy and Amie are in the states in the next few months.
The volunteers are all Kenyans, two cooks, a teacher and two men who monitor the boys and preach to them. One of the men actually has to monitor the shower time. Fights tend to break out a lot because the boys that came from Amie’s old site get into turf battles with the boys that are from in the area around where the feeding site is now.
 The staff and volunteers of the street boy feeding program! One of the most amazing team of volunteers I've ever me. Cohesive, productive and determined!
There are no fights the day I am there. Lots of kids with fairly obvious ADHD problems bouncing off walls, but shy boys too and to my surprise I got a lot of hugs at the end of the four hours.
“Thanks for visiting us. Please come again,” one boy about 13 said as he gave me a shy hug.
What does it feel like to be invisible or consciously ignored? I wanted to shout, “I see you! You are not nothing!”
But it’s truly not enough just to see. Action must follow.
And so my action, besides telling you, will be to go back whenever I can and bring friends, and to provide whatever resources I can to support this project. I have already edited a few proposals Tracy has written and I intend to see if I can help them find schools that will take some of these kids for free. Lots of boarding schools have a couple of students who are there on a full scholarship. The problem is where to house them during school vacations…going back to the street isn’t an option.
I could go into a long rant about the atrocious state of the Kenyan child welfare system or the corrupt police but I’ll save that for another day. The good news is average Kenyans are standing up to help their own, but they don’t have the resources to create real sustainable change.
Currently the feeding program is only on Wednesdays. But Amie, Tammy and Tracy would like to add more days and someday have a half way house where boys could transition off the street. They would also like to have a house where children could stay so they could attend school.
They would also like to have a medical fund to deal with the boys who need medical care and they would like an electric razor so they can shave the boys, rather than paying to have their heads shaved. Every shilling saved can be used somewhere else!
If you ask any of these boys what they want most in life they will tell you they want to be “off the streets.”
If you would like more information about this program please contact Amie Obare at: or friend her on FB. Many of the stories of the boys and their photos are posted on her page.
FYI – the quote at the top of the page is from the book, “Islam, A Short History” by Karen Armstrong, and actually reads. “Wheresoever ye turn, there is the face of Allah.”
God is God. He is everywhere. Even in children with no home.
Please pray for these boys and girls and children like them everywhere!