An old colonial court premises in Nyamira County is set to become a haven to 500 street children currently roaming various streets of Kisii County.
The premises is currently being used as a remand home to children offenders and those in need of protection and care, as they await court determination on whether to be reintegrated back to their families, or to be referred to a rehabilitation centre.
Manga children’s remand home, which is now accommodating just a fraction of its capacity, could be filled to capacity if a proposal by Kisii County government to the Street Families Rehabilitation Trust Fund meets the threshold to get Sh.5m funding for its first phase.
The Fund currently falls under the State Department of Arid and Semi Arid Lands (ASAL). It was initially established in March 2003 under the Ministry of Local government through gazette notice No.1558 under the late minister, Karisa Maitha after street children created insecurity by forming gangs that intimidated the public by smearing human stool on people to force them to give money and valuable items.
Its activities are administered by a board of trustees comprising eminent personalities drawn from the civil society, private and public sector.
It is for this reason that a team from the Fund led by its CEO, Robert Njogu visited Kisii County Executive for Youth, Culture and Social Services, Duke Mainga to carry out a feasibility study and explore ways of partnering to rescue, reintegrate, rehabilitate and re-socialize street children in the area.
According to Mainga, the county aims to clear children from the streets and have them assisted to lead normal lives, away from languishing in drugs, despite living in the multi-million sector earned from begging handouts from passersby.
The county executive, who sees no reason for a region endowed with abundant food to have dirty, begging and tricky urchins sniffing glue among other addictive drugs, says the county is determined to have a different town from others, where street families have invaded various streets and alleys.
He notes that majority of street children in the region were from the neighbouring counties of Migori and Homa Bay who were lured into the vicinity by ample food, although other factors were leading some members of the community into the streets.
Various institutions have given varying figures on the actual number of street families in the country, and it was figured that the number could total averagely to 300, 000 with 20 per cent of them being found in the Nairobi capital city alone.
Mainga applauds the Trust Fund for considering the county’s proposal which he wrote to the national government after a recent medical camp for street children, where many tested positive to various diseases including sexually transmitted infections.
“I applied for assistance from the Fund and I am glad they have responded, hence we have identified Manga as one of our dropping centres to accommodate those who have been rescued from the streets,” says the County Executive.
At the same time, the county was also exploring ways of collaborating with a local organization, Young Women Christian Association, to have it as a drop center for girls, added Mainga.
On his part, Njogu said the Trust Fund partners with counties through County Chapter programme and supports those that meet the threshold through partnership with 10 members, including County officials, the police, children’s department and the County Commissioner among others.
He said out of this noble initiative, that’s why they moved to assist Kisii County to nip the problem at the bud before it escalated into a crisis, where street urchins graduate from pickpocketing, begging and tricking the society into giving them coins for glue, to hardcore and dangerous criminals.
The County Children’s Coordinator, Beatrice Obutu notes that half of the street families in Kisii were those who returned to their homes at night only to report to the streets in the following morning, thus could effectively be referred to as ‘day scholars’.
Obutu cites Suneka, Mogonga and Kisii headquarters as the most affected areas, while appealing to the society to desist from giving money and food to the street families as this not only served to give them more reasons to remain there, but it also lures others into the streets.
“It is better for any assistance to be channeled through institutions of rescue as it is a more sustainable method of detoxification, psychosocial support including counseling, informal learning and life skills promotion,” says the children’s coordinator.
Elsewhere, the Manga remand institution manager Christine Ong’ayo says the home has the capacity to host at least 250 children, although the current number was 50.
The home, which was officially opened by the former Minister for Gender and Children Affairs, Esther Murugi in the year 2008, hosts children of between 10-17 yeas, 80% of whom were boys.
The centre houses the children for a maximum of seven months with main emphasis being family reunification and reintegration through relationship building, family tracing and reconciliation among others.
Those without families at all were placed in various rehabilitation centres depending on their needs.
The institution which is fully run by the government sits on 6.5 acres land with seven dormitories of 20 double decker beds and several safe spaces which were used as mentorship and counseling rooms among other facilities.
However, Onga’yo cites various challenges which must be addressed before the home could be able to accommodate more children including dilapidated infrastructure that needs renovation like the ablution block.
The other problem is understaffing that needs a boost, including counseling psychologists, masters and mistresses to give parental figures in the home, cooks and wardens to beef up security.
The current staffing includes three house mistresses, two wardens, a cook, a clerical officer and the manager all totaling to seven.
She says all the clients who come from 12 courts in the region and neighbouring counties of Migori, Homa Bay and Narok Counties were ferried by the institution vehicle to the courts when there is presentation order, but only when they managed to borrow a driver.
The manager notes that majority of the children were driven to the streets by factors such as neglect by extended family members after they are orphaned, those born out of wedlock, child abuse including molestation and reliance on handouts.
The Senior House Mistress, Gladis Okemwa is optimistic that plans to host street children in the home would be a remedy to the street families’ menace in many towns in the region.
Okemwa, who has 10 years’ experience at the institution, says she has seen many children benefit from the services offered there.
The Senior Warden, Abel Sunda recommends more security personnel saying some of the children could be rough before their behaviour is finally tamed, hence the need to beef up safety measures, including grilling the wooden doors to prevent escape.
Meanwhile, former street children at the school have celebrated the move to have their institution become a drop centre of kids in need of rehabilitation.
Maureen Kerubo, 17, (not her real name), says she has regained focus after the assistance she got at the centre and now wants to go back to school and become a meteorologist when she is fully grown.
The same sentiments are shared by Alex Mogaka, 14, (not his real name) who urges those still in the streets to accept to move to the institution if approached by the rescuing officers saying he found care and protection at the facility, which has since changed his life.
The two moved to the streets after they were orphaned and lacked caring guardians to take over the place of their parents, but were rescued by good Samaritans who enticed them to join the drop center and get assistance.
The centre ceased to be court premises when the judiciary was moved to Nyamira town after a new facility was constructed in 1990.
By Jane Naitore