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Reformed street urchin on mission to rescue erstwhile comrades 

Assisting a total of 10 former street children secure well-paying government jobs in Kenya can be termed quite an achievement. But, if the brains behind this happens to be a former street urchin, then this is news, and good news at that.

This is what describes Dickson Kinyua, a reformed street boy who knows the alleys and byways of Nyeri town like the back of his hand. Occasional visits to the dusty highways of Nyeri where he spent part of his life just to talk to street boys and girls is part of his daily routine.

He has dedicated himself to this work with a zeal that is quite remarkable. Today, Kinyua, who makes mops for sale, says no single child should be allowed to live in the streets where drugs and crime are twin vices.

“Having lived in the streets from 1998 to 2002, and having gone through all the harrowing experiences of living in gangland society where indulgence into drugs and crime is quite normal, I would do everything to save at least a soul from such an environment,” he narrates while preparing his brooms close to a construction site near the Cieni Supermarket.

“Drugs including hard ones such as cocaine are destroying our brothers and sisters living in the streets. We should do everything within our ability to salvage those chained to such vices and tell them of an alternative and better way of life where they can earn a decent living,” he says.

Born in Kiawara village, in Kieni Sub County in a family of six (who include five girls) Kinyua reminisces that life for him was a struggle from the start.

To begin with, his mother who had no formal source of income took to brewing illicit liquor to sustain the family. Yet, even the measly earnings from the prohibited trade could not sustain the family’s basic needs let alone send the children to school. Further compounding the challenge, was a dysfunctional family where his parents seemed to disagree over everything with quarrels that often culminated into physical fights.

It is in the thick of one such confrontation, that the father decided to walk out of the marriage leaving the burden of taking care of the family to his wife. Faced with an uncertain future and forced to live under squalor and poor conditions, Kinyua took after his father’s footsteps and ran away from home.

He found a new dwelling in the dusty and noisy streets of Nyeri, where the daily cacophony of both machine and men competes for supremacy and where the fast-paced life leaves hardly any minute for one to inquire into the plight of others.

“I ventured into the streets after witnessing constant fights between my father and mother that finally ended up in a break up of our family. My mother was later on arrested for brewing and selling chang’aa effectively leaving us on our own. Left with no better option, I decided to leave home for the street life where I would try to eke out a living in whichever way possible,” he continues.

Yet it was along the same streets that salvation came for Kinyua when in 2002 former President Mwai Kibaki (who had romped into power under the National Rainbow Coalition wave) announced his government’s plan to introduce free primary education under the ‘Rudi Shule’ (Back to School) clarion call.

A white man who was the then Principal at St Mary’s School in Nyeri and who used to talk to street families approached him and implored him to take advantage of the government’s incentive by going back to school. Kinyua, alongside 39 other children heeded the call and immediately got enrolled at the school.

Due to his advanced age Kinyua was allowed to start his learning in class 4. He was nevertheless forced to go back to the streets once classes were over since he had nowhere to call home. To survive, he used to run errands for people during his free time in order to buy food and other basic things.

His determination finally paid off when he sat for his KCPE exams and got an admission letter to Rware High School. However, this was not realized after it emerged that the cost was too high and no sponsor was willing to assist him.

Eventfully he found a cheaper school where he managed to fit in, thanks to help from the Extension Scout Program into which he had enrolled.

“My dream of joining school was mainly out of the efforts of a foreigner who was then Principal at St Mary’s School in Nyeri who used to visit us and implore us leave the streets and go to school after President Mwai Kibaki took over power in 2002.I immediately accepted the invite despite the challenges that still dogged me since I had no place to call home. Eventually the Extension Scout Program found accommodation for 40 of us enabling us to complete our studies without interruption,” he says.

Today Kinyua who sells brooms as far as Nakuru, singles out self-discipline as the key that wrenched his future from the jaws of drugs and street crime. Apart from being in a position to take care of his young family, the soft-spoken trader is happy that he managed to pull 15 of his colleagues from the lawlessness of street life into a world where their dignity counts.

Five of them are currently working as cadets in the General Service Unit, five are servicemen with the Kenya Defence Forces and the remaining are still undergoing training at the National Youth Service.

Yet he says his mission is far from complete until every child living on the streets has been liberated and offered something better to do.

He nevertheless fears this dream may remain just that, a dream, unless relevant stakeholders (including both national and county government) come on board in making this noble undertaking a reality.

“We need to have a conversation with those living in our streets and tell them there is a better life than the one they lead. Unfortunately, this can only be possible if we rescue them and offer them something that can earn them a living. The government should chip in by ensuring these children either go back to school or are offered manual jobs like sweeping streets in the event they are too old to go back to school,” he points out.

“By doing this we shall not only keep our streets clear of this menace but similarly discourage others from venturing to move there,” he says.

Kinyua also wants the County government to issue him with a valid trading license to enable him access credit facilities from banks to enable him expand his business.

Such a move will not only increase his profit margin and help him find a permanent place from where to operate from but also salvage more boys from the streets and by employing them in his enterprise and other openings.

By Samuel Maina and Wangari Mwangi

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