It is amazing how much you can learn about an organization in such a short time. These past two and a half weeks have been filled with meeting the what seems to be 100 USK employees, attending meetings and being taken out on field visits. How USK works is finally making sense, and I have to say, my experiences so far have left me utterly impressed.
Last week I was taken out to the field to meet some of USK’s Street Children and Youth Associations, groups of children and youth living and/or working on the streets. USK field officers work outside the office, identifying children and youth on the streets in order to help them form these associations. The goal is to help members help each other kick drugs, stop engaging in criminal activities and get their lives on the right track. Once a group is identified, USK helps them form group rules, choose a leader and register formally with the government. An innovative part of this process is the use of youth who used to be on the streets as youth facilitators to help gain the trust of others and bring them into this process of transformation and empowerment.
David, a volunteer and Bernard, a youth facilitator.
Once associations are formed, USK field officers and facilitators visit the groups on a weekly basis to make sure the groups are sustained and to deal with issues they face. For instance, in the first association I visited, there was a member complaining about his recent arrest and detainment by the police. Later, a police officer interrupted our meeting and did not care that the association showed their government issued certificate denoting that they are an official group. So at the monthly meeting of USK Children and Youth Progamme staff and volunteers, police harassment was discussed as a major issue facing street association members. Ideas were discussed to solve the problem, including talking to influential members in the police department in order to curb such harassment.
John, a street association member.
Later that day, we visited another association, this one being brand new. One of its members was a 16 year old boy who had only been on the streets for two weeks. He told the youth facilitator that he wanted to go back home so the field officer documented the boy’s information and will try to reintegrate him with his family. If it weren’t for the visits by USK field officers, facilitators, volunteers and interns, this boy may not have found help to get back home.
In addition to the street associations, I have also visited some of the non-formal schools USK runs as part of its Basic Education Program. I visited two of these schools, one in Mathare and one in Pumwani, two informal settlements in Nairobi. These schools are for children that have had no or very little formal education, therefore they teach children from a variety of difficult situations. The headmaster of the Mathare school even told me that some of the students were staying at the nearby camp for internally displaced people as a result of the post election violence.
Internally Displaced People camp.
Once students graduate from the basic education program, they choose a trade they want to pursue. USK gives students knowledge on how to choose an appropriate trade and find a trainer in the profession they choose such as hairdressing, mechanics, driving, dressmaking, etc. I visited youth at their apprenticeships in hairdressing and saw how the program works. Once a youth finds a trainer, they work alongside them to learn skills necessary to gain employment or start a business of their own. USK monitors their progress by visiting them and signing their daily reports of skills they have practiced. Also, once a week, trainees attend a theory class in their trade facilitated by experienced instructors from the informal sector. What’s more is that it is not just students from the basic education program, but members of street associations that can receive skills training as well.
So in the past few weeks I have seen how USK provides a hopeful future to Kenya’s poor and marginalized children and youth. This time has shown me that USK is amazing and even though I may have made you realize this in these few paragraphs, seeing what they do first hand has given me such an appreciation that I feel I have not been able to describe their greatness adequately in words.
Posted By Kristina Rosinsky
Posted Jun 11th, 2008