When I was a kid, I had good friends. I was lucky. My friends never peer pressured me to do anything inappropriate (except for a few harmless bottle rockets and maybe a few eggs (maybe)). I remember one time in eleventh grade, a friend and I ended up at a party full of underage drinkers and one of the drinkers insisted that I hold a can of Pepsi. He called it my “safety can.” Ha! Even the drinkers were pressuring me NOT to drink. Needless to say, I was lucky to have great friends who pushed each other in good directions. I realize that I’m unique. Most teenagers aren’t that lucky.
I met one of those teenagers recently. Her name is Regina and she is 17 years old. She has been living on the streets for three years. Regina is unique because she didn’t leave home due to poverty, abuse, or the death of a parent like other children living on the streets. She left home simply because her friends were leaving home.
Before coming to the streets, Regina was living with her mom in Buruburu, a neighborhood in Nairobi. They weren’t living in a bad place. Regina had no complaints of abuse and said that her mom had enough money for food and other provisions. But, Regina had friends who came from less fortunate homes. They were the children who were running away because of hunger and abuse. At age 14, a girl wants to be with her friends. So, Regina joined them in the streets.
At the time, Regina didn’t realize what she was getting into. She left a home with a mother who loved her for the streets where she learned how to beg, steal, use drugs, suffer harassment, and make money through questionable means. She has now completed her three years of street education and wants to go back home.
She asked for help from Undugu. She needs someone to help her apologize to her mother for running away. I imagine her mother will take her back.
Regina’s story left one big “huh?” in my mind. I don’t understand why a child with no complaints about home would choose to be homeless, hungry, and cold. There may be parts of Regina’s story that I don’t know about. There could have been other strong factors pulling her to the streets. There could have been a boyfriend on the streets. She might have actually ran away to live with someone else and when it didn’t work out, she took to the streets. Regardless of why Regina went to the streets, her story still shows something about street life in Kenyan culture. It is accepted by too many people. Children readily accept the option of living on the streets and society readily accepts their place on the streets.
When I was a child, I would have never considered leaving home for the streets because I had never heard of a child living on the streets. It wasn’t part of the culture that I grew up in. But, in Kenya, the street child has been institutionalized in the culture. They are easily accepted as a nuisance, but not as a priority. This has to change. The culture of apathy towards children has to change. If more people talked about street life as if it were an awful tragedy, and not just a common-place struggle, children like Regina would never give in to the streets so easily.
Posted By Jonathan Homer
Posted Aug 3rd, 2007