The streets don’t favor one gender over another. Girls are just as easily taken to the streets as boys. But, it is harder to rescue a girl than a boy. There are several reasons for this; sometimes girls become attached to a boy on the streets and sometimes they find an income in prostitution. Prostitution also makes it difficult for organizations like Undugu to contact girls living on the streets since they spend the days sleeping and the nights working. Undugu has tried to correct this problem by occasionally entering the streets at night to identify girls ready for rehabilitation. Yet, when I look at the rosters of children being rehabilitated by Undugu, I still see a large majority of boys. I wanted to understand this better and I wanted to highlight some of the girls living on the streets, so I accompanied my coworker, Marcella, to meet some of the girls she works with. That’s where I met Jane.
Jane was born in the slum of Mathare. There, she spent the first years of her life with her parents and her older brother. Her father died first of Tuberculosis. Her mother died later of what Jane described as a bewitching. She said her mother just started saying strange things and went crazy, so they took her to Kenyatta Hospital where she died shortly thereafter. Jane couldn’t explain her death beyond calling it a bewitching. She also can’t remember exactly how old she was when her mother died, but she must have been young. She has been raised by the streets ever since.
I asked Jane where her older brother was and she said he was “around.” Turns out, she meant it quite literally. She turned to one of the younger boys who was watching our conversation, put her finger on his sweater emblazoned with a soiled Winnie the Pooh, and gave him specific instructions on where to find her brother. Ten minutes later, Peter showed up.
Peter and Jane sat side by side with the ease of siblings. Neither of them could tell me exactly how old they were when their mom died and they left for the streets. Now, Jane is 18 and Peter is 25.
I have a sister that is seven years my elder, just as Peter is to Jane. I can’t comprehend if Lisa and I would have had to survive our childhoods on the streets together. I tried to get some picture of how Peter and Jane helped each other, but couldn’t quite get it out of them. I realized that when all you know of life is scraping by to survive, you don’t have the luxury of reflection to explain how you did it; you just did it. And they’re still doing it. They maintain their existence by collecting plastics to be sold and by doing others’ laundry. Still, they don’t make enough to have a home. Peter sleeps in a lot filled with handcarts and Jane sleeps at a cousin’s place in a nearby slum on most nights.
Jane doesn’t have any kids, but Peter does. His baby is a few months old and lives with the mother and her aunt in a nearby slum. Peter sees the baby every now and then. He speaks about his baby with a bit of pride. Jane speaks of the baby with the same pride, as if it were her own. They named the baby together. It’s a name that speaks volumes. Esther Kanini. It was their mother’s name.
Posted By Jonathan Homer
Posted Aug 11th, 2007