The arbitrary arrest of a street child is common. Slums are big, confusing, and dangerous. Police are not always methodical in the way they try to enforce security in a slum. To feel like their doing something productive, they make some random arrests here and there. The greatest victim of such miscalculated police work is the street child. That child may have done nothing wrong other than sleep on the street, or try to make a buck by washing a willing customer’s car without a business license.
Undugu cares about street children and doesn’t want them to have to sleep on the streets. However, Undugu also doesn’t want them unjustly sleeping in a jail cell. That’s why Undugu has created the Undugu Street Association card, or what I consider, the get out of jail free card. Holders of the card are members of Undugu’s Street Associations.
Undugu creates the associations by first identifying a gang made up of street children. Their ages generally range from eight to 20 and though they call themselves gangs, they don’t have violent criminal intentions or organized criminal activities, but rather engage in some mischievous pick pocketing, begging, and petty theft. With Undugu’s guidance, the reformed gang members pick their leaders and set their own rules, which always forbid glue sniffing, drug use, and other illegal activities. The children then benefit as Undugu works with them to find solutions to the problems that prevent them from returning to their families, or finding a new home, or enrolling in school. The children become a positive force in a slum that needs some positive forces. However, members of the associations are still the victims of random arrests at times.
What does a member of the association do when being arrested? He shows his Undugu Street Association card to the police officer and it usually prevents his arrest (unless he actually was doing something criminal). The card has his picture, lists his name, age, tribe, occupation (most common: metal collector, recyclable collector, or handcart operator), and name of the Undugu Street Association (like the Jets or the Sharks) that the child belongs to. Sometimes, the child is arrested anyway. When he gets to the jail, he calls the number on the back of the card and someone from Undugu comes to the rescue. It’s the perfect get out of jail free card. The only catch is that for it to work the child has to actually not been doing anything illegal.
Saving street children is the core of Undugu’s mission. The problems surrounding life on the streets are great. The causes for such a life are even greater. That means that Undugu has to be creative and forward thinking in how they address the results of street life and the causes for it.
Undugu’s latest and most important approach to helping street children is to engage in some serious advocacy and lobbying work. Undugu wants to make lasting changes in policies, laws, and cultural practices that foster streetism. That’s why I’ve been sent here by The Advocacy Project; to help Undugu begin their first comprehensive advocacy and lobbying campaigns. The people at Undugu have identified three key issues to be addressed; glue sniffing, the requirement of school uniforms as a barrier to receiving “free” primary education, and the misuse of Kenya’s Devolved Funds intended to go towards development and helping the needy. In the next two months, I’m going to focus on these issues with Undugu. They are interesting issues and they affect the daily lives of millions of the world’s poorest people. The human faces attached to these issues are real. I’m going to keep writing about them and reporting on Undugu’s progress to help them through advocacy and lobbying.
Posted By Jonathan Homer
Posted Jun 28th, 2007