Alixa Sharkey

Alexi Sharkey (Undergo Society of Kenya - USK): Alexi graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2007 with degrees in Political Science and French. She then spent a year in Yenta, Shandong Province, China, teaching Global Issues and English language courses. Alixa has also undertaken projects with immigrant youths in Lexington, Kentucky and interned for the Conceal General du Calvados in France. At the time of her fellowship Alexi was a graduate student at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego with a focus in International Politics. After her fellowship, Alexi wrote: “One day I was really grumpy during one of the training sessions, when one of the students came in and you could just tell he was so happy. So I asked him, 'Elias, you seem really happy, why are you so happy?' And he replied, 'because I am here and I am learning to bog.' And then I couldn't help but be happy as well...For now all I will say, with confidence, is that I am a much more patient person.”

Wilson Youth Group and Kenyan Prisons

08 Sep

Wilson Youth Group, one of Undugu’s many Street Associations. They got their name because they live close to Wilson Airport. The members are all homeless without so much as a semi-permanent shelter. They live on the street, they work on the street.

Wilson Youth Group posing next the the dump site by Wilson Airport.

Wilson Youth Group posing next the the dump site by Wilson Airport.

They have a constitution, and they have a dog. However, they cannot register with the government because they don’t have IDs. If you don’t have an ID, it is assumed you are a child, and a child cannot register an organization.

To earn money they dig through the trash which is brought from Wilson Airport and dumped next to their base. When the garbage is being delivered, people line the walls of the dump site, and as soon as the bags hit the ground each individual starts pulling as much trash towards himself as possible. They compete for the most garbage. They can sell almost everything they find: plastic, paper, glass, empty printer cartridges, bones, soles of shoes…

Unfortunately it has been several weeks since Wilson Airport has dropped off any trash. And if there is no garbage, then they can’t make any money, and they can’t eat. They can’t go to Wilson Airport to pick up garbage themselves or they will be arrested for trespassing (they’ve tried this before). They are barely able to scrape by making less than 100 shillings in two days ($1.30).

They sleep where they can, under what they call “papers” (plastic sheets), old boxes and newspapers. When it rains they do their best to cover up, they acted this out for me to illustrate how even if they cover up when they wake up in the morning at least one side of their body is completely wet.

They took turns showing me where they sleep at night.

They took turns showing me where they sleep at night.

Perhaps the biggest problem they face is police harassment. When the police find them just laying around outside (trying to sleep) they are often beaten or arrested… “for being idle.” Recently 10 members of Wilson Youth Group were arrested. They were at a nearby pub when the police arrived and arrested everyone inside:men, women, and children. They were accused of being drunk and disorderly.

They explained that “if you’ve got a little something for the police then it’s OK, but if you have nothing in your pockets…”

They were all sentenced to two weeks in prison or to pay a fine of 500 shillings a piece, which none of them had. If Undugu learns about the arrest of anyone involved in a Street Association, they will go to court and advocate on that person’s behalf. Unfortunately, in this case it all happened too quickly and no one called Undugu. So all 10 spent two weeks in prison.

Mambo, talking about his recent experience in prison.

Mambo, talking about his recent experience in prison.

Here is what I learnt about Kenyan prisons. They are extremely overcrowded with about 150 people in a 10m by 6 m room. They have to sleep like “firewood” (or sardines). If one person rolls over, then everyone has to as well. For breakfast they get a cup of watery porridge, for lunch a small handful of ugali and some greenish water with a leaf of skuma wiki floating around. There is a little shop inside the prison, if one has money they can buy more food. Good luck to the individual who is seen with money in prison. Apparently, young teenage boys can be found in the same prison as grown men. If a child is arrested by themselves they are taken to a juvenile facility; however, if they are arrested in a group with older guys then they are treated like the older ones.

Of course it is dangerous to be young and small in such a situation. A DSP participant told me that when he was in prison when he was 12 years old the older men would take his food, his blanket, his shoes, his clothing…and of course the young boys were beaten.

Posted By Alixa Sharkey

Posted Sep 8th, 2009

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