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.
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.
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.
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