Kenya: From The Street To New Life

Napenda Kuishi Rehabilitation is a rehabilitation programme for Nairobi street children, which is run by Comboni Missionaries. It is based in the shanty towns of Korogocho, Dandora, and Huruma in the eastern outskirts of Nairobi. The director of the project talked to us.

Kenny was seventeen when he first came to one of our centres for street children in the shanty town of Korogocho in Nairobi. We immediately saw that he was not like many other street children. He came to us to get to know us and to test us, soon becoming one of the most loyal and active youngsters at the Centre. Gradually he became more open and spoke to us about his leadership gained through violence on the streets, showing us the several knives he owned. Little by little his outward show of superiority was replaced by the anguish and fears that held him bound; secretly, his arrogance gave way to tears, his courage to fear and his anger to hope.

In August of last year, we decided to celebrate a mass for the street children at our parish of Kariobangi. More than 250 street children attended, many of whom had never before been in a church. We had asked each one of them to present at the offertory something that showed who they were, that spoke of their lives and their desire to change. Kenny and his gang presented to the Lord more than twenty knives they had been using to steal from passers-by and to dominate the other bands of the slum area.

The Napenda Kuishi (“I Want to Live”) Programme is a project that aims at meeting children and young people living on the streets of Nairobi and is run by the Comboni Missionaries who are present in the shanty towns of Nairobi with a parish and other initiatives: a centre for life, another for Aids patients and three schools with about 1,400 students in all.

The project is being carried out at three rehabilitation centres for street children from Korogocho, Dandora and Huruma in the area of Kariobangi, in the eastern outskirts of Nairobi where there are more than 200 slums. Despite the increased development that Kenya has achieved in recent years, the phenomenon of the street children is present more than ever. Adolescents and youths who, for various reasons from grinding poverty to being victims of serious violence, leave their families – or what remains of them – and take to an existence of survival on the streets of the shanty town, living off rubbish and discarded food.

Of the children in the Napenda Kuishi programme, 95% are drug addicts. The abuse of alcohol and various drugs that vary from marijuana and heroin to glue and various hallucinogenic drugs is becoming more widespread. About a year and a half ago, Napenda Kuishi decided to dedicate itself mainly to street children from 13 to 20 years of age and today a total of 280 children are assisted in the centres.

In the shanty towns of Korogocho, Huruma Mathare and Dandora where we work, there exists a veritable racket in refuse, forcibly controlled by various gangs. After first meeting them on the streets, the children are invited to come to one of the two centres in Korogocho where they begin their rehabilitation. Our therapies are innovative but also well coordinated with a holistic approach that aims not only at physical recovery and release from drug use but also at offering an alternative way of life to that of the streets.

Our therapy is adapted to groups with specific needs so as to help them gradually to adopt a ‘normal’ way of life. Each morning there is counselling, group therapy and literacy classes. We pay particular attention to the spiritual aspect of the lives of the children, regardless of their religion or faith. They have regular prayer times and meditation. The spiritual aspect is of paramount importance in the journey of rehabilitation and the encounter with God who is love and who loves them unconditionally is always a profound and liberating experience for them.

Our motto is ‘Hope, Dignity and Love’ and one of our aims is to teach the children to hope in a better future, to dream dreams and know they are loved. In the process of rehabilitation we try to reunite the children with their families but this is often difficult since the reason they are on the streets is usually due to their family situation. Many come from families where the parents are alcoholics or addicted to drugs with constant violence in the home. Other factors are extreme poverty and the lack of food. Last, but not least, there is the fact that many of these children are the result of violent attacks on their mothers.

Our third and perhaps more complex centre is the ‘Napenda Kuishi Residential Home’ reserved for the more extreme cases. It is located at Kibiko, a small town in the hills, about forty kilometres from Nairobi and is truly a therapeutic community. It houses around 20 to 28 children from 14 to 20 years of age. Many are addicted to several drugs and have been on the streets for years. Their family situations are extreme – orphans, abandoned or rejected by their families, or they have parents who are drug addicts or alcoholics etc. Their stay in the community usually lasts a year but for some it may last two years. Kibiko is run like a farm with ten hectares for cultivation, where cows and chickens are also raised. It also has a greenhouse.

The therapy at Kibiko is basic and much more intense than in the day centres. When the children first come, they go through various forms of abstinence and serious physical and psychological crises; each child receives personally tailored care with their own counsellors. Kibiko provides group therapy, work therapy on the farm, life skills, mentorship programmes and recreational activities including gymnastics, sports, music and such like. After three months, the children are given the option of joining the local Christian community of Kibiko parish where they participate in various activities such as liturgical dance, youth groups and so on.

It was at Kibiko that Mwaura began once again to really live. When he arrived at our centre he was, like Kenny, violent, aggressive and addicted to various drugs, earning his living by stealing from people on the streets. The first months were very hard – nights suffering from withdrawal made him violent and he tried to escape several times. Slowly the therapy, and especially the love and affection of the staff, found a way into his heart, wounded by being ejected from his home and being subjected to violence, often sexual, and suffering during the long, damp nights at the landfill. Mwaura is now 23 and has learnt to transform his pain, not into anger but hope. His loneliness is no longer becoming anguish, but dreams of a better future. He has regained his dignity, he has begun again to dream and today he is ready to go to university.

– Father Binaghi Maurizio

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