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New Life Nyambene Spring 2020

Challenges of the destitute child - Joy Waithera's story.

My mother would leave me unattended, with just some food and lock me in our small mud house thatched with iron sheeting. The smell in the slum is unimaginable which emanates from rotting garbage, human waste, industrial smoke and gas from the industrial area.

My name is Joy Waithera, and I was born in Kenya, Nairobi County in a slum called Mkuru Kwa Njenga on 17/09/1999. My early childhood is not very vivid to me, all that is known is that it was very terrible, with a lot of tribulation as I was a girl. My mother had no stable job; she worked as a casual labourer washing clothes for the rich in neighbourhood prime estates like pipeline.

My mother would leave me unattended, with just some food and lock me in our small mud house thatched with iron sheeting.

Mukuru Kwa Njenga is a slum situated on the eastern side of Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. It is adjacent to Kenya's main industrial area where 99% of all Kenya`s manufacturing processes take place. Because of this, Mukuru is the most populated and congested slum in Kenya. This is because it provides skilled and unskilled labour to the industries.

Mukuru has dingy houses built with mud and thatched with waste iron sheet or polythene. Most of the houses have standard measurements of 3m by 6m which can host up to 6 family members. There is no kitchen or toilet.

To deal with a of call of nature, one has to relieve oneself in a piece of polythene sheet and dump the waste in a trench, or the Nairobi river which passes through the slum, or even on a neighbour`s door step.

This kind of environment makes children's life dangerous since there is no playing ground, the children end up playing around the same ditch where human waste and other garbage has been dumped. The smell in the slum is unimaginable which emanates from rotting garbage, human waste, industrial smoke and gas from the industrial area.

These hazardous environments have a negative impact on the slum dwellers' health but no one has enough voice to air their predicaments to the national government.

Clean sufficient water is like a dream to Mukuru Kwa Njenga slum dwellers. Water is sold at the outskirts where a 20 litre bucket of water costs 100kshs which most of the family would use for 3 to 4 days for all their daily use.

Living in this notorious slum one would expect anything since it hosts all kind of people and crimes. These come as a result of the high level of poverty where the entire family live below 100 Kshs a day. Prostitution is rampant in the slum and the old, the young and children are involved. Children are commonly used to peddle drugs even in broad daylight for a small fee of 50 Kshs a day, since the majority of children do not have the opportunity to attend school due to lack of school fees.

The area is manned by organised armed criminal gangs, who invade houses at any time of the day or night and take away anything that can be valuable or even demand protection fee. These criminal gangs are feared even by the crime prevention unit and regular police. None of those units patrols in the area since the gangs are armed with more sophisticated weapons than the Kenyan police force.

If you are born in the Mukuru slum, it is a miracle to attain the age of 35 years.

Many cases of water borne and air borne disease kill most of the young children in these slum. I recall when I was young living there, I witnessed the deaths of three children who I used to play with; and no one had a clue what the cause of death was. Dugs are the second killer, and HIV related diseases like TB follow. Others are killed by thugs or fire.

It is a place where only people with no options in life can dwell. When I look back and visualise the kind of life I spent in that slum my only tribute and heartfelt thanks is to Miriam, Charles and UK family for rescuing me. I would have died an immature death a long time ago had I stayed.

Our chair and founder Miriam Westendarp reports on her trip to Kenya: "It was a joyful time, but also very moving because my approach to their suffering is totally different to any they have yet experienced"

Wonderfully, our children were on half-term from school, so I was free to mingle and relax and just be with them. I took them each a wristwatch as a gift, picked up in local charity shops in Kent, which thrilled them as they have so little of their own. I had also made them a very large fruit cake with loads of marzipan because those are flavours they don't have. It was quite squished after its flight! But it tasted wonderful and disappeared at speed.

It was a joyful time, but also very moving because my approach to their suffering is totally different to any they have yet experienced - the Kenyan way is to instruct them to be strong now that the problems are over. Be strong seems to be the watchword for survival. I get that, but in order to be strong you have to become strong. I had enough time to give them space to express their trauma and suffering, to love and hold those who cried as they began to express it, and to pray and encourage them individually.

We have some really bright children in our care - Roy Muriki is No. 1 in his class (age 9) and Kelvin Mugandi has just started at one of the top National Schools because he did so well at the end of his primary education. Not to mention Patrick Mwenda, currently at Jomo Kenyatta University studying medicine - to be a Clinical Officer (one step down from a fully-fledged doctor) - and of course Winifred Kathambi who is now a teacher in a good private school. These are the stand-out clever ones. But everyone now has time and facilities to do their homework, and they are all encouraged to work hard, so things are really changing for them.

As well as meetings with our team members in Kenya to discuss what their vision and understanding is of the work and its future, job descriptions, Child Protection policy, spiritual foundations and so on, to my absolute delight I was also able to meet with 8 of the first young people the charity rescued from the streets many years ago. These 8 alumni travelled from where they currently live or work, and we spent an afternoon together. They are now young adults in their twenties who have struggled to find employment. To put this in context there are currently over 1 million unemployed Kenyans aged 15 to 34so our alumni are by no means the only ones.

It was a marvellous meeting with our alumni because although their beginning was to express their frustration with their lot, we ended up in a place which fulfils our best hopes for a sustainable future. In brief, they intend to create an umbrella company within which alumni will have the opportunity to create businesses of their own or in groups. They have chosen Stephen Kiberia as their Chairman with Joyce Karimi as deputy. Stephen has a diploma in business studies and Joyce finished her qualification in hospitality. So far the ideas are to set up a Clinic, manned by Patrick Mwenda, Joy Waithera (currently studying Pharmacy) and assisted by Frieda Kaweria, also studying Pharmacy and Nursing. Stephen wants to farm garlic and ginger - a niche market which he has researched; five of the lads are forming an engineering group and want to open an electrician's shop, offering services as well as stock for sale; and Joyce is keen to relocate her restaurant.

Their vision is to create a company which will enable not just themselves but also future alumni to be entrepreneurial under its covering, without the solitude and risk of trying to launch themselves on their own, or the nightmare of trying to get employment without parents behind them to bribe possible employers (that is generally how it is done.). They want to feed profit back into the lives of their younger brothers and sisters and provide hope and support for them.

I also met with the Deputy County Commissioner in Meru where we operate as a charity. They have now put measures in place to improve the education of girls - who, as a result, are currently out-performing boys, so the next step is to try to remove some of the complacency in the boys, and get them up to standard too. There is a new curriculum in place, with 13 instead of 6 subjects, which is designed to widen the population's awareness of their global status and international affairs, to improve their ability to understand and make changes, and to train them in the subjects - like agriculture and sustainability - that will improve Kenya's ability to move forward. Our smallest child, Roy Muriki, has this new curriculum at his school, much to the interest of the other children. On the other hand, corruption is now virtually intravenous there. The latest nightmare is that teachers are now demanding a motivation fee. It isn't included on your bill, and you won't get a receipt for it, but without it, your child will be ostracised by staff at his/her school.

And finally, a few words from Adam, Miriam's grandson who accompanied her on the trip to Kenya:

"What surprised me on the drive to Maua were the slums on the outskirts of the capital. We drove through the main, widest road of the slum, where we could see all of the tumbledown shacks put together by the locals. They seemed not to be waterproof - and the size of them! From what I saw from the outsides, the houses seemed like they were just single rooms with no floors, just mud, with bits of metal sticking out around the perimeter of the walls. Of course, these slums would not exist if the corruption that is rife in Kenya did not exist, which is another thing that bewildered me about the country.

One thing that I really enjoyed about being in Kenya was the atmosphere. It was such a vibrant, colourful place, full of different cultures and ideas that were so different from the UK. Another thing that I really enjoyed was spending so much time with the children. It was strange at first, with them only knowing me to be 'mum's grandson', but they quickly accepted me as someone they knew, even to the point of giving me a new Kimeru name! I particularly loved a walk in the hills that all the children took us on, telling us all about the country and the different kinds of trees and plants that they had around Maua.

It was fantastic to see Kenya and all of its positives and negatives in the flesh, for there is only so much that photos can show you."

You can now raise money for our work rescuing and educating street children while you shop at Amazon. When you shop on AmazonSmile, the AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price of eligible products to the charitable organization of your choice. This does not cost you a penny, but it raises valuable funds for our work.

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