By Mercy Kibe
The number of street children in Kakamega town is steadily increasing at an alarming pace.
These street urchins are either orphan or abandoned by their parents. To some, they came to the town to seek asylum after the environment became untenable due to domestic violence.
The famous Muliro Gardens, situated adjacent to the office of Kakamega governor, Wycliffe Oparanya, plays host to majority of them.
While here, they beg for money and food from members of the public who throng the gardens to have a rest, take lunch or sometimes it’s used as a picnic site for lovebirds.
I met Moses Isaac Ojuko aged 9years old and Amos John Anaswa, 13 years old, begging for food at Muliro gardens with their glue bottles on their mouths. With cracked lips and bloodshot eyes, the two appear listless and hungry.
As we sit down to share the Sh30 banana I had bought for lunch, Ojuko and Anaswa narrates to me how life in unbearable in the town.
According to Ojuko, they must ensure that they get the glue at all costs despite being sold at Sh150, they have to take it daily as after getting intoxicated, they forget the problems they face every day.
“Glue costs sh.150 a bottle. We make sure that we go around begging for cash to buy it. It helps us get drunk, forget our problems and be able to move around begging without getting tired,” said Ojuko.
He said they normally along the pavements of shops in the town at night for the last three years. “During rainy seasons, we are forced to sleep while standing on the walls since the pavements is wet,’.
For Isaac Ojuko, he hails from Mugai village in Malava Sub County and according to him; the parents died mysteriously and was left under the care of the relatives who mistreated them including his other two siblings.
Following the mysterious death of their parents, they had to drop out of school and look for ways of fending themselves.
“We were sent away by our grandfather who always victimized us. My two brothers sought asylum at our neighbour’s place who helped them secure casual jobs in Nairobi, I trekked to Malava town, 10kilometers away from the village and started begging food from well-wishers,” he said.
Ojuko said he met a woman at Malava market who gave him Sh50 after explaining his case to her and boarded a Matatu to Kakamega town.
According to John Anaswa who is from Butali area, also in Malava Sub County, his parents divorced and had no choice but come to Kakamega town to look for ways to fend himself.
The two street children wish to get some help to get themselves from the street.
“I would really like to get back home or be taken by good Samaritans who can help me go back to school. If can get education, I know my life will never be the same again” said Anaswa.
Children on the streets are stigmatized by the society. These children are denied access to medical care.
For the case of Ojuko, he has been infected with a skin disease all over his body for the last two months now and his efforts to seek treatment from some public hospitals in Kakamega town have not been fruitful.
Going by the data from the County Government of Kakamega, there are at least 200 street children in the town and according to the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), there are over 300,000 street urchins in Kenya as at December last year.
Governor Wycliffe Oparanya rolled out a rehabilitation plan for the street children in partnership with the Salvation Army Corps, “Marthias Closet Boys” back in 2014 but four years after the program was launched, there is nothing to smile about.
Although the Salvation Army works as a rehabilitation centre for some of the street children in Kakamega town for those willing to change their way of life, this in isn’t enough for this kids since after being given food and clothes, they are forced to go to spend a night on the street.
The church’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Vincent Malewa, said the church has been helping the street children since 2015 and only 70 children have changed their way of life.
Mr Malewa said 27of them have gone back to school, 35 have gone back to their ancestral homes whereas the rest have ventured in entrepreneurship such as car wash business and hawking of household goods in town to earn a living.
Kevin Mwanga, now 25 years old, a beneficiary of the program now is engaged in car wash business with assistance of the church.