19 Jun Challenged and inspired: A lesson in community outreach efforts in Kenya.
Back home it would be considered a temporary holding center for children picked up on the streets, or a juvenile delinquent center, or even a safe house for parents to leave their children. All of these categories are quite different, so when the East Africa Youth in Action team visited the Remand Home with our partners in Kisumu, Kenya, we expected these children to fit the stereotypes that go along with these types of facilities. Prior to visiting we were also told that the home was operated through the government; sadly this left me with small expectations for the place. When we arrived the first day, unfortunately my experience was well below my already low expectations. The Remand Children’s Prison would have been a better fitting name for the organization. The facility was made in the 60’s for a capacity of 80 and now renovated, is currently pushing 90 children. The rooms were infested with bedbugs and often smelled of urine in the younger children’s’ rooms. All the rooms were connected to a cement courtyard in the middle. The fences around the property were broken, so the children had no access to any grass areas for fear of escape. The frustrating part about these problems is that the lack of government support seemed to be the root of all the issues. With the budget from the government continually on the decline, this has stalled improvements to the home. The issue of delayed paychecks offers little incentive to motivate staff for the betterment of the youth.Amazingly, even with the poor living conditions of the Remand Home, the children were in great spirits. Our partners at Young County Change Makers have been amazing to watch as they have taken time out of their busy schedules to work with the children at least once a week at the home. Seeing how the children look up to Brian and Mike was truly inspiring. We were able to see them in action on our first day at the Remand Home. OG split up into three groups working with girls, younger boys, and older boys. I had the opportunity to work with the little boys, revealing many talented artists. Marlee, Devan, and I brought out the water colors and paper to about 30 little ones, and their faces lit up with excitement. It was amazing to see how creative these kids are without any given ideas – drawing houses, sayings, and families. I, however, have never been able draw unless someone told me what to draw as a child. As the kids finished up their drawings they would show each of us looking for some sort of admiration, which was adorable. The lack of affection was shown when interacting with the children. Even in their unfortunate situation they still managed to laugh and play with us, which was an uplifting experience. On the last day the children of the Remand Home put together a talent show. One older boy in particular stood out to me as he stood in front a group of about 90 and sang. He sang about how people will tell you you’re never going to do well in life but to never give in to this idea. The chorus was what stuck with me the most, “one day, you will make it”. I felt myself getting emotional just listening to the passion in his voice as he was singing. Everyone could see the strength in these children through watching the rest of the performances. In the end we set up 20 double, much needed, mosquito nets to replace some broken ones and add new ones for the children. As we finished up hanging the nets, a little boy came up to me, shook my hand and thanked me for giving them new nets. This simple thank you meant the world to me, as I was assured we truly were helping the children. Even though this was one of the more frustrating organizations to work with, mainly because of the living conditions and staff involvement, I walked away with incredible stories and friendships that will impact me the rest of my life. Yasmin 2014 East Africa Youth in Action