Thursday, 9 April 2015

Great Minds at Work

The 4 R's

As a child, I often heard mention of the 3 R's:  reading, writing, and 'rithmetic, as keys to a child's success. Later, I was introduced to the 3 R's: reduce, reuse, recycle, as keys to saving our environment. Today, Kenya taught me the 4 R's: RESCUE, REHABILITATION, REINTEGRATION, and RESOCIALIZATION, as keys to saving our children.

Due to abuse, drugs, HIV/AIDS, neglect, and cancer; a number of reasons exist why the children of Waithaka (one of the 6 divisions of Dagoretti, Western Nairobi) end up living on the streets instead of in the safety and security of their parent's home. Today we visited a Center that does not turn a blind eye to the issue, but rather proactively intervenes to rescue the children.

As we drove from the city center, we first passed Kibera, a slum of more than one million. We then exited the highway, and turned down a rough road, alternating between rocks and red earth. We did not pass another vehicle, only pedestrians.  At the end of the road, we encountered the unfriendly site of high walls and barbed wire. Little did we know the beauty of what takes place behind those walls.  

It is the child's personal choice to enroll in the Center. This challenge by choice to transform one's life requires motivation, commitment, and determination from within. The Center has found this rescue approach to work best to ensure that the child truly wants to be there and will proceed through the next 3 R's.

The children range in ages from 7-17, with the number of boys far outweighing the number of girls. Girls often hide the issues they face and so the presence of boys living on the streets is much greater.  We encountered one such group of boys who just began the program, following the first step of rehabilitation, a 10 day orientation, which translates to a detox period to end the habits of sniffing glue, smoking marijuana, and pouring fuel on one's clothing to breathe in the fumes throughout the day. This group of boys cannot move directly from the freedom of the street to the confining walls of a classroom, and so at this stage, they are given more time to play football and engage in other physical activities in the grassy spaces outdoors.  Most had a vacant look upon their faces as they moved about in clothing that ranged from an orange safety vest to long sleeves hanging down past the waist.  A few made eye contact, but not one smile or small wave was exchanged. I cannot imagine the horrors these boys faced to get here, but am so thankful the community-based project thrives in this area.

The students spend the day at the Center where they have access to showers, a healthy breakfast and lunch, and a non-traditional education program that focuses on drama, art, music, videography, and photography. Based upon the classes Necessary Arts attended, students appear to be stimulated by and engaged in the hands-on activities and learning tasks. The arts are used as an educational tool, as well as a form of healing, the very heart of the healing process.  The smallest ones were in art class using crayons to show their comprehension of the life skill of cleanliness.  The middle group were beating on modified drums, those they made out of used products, showing their understanding of recycling. The most advanced group were actively engaged in physical theatre activities within the drama school: "street theatre for social change".  The Center finds over and over again that the students are more eager to receive love and acceptance than a bowl of warm food. This approach to rehabilitation empowers the students through psycho-social education. The drama students are closest to exiting the program, which is apparent in the fact that they easily made eye contact and smiled in return to our smiles.

A critical component to the program is reintegration of the child to the house and to society. For this transition to be successful, the Center reaches out to the family to educate about effective parenting skills, the rights of the child, family planning, domestic violence, sexual exploitation, child labor, and HIV/AIDS. Often the parents themselves are so young they do not know to parent. Empowerment through education strikes again!

The final step is resocialization, whereby the social workers from the Center promote sensitization within the community to identify situations of abuse, to alert teachers or police when problems arise, and in general to focus on child protection and safety. Before a child can be safely exited from the program, the parents must prove to the social worker they can and will care for the child. My favorite component to this step is that the parents must bring an admission letter from the public school guaranteeing the placement of the child. And when this letter is presented, the child is given a new school uniform.

This process of the 4 R's is a personal choice, and I am inspired by the project and the students. During the few hours we were there, the success of the program was visible. There is nothing more important in this world than the safety, protection, and rights of the child. Necessary Arts is full of gratitude to Rosemary and Nancy for sharing this success story with us. We look forward to partnering with AMREF,  its parent NGO company, to contribute to its continued success.