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Chapati Forum, The Right Gesture But Wrong Solution To A Complex Phenomenon.

State House Director of Digital Communications Dennis Itumbi organised to feed about 3000 street children at Nairobi’s Moi Avenue Primary School yesterday and then had them share and enjoy chapatis with guests at his birthday celebrations.

Unfortunately, at around 3pm, volunteers and celebrities had attended the fete had to scamper for safety as police fired five times in the air to disperse the crowd as the street children who had not had enough, forced their way in and scrambled for the food.

This left so many unanswered questions in my mind on if this was the right way to deal with the street families’ menace.

Though Itumbi’s gesture was in good faith, I believe it exposed our ignorance into the plight of these families. It was an indirect message that as a society, we have missed the point on street families phenomenon.

To cut the story short, we have our priorities wrong. Why? Have you asked yourself where these people went after the ‘bash’? Are these same kids on the streets today, a day after enjoying the chapati delicacy?
If they came back to the streets this morning, then what my brother Itumbi did was a temporary remedy to a long-term problem… meaning that the problem is still here with us.
I am not against what the volunteers did. Nope! Don’t get me wrong on that. The forum sent a message that there are people who have time for those who many might not have time for them. It showed that as a society, we have power to do something for others whenever an opportunity comes up.

However, I believe that we need to have a broader approach to the street families’ challenges.  Their solution may not be in giving out foods, clothes and handouts. We need a more complex arithmetic that entails creating opportunities that are ‘chokora’ friendly.

First, for every chapati or shilling that we give to a chokora, the more lucrative we make street begging and comparatively, the less lucrative we make working. This is bad, for we want these people out of the streets to work, not beg.

Secondly, this gesture rarely increases the quality of their lives. The few coins we give these children is at times spent on glue or drugs or end up financing crime. When we give money, food or clothes to these street families, we perpetuate a cycle of poverty and a strong incentive for them to stay on the streets. It actually locks them into the cycle of poverty they are trapped in.

Let me simply put it brutally, giving handouts to these kids is very wrong because this is a short-term solution that ensures that long-term answers are more difficult to implement. Yes, I know that it feels so cruel and heartless to look a needy child in the eyes and say no in a loud, firm voice. I know it feels charitable and okay, but there are alternatives.

Not giving money to the street kids cuts out the easy option. Our generosity to these people at times do more harm than good. Sometimes even the most seemingly harmless gifts often enable terrible suffering. At some instances when we give these items to them, they later trade these items for glue and other forms of drugs.

So, why should we prioritise giving food and handouts to the street families over a comprehensive and permanent solution to the problem? I believe that there are better ways to give.

As a society, we should pressurise the authorities to establish sustainable projects that result to positive change amongst the street families in minimally disruptive ways.

The imperative to not give money or gifts to street children doesn’t mean we have to turn our backs on them. No! We can donate to responsible NGOs and also look for creative new ways to be kind to children that won’t disrupt familial dynamics.

What happened to the Street families rehabilitation trust fund that was established on March 11, 2003 by the then Ministry of Local Government through a Gazette notice No. 1558 by the Minister late Hon. Karisa Maitha?

This fund was intended to coordinate rehabilitation activites for street families, educate the public on how to handle Street children, mobilise resources and manage a fund to support rehabilitation activities at local authority level.

In the 2014-15 budget, the government set aside KSh 1.3 Billion to cushion the poor and vulnerable Kenyans from harsh times as well as KSh 300 Million for street families. Where is that money and how is it being used?

I believe that the aim of this money was to re-integrate street children into the public school system and society at large and therefore de-stigmatise them.

Street children are an alarm signaling the dire need for social development and poverty reduction policies to improve the situation in the community at large, and to prevent more of our people from becoming marginalised. The phenomenon of street families in Kenya’s urban centres is not only unabated but also a looming security risk. Amongst them, lie highly vulnerable families and communities, many struggling to come to terms with economic liberalisation and growing inequality due weakening of social capital.

While preventive interventions are essential, those children already facing the hardships of street life need immediate opportunities for human development via special protection programmes. Street children are the extreme manifestation of deteriorating social capital and social exclusion.

While the immediate factors responsible for their condition are unique for each child, they generally represent some combination of low family income, lack of housing, failure in school, family neglect and abuse, armed conflicts, natural disasters and epidemics. Development-oriented activities will enable these children to express their potential and to function effectively in both the family and society.

It is good to note that these children cannot be forced to leave the street but the society can establish programmes that have a positive impact being introduced to them in a phased-in transition to allow them gradually change their lifestyle.

The government needs to invest in multidisciplinary expertise aimed at assessing the situation of each child so as to come up with tailor-made life plans and services for each case. They should also design programme activities that involve these children as peer counselors and facilitators since their own life experiences make them potential leaders and advocates of development in their communities.

Programs must also be developed that pay close attention to physical and mental health needs. Public health staff need to be sensitized to the specific needs of street children.

The situation of street children reflects the vulnerability of their social environment. It is therefore important to strengthen the capacity of the family and community to receive and take care of their young members. Their emotional needs should also be addressed.

Lastly, when street children activities are integrated into community development programs, it becomes easier to tackle the multiple causes of child and youth distress and to prepare a favourable environment for children who decide to leave the street.

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