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Here’s how you can help kick out street kids from CBD

By CORNELL NGARE @cornellngare

Your generosity and your “heart for the poor” are probably behind the large number of homeless children on the streets of Nairobi. I know, that sounds like a ridiculous claim I have just made. But trust me; it may be the sanest thing you will read today.

The scene is a familiar one, you are strolling down the sidewalk hand-in-hand with your special other when this young girl or boy approaches you. She looks not much older than ten. In fact, the tattered clothes she is wearing have most likely been around much longer than her.

“UNCLE SAIDIA!”

She makes a beeline for you, one hand outstretched, palm facing up. You probably noticed her long before she noticed you, and started silently praying she will not notice you. You try to avoid eye contact as you mutter under your breath “please bother someone else.” But she has marked you, and since you are walking next to your girlfriend, you are her target.

She knows you need to keep up appearances before your girlfriend. She knows that you would rather give up a few shillings than have to tackle the question “babe why didn’t you help that poor girl?” So you reluctantly dig into your pockets and part with that Sh20 coin. You have done your share of charity for the day, and your girlfriend loves you more for it. Or so you hope.

MISGUIDED CHARITY

But the reality is that you have most probably just made the world a worse place. The truth is that tomorrow you will have to confront more rather than less begging youngsters because you helped out today. You have most likely heard the stories. Stories such as: “they are not really poor,” “they don’t need the money,” and “these children are part of a syndicate that extorts money from the unsuspecting public by manipulating their pity.”

The other more common narrative, especially for the street kids in downtown Nairobi is that “they are just going to use the money to buy sniffing glue.” All these are valid and valuable reasons to think twice before dropping that coin in that cold little palm.

Some of these kids are indeed out to manipulate money out of you. They are the unsuspecting part of a syndicate bigger than themselves. Others will indeed use the money to buy sniffing glue and wind up the worse for it.

HELPING IS HARD WORK

But there is another reason to hold your horses the next time you are assailed by those adorable pitiable eyes – you have a simplistic view of life. You have probably taken the time to sit and chat with these kids. Many of them have tragic tales of why they ended up where they are. Some come from dysfunctional families, abusive parents and others simply could not bear seeing their single mother suffer. So they set out into the unknown.

They are not here by choice, and the sob-story quickly sends your nimble fingers into your pocket. You hand over that Sh50 note and walk off feeling proud of yourself. I used to do the same, for the longest time, until a friend of mine opened my eyes. He works with an agency that helps rehabilitate street children. The first thing he told me about helping the street children was “don’t give them money.”

“You see,” he explained, “children are human beings, and they are not less corrupt than you and I. There could be genuine reason why they ended up on the street, but have you stopped to consider that your hand-outs could be what is keeping them there?”

Yes, these kids learn quickly. Soon they know what strings to pull to get quick cash. Nothing is easier to spend than free money, and so they stay on the street because it is an EASIER life.

“Most of those who end up at rehabilitation centers,” my friend told me, “often run away because they miss the free-spirited way of life on the street.” Of course there are tough times, especially when it rains, and many of them suffer from numerous diseases. But these are little inconveniences compared to the quick-cash-cow that they call “kuduru.”

Last year I visited the rehabilitation center where my friend works and spoke with a few of the boys living there. They told me the same story. In fact, one of the boys, told me that the thing he misses most about the street is the “kuduru” (the begging). At the center, he has to live according to rules and submit to his elders, something that he was not used to in his four years on the street.

So, does this mean that you can now feel better about ignoring those boys and girls when they approach you? Not really. If anything, you should feel worse, because it means that helping the poor is more complicated than you thought. Helping the poor goes beyond parting with loose change as you go about your daily business. It goes beyond walking in a bubble of self-absorption and hoping not to meet a beggar around the corner.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

Helping the poor means going beyond giving your money to giving your time and intellect and heart. It means to start caring about the politics of this country, and how the welfare of those who are less privileged is managed. It means teaching your children to value human life and to respect their wives so that they don’t create dysfunctional families.

Helping the poor means going out of your way to support rehabilitation centers not just with your money but with your worldview. Talk to the young ones, find out what they live for and teach them that there is a better world than what they were born into. Seek out parents who have neglected their children and call them to account. Fight for legal and political systems that will protect rather than oppress the young ones.

Don’t just get into your pocket, get into your heart and spend a little more time with those who are in need. You may just find out that your presence is more important than your present. Educate a child who is not your biological product. Invest in a future that is bigger than your circle of friends. The list is endless, but you get the picture.

If you really want to help the poor, you should probably start with the poverty in your own soul.