Shangilia in July 2003

“We’re going to do something for the street children”, promised Kenya’s Rainbow Coalition – before the elections. After the elections however, it turned out that nobody had seriously thought about what and how; so the good intentions got stuck. The helpless city council’s only idea was to move ‘the problem’, that is to say move the children somewhere else.

So 26 more children between the ages of three and 14 were assigned to our project in Kangemi, even though a lack of space made the place already overcrowded at the time. But – unimaginable for us – the 180 children in Shangilia managed to move even closer together.

Fortunately, Suzanne Njeri, the head of the street children project in Kangemi, a slum in the outskirts of the city, achieved first success with her reintegration project. For months, she tracked down family members of the Shangilia children; she negotiated with single mothers, grandmothers and aunts and initiated conversations between the children and members of their families. The result: 16 children were taken in by relatives, but with the promise that Shangilia will continue to pay for their education.

When Shangilia founder Anne Wanjugu died unexpectedly in April 2002, many believed that the project would not survive. But then Suzanne Njeri even managed to boost the project. Last year the children experienced some things for the first time in their lives: every child went to the dentist and now has a toothbrush and a toothbrush mug, as well as a “treasure chest”, an own metal box for clothes and personal items such as school awards or pop star fotos. And in the “Children’s Parliament” they have for the first time a say about what should happen in Shangilia.

By now 14 children go to a secondary school (comparable to high school), and in two years the first will be ready to go to university. But there is also progress in some of the ‘hopeless cases’, children that have permanently damaged their brains through glue sniffing: Samson earns money as a carrier on the wholesale market and Mwaniki sells tea and roasted corn. Peter, however, was just expelled from school for the possession of a roll of the intoxicant Bhang (common in East Africa) and Albert returned to the streets. So new work for Suzanne.

The theater, which helps the children build self-confidence and self-esteem, of course continues. And all the awards won by the acrobats and taekwondo fighters fill a whole closet in Suzanne’s office. One step at a time, the children develop a ‘Shangilia team spirit’ and find pride from their huge family they became a part of: the orphans and outcasts, the strayers, the abused and increasingly so the street children.

But the huge family is in danger of collapse, if it does not get a place to live very soon: a place to sleep, eat, wash, learn, play,… So far, 200 children have been crammed together in tiny rooms, beds stacked on top of each other. During rainy season – it will be hell. But the new Kenyan government still could not agree to provide a piece of land for the children.