I doubted Thika Town woke up this early on a Saturday, but I couldn’t sleep at all on this morning. So, at 6am I did the not-so-normal act of walking around a sleepy “downtown corridor”, which consists of 8 square blocks of ‘busyness’, but not necessarily a downtown that you may picture. In fact on this morning I couldn’t find one single business that was open for business. Not a cup of coffee, not a mango, not even a newspaper vendor. However I did find one thing that I didn’t expect…my old, err, young friend Kariuki (see Episode 6). Walking by himself, dressed in month-old soiled clothing, and carrying a tattered burlap sack over his shoulder. Once he spotted me, he desperately tried to stash his glue bottle, but by now I am very keen on the infamous “high” of the Kenya street boys. He knew I spotted it, so he hung his head low to greet me. He was, however, still excited to see me and wondered what I was doing out so early, as surely I had a comfortable, warm bed to return to. I suppose I was out so early to find HIM.
It was unusually cold for a Thika morning and I asked Kariuki where he had slept last night. His response was one he had previously given on several occasions, “in the garden” he said. “The Garden” was a spot where the street boys hang out, sniff glue, play cards, and conspire their next money making scheme. I just couldn’t imagine sleeping outside on this particular morning and Kariuki was visibly cold from the night’s sleep. I asked him when enough will be enough to get off the streets. He immediately said he wanted off the streets and wanted to go back to school, but didn’t know how. I told him that we would talk about it at breakfast, but he needed to show me a place that was open this early. It turns out that right next to us, behind several sheets of metal was a “restaurant” that served hot tea and mandazis (a Kenyan breakfast staple).
Over the next 30 minutes I outlined a plan that we could follow to ensure Kariuki would have the chance to go to school. I only say “have the chance” because it is normal for the streets boys to get into school for a week, but then slip back into the life of glue, pan-handling, and the freedom of no parental figure. He eagerly gulped the hot tea and committed that he was tired of the street life and wanted to have a better future that the streets couldn’t provide.
Fast forward to Sunday night. Vowing to give Kariuki a fighting chance, I found myself in the Slums of Kiandutu after dark, which is not advisable on any level or for any reason, especially for a Mzungu (white man). With a full grocery bag in hand, I was on the hunt for his grandmother. For this plan to effectively work, I had to have the whole family involved. Meaning, I would need to also keep them accountable through small incentives, to make it worth it for them to stay focused on keeping Kariuki on the right path. In short, if Kariuki fails, the whole family loses out. What’s at stake for them? Only about 200 Kenyan shillings ($2 USD) per week, but when rent is only 500 shillings per month that is a huge loss to sustain.
After a tense, after-dark search in the Kiandutu Slums, I was successful in my hunt for Kariuki’s family. I explained my plan, gave them the initial ‘offering’ of groceries and set up a follow up meeting with his extended family AND him at the same time in “the Garden” for the next day. I had to make sure all of the participants were on the same page and there was no misconceptions on how the plan would work. The rules are simple: attend school everyday, no glue, no streets, and always try your hardest. If I stop funding this project in the future, I want Kariuki’s family to understand why it was stopped. It wasn’t stopped due to a “funding shortfall” or “government cut-backs”, but because they didn’t follow the plan that was outlined. So here is THE PLAN:
Kariuki’s last completed grade was 6. He is now 16 years old and should be in grade 9 or 10. However, due to malnutrition and years of glue use, Kariuki’s physical looking age is about 11 or 12. For this reason he will be able to get back into public school and restart at grade 5 and work his way up to grade 10, within the next couple of years. So Megan’s House will cover all of the costs involved in him attending school such as uniform, exam fees, food, utilities, and supplies as well as give a weekly allowance to Kariuki and his family for staying off the streets and not sniffing glue. The cost for all of this? About $20 USD per month. So no matter how bad the economy gets, even if Megan’s House doesn’t take in any donations, I can still fund this young man’s future out of my own pocket.
I would, however, be thrilled if you want to sponsor this project and be actively involved in Kariuki’s success. He told me today, as we sat in the Garden, that he hopes one day to become a doctor, so that he may help children that were born with the same physical malady that he was born with…more on that later :)
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