Social workers have begun interviewing some 540 children and adults who have been cleared off the streets of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, as part of a government initiative to give them a better life.
"We are doing a screening exercise today to see which of them can be reunited with their families, which can be sent to school, which can go for skills training," Margaret Jobita, the Director of Social Services and Housing in Nairobi's City Council, told IRIN on Wednesday.
"The main reason is to give them a livelihood," said Charles Amunga, an administrator and social workers with the City Council. "Our aim to get them off the streets and give them direction."
Following the launch of the initiative last Friday, about 300 boys over 15 years of age are being housed in Pumwani social hall, about 90 boys under 10 and 80 girls and mothers in Kariokor, and 150 boys between 10 and 15 in Bahati. Officials are at pains to emphasise that the programme is entirely voluntary, and that police have not been used to "round up" the homeless.
The teenagers housed in Pumwani also confirmed that they were free to come and go. "I am very happy, we are getting food here," said a boy called Alex. On Friday morning, about 40 street children were even standing outside Nairobi City Council demanding to be assisted and taken to school, Jobita confirmed.
Another teenager in Pumwani, Hassan, told IRIN "they have promised to take us for courses, like mechanics, wiring and driving. Everyone will get on a different course". His friend, John, said "I'm here for sponsoring to learn how to drive. They've promised to help us, we're here waiting for it until we get it." Others said they just wanted to return to school.
PROJECT TO BE EXTENDED
Of an estimated 10,000 street dwellers in Nairobi, the City Council was aiming to rehabilitate about 5,000, Jobita told IRIN. The project would also be extended to the whole country, to avoid people swarming to the capital to avail of the "free goodies".
Since Tuesday, social workers from the City council have stopped "collecting" the homeless in vehicles, in the hope that more will come forward of their own accord.
Meetings are ongoing to determine the needs of the homeless, and numbers of places available in schools, rehabilitation centres, training institutes, and old people's homes. But many questions remain unanswered, not least how Nairobi's street population will manage to "fit in" to conventional society after years on the streets, glue and alcohol abuse, patchy levels of education (if any), and extremely high incidences of violence and rape.
Some of Nairobi's street children start fending for themselves as young as four and five years old.
Funding is also an obstacle. The City Council, which is implementing the pilot initiative, has an initial budget of only 2 million ksh (less than US $26,000).
Next week a stakeholders meeting is planned to try to gain further support, Jobita said.
But in the meantime, funding for tuition fees in training institutions, (secondary) schools, or people's upkeep while they are being trained, is simply not available.
"There is no answer to that problem," the Council's Town Clerk, Jack Mbugua, told IRIN.
He added that most people should be able to integrate back into society with the help of available counselling.
"But for those who've been on the streets for a long time, it could be a problem," he said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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