Tuesday, August 4, 2009
This past weekend I played soccer with some Street Kids here in Kenya. It was an amazing experience. Street Kids are kids in Eldoret that help their family earn a living by working in the streets. They run around downtown and beg people for money or food. At the end of the day, they bring all that they have accumulated home to their family. The lifestyle of a Street Kid is very unhealthy. They do not go to school, so there is not much room for advancement when they grow up. Similarly to homeless or inner city children in the United States, these kids often find themselves developing bad habits. Here in Eldoret, huffing glue is extremely common amongst the Street Kids. The glue is highly toxic and has potential to cause brain damage and vision loss if used long-term. When asked why they huff glue, most street kids say that it helps them forget all the hardships they have in life.
A few people from IU in conjunction with some local Kenyans are starting a program called the Tumaini Project in an attempt to transform the lives of Street Kids. Tumaini means "hope" in Swahili. The primary goal of this project is to get Street Kids off of the streets and into school so that they can develop skills necessary to get a job in the future. The Tumaini Project is in its initial stages, so fundraising has just begun in the United States. Its leaders hope to raise enough money to build a few centers where Street Kids can go to learn and play. In the meanwhile, several small activities are being instituted for the kids. One is a twice-weekly soccer game, which I participated in on Saturday. We went out to the barracks where the Street Kids live and played soccer with them in the field. There were approximately 40 kids in a 40-yard space, so it was mass chaos. I really enjoyed it though. The kids were unbelievably nice and welcoming. It was fascinating to interact with them in their own setting, as opposed to being approached by them on the streets of town. They were so different at home, and in a way, they regained their innocence when I saw them on the soccer field.
After the soccer game, the leaders of the Tumaini Project bought some milk and a loaf of bread for all the kids who participated. The idea behind this exchange is the following: Taking time to play soccer means that the kids lose time on the streets, and therefore, do not have anything to bring home to their family. Thus, if the kids have an incentive, they will be more willing to get off the streets and play.
In the upcoming months, the Tumaini Project will be starting health care for Street Kids. Medical students, residents, and physicians from the IU House will volunteer their time once or twice a week to provide check-ups as part of the mission to introduce the kids to a healthy lifestyle. This program has already made great strides since I’ve been here, and I can’t wait to see how far it progresses in the next year or so. It was a pleasure participating in the event this past weekend, and I plan to attend as many events as possible in my last three weeks here.
I’ve posted a few pictures for everyone to see. There is one of the barracks next to where we played. It is a picture with a few tall buildings, and just in front of the buildings you will see some shacks, which is where many of the kids live. There is also a picture of a couple of street kids huffing glue. They walk around with the glue stuck to their lip – it’s actually pretty amazing how they get it to stick there for so long. There are a few pictures of us playing soccer. The other Mzungu (aka white person) is Ryan, one of the other medical students here with me. Notice that a lot of the Kenyans play in khaki pants, dress pants, loafers, boots, bare feet….whatever they have. Also notice that the field is filled with potholes, rolling hills, small shrubs & trees, and rocks. I found that 90% of my concentration while playing was dedicated to trying to stay on my feet! The last picture I posted is of the road that leads up to the barracks where some of the Street Kids live. You can see shacks on the left and the dirt road in the middle. I hope everyone enjoyed my story about the Street Kids. Working with them has been a memorable experience – one that I will hold close to me for many years to come.
I love and miss you all. Take care and God bless.