, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 22 – When 16-year-old Vincent Odhiambo ran away from home, he did so to search for a better life in the streets. This may sound ironic but the teenager was fed up with his step mother and was ready to take anything else other than stay at home.
Vincent narrates that his mother died when he was only three-years-old.
“I don’t even know her,” he says adding that since then he has had countless step mothers.
“My father used to bring different step mothers and I did not like them. So it was quarrel every time and they beat me because I was still young and that made me often run away from home,” the youngster says.
He remembers a time a few years back when he was living in Kabete about 20 kilometers from Nairobi with his parents and he ran away from home to stay at the Kabete campus.
“I was taken back home by the administration and that’s when I decided to go and live in the streets because life was hard at home with a step mother.”
He says life in the streets was much better than being at home.
“I would wake up in the morning, go and hustle and then at night I would collect beer cans from bars and sell them. Sometimes I could earn up to Sh500 and if you use it wisely you have no problem,” Vincent who is the eldest in a family of three narrates.
“At night I would negotiate with the watchmen especially those guarding restaurants and they would give me food remains,” he says.
I met Vincent at the Don Bosco boys in Nairobi, a school started in 1990 to help and reform needy children especially street kids.
He and a group of his colleagues at school had just arrived from Kakamega where they had participated at the Kenya National Music festivals and won the first prize in the folk dance category by performing a Bagisu folk dance from Uganda.
They were also among 25 schools chosen to present to the President at the State house Nairobi.
“I am a singer and I sing songs like for Tony Nyadundo and I believe am the next upcoming superstar,” he says with a beam on his face and drum beats from his colleagues filling the air.
Vincent joined Don Bosco boys in 2008 and he says it has changed his life positively and he appreciates the fact that he is able to exploit his talent.
“I have many visions and I have put them into categories. I want to study hard and become a lawyer and at the same time I want to nurture my talent and become a top musician, the next Tony Nyandundo,” says the standard six boy.
Vincent now goes home, at Babadogo where his parents and two siblings live after every three months during school holidays.
“I am not sure whether my step mother is there now because I left when she had been told to go and live in Siaya (rural home),” says the teenager who wants to become a lawyer and a musician in future.
Dickson Munyalu’s story is a bit different. He came from a needy family and was admitted at Don Bosco Boys when he was in standard three.
“They saw my potential, supported me for my primary education after which they sponsored me to Don Bosco secondary school in Embu,” he explains.
The 18 year old performed well in school and managed to score an A- in his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education last year and wants to study medicine.
The only thing Dickson is lacking is finances to pay for his University education.
Father Sebastian Chirayath, Director Don Bosco Boys says the institution which is currently supporting over 300 children mainly from the streets needs more funds to continue supporting them.
“It costs us about Sh20million annually to put them through school, feed and house them,” he says.
“We have had funding agencies but they sometimes give support for only a specific period of time. Like we had an agency from Holland who had been funding us for the last ten years but now they have pulled out which leaves us with a vacuum of about Sh5million which used to cater for the school expenses of these children,” the Director says.
The school started in a humble way as a weekend programme in 1990 when Nairobi was full of street children.
“We used to gather them from the streets and play together over the weekends. We had no classes so we would go to the streets on Saturdays and Sundays and spend time with them,” Fr Chirayath explains.
He says they later acquired a small plot of land within the Kariua slum in Nairobi.
“This was a no- mans lands between two buildings and we put up some temporary structures there where the children stayed and we would send them to school to areas like parklands primary school and those others around,” he continues.
He says a few years later they got a plot near Karen hospital where they moved to.
“It was at that time that Cardinal Otunga (the late) donated this plot of land where we are currently situated and we began constructing in 1997 and later moved here in the year 2000,” he says.
He says that all the children who join the institution go through rehabilitation process which ranges from six months to a year because most of them either come from the streets or remand. When they prove that they are ready to join the normal stream of education they join the Don Bosco boys for regular classes.
Fr George Kocholickal also of the Don Bosco boys says the major problem is that when they become mature, they have the fear to move on and build their own lives.
“Very often we see that although they grow up to above 18 years, they sometimes lack the enthusiasm to go out and they like to hang on here but we have to push them so that they make their own lives,” he says.
He says the institution also has a technical school for those who don’t score good grades to pursue secondary education.
“When they succeed in life we don’t demand that they give back to us instead we are happy that they can make it on their own,” he says.
There are also volunteers who come from abroad and work with the school for a while and other local volunteers who come on weekends.
I found Peppo Giuseppe Sala, Alessandro Bassi and divide Orsenigo from Italy who had come on a 12 days volunteer trip to Don Bosco boys together with a host of other friends.
“We came here to assist the school put up a green house project to grow tomatoes and other vegetables for the school,” the volunteers said.
Peppo Giuseppe Sala who came up with the idea says he has known the school since 1994 when he met Fr George in Tanzania.
“We collect money from my gym Moving and we call this programme Moving for Africa,” he says adding that they also sell t-shirts to finance the programme.
They are now calling on more well wishers to come out and support the school so that they can put a smile on many children’s faces.