Allow me to preface this blog by stating that we are not promoting such behaviors outlined below. The following tactics are simply what we have observed through our outreach work.
The sad truth is that even in the small rural town of Bungoma, Kenya there are approximately 70 children living on the streets. Day and night are spent using these strategies to survive. The daytime is spent searching, begging and/or working for food while the nighttime is spent finding a warm and safe place to sleep. Not every day is successful in achieving such goals. However, those who entertain these strategies are more likely to survive on the streets.
1. Rummage Through the Trash
Bungoma does not have a landfill because of the lack of available land. Therefore, there are trash pits around Bungoma that are filled and then burned. Better get what food you can before it is set on fire! The best time to find food is when the shops and restaurants are closing so that you can get the food that was not eaten that day, as it is thrown out behind the businesses. If the shop owners trust you enough they may even ask you to perform a small job in exchange for some food. Take this opportunity as it does not come around often!
2. Sniff Glue
To help reduce hunger pains and keep warm at night make sure you get yourself some glue from your local shoe repair shop. But be wise because you won’t be able to get the glue directly from the shop. One of the older kids will go to the shop to buy a large quantity of the glue so that it is less obvious what the glue is being used for. Then buy your glue from him. Find a small bottle to keep your glue. Other kids will try to steal your glue, so make sure you hide it in the top of your shirt. Leave the top of the bottle showing so that you have easy access for sniffing. The high of the glue will make your situation feel less daunting. *WARNING: This coping mechanism is not good for your health.*
3. Don’t Get Caught Breaking the Law
You take a risk when you steal food from street vendors or beg for money. In rural Kenya, the law is a little laxer. This doesn’t mean that you get away with more things but perhaps the exact opposite. Not only are the police more corrupt because of a lack of oversight but this also means that there is a sort of civilian law where citizens will elect and act upon their own consequences for crimes. It is not uncommon for a mob of people to go after someone who has been deemed a thief. Many of the people in Bungoma have not found sympathy for you. They believe you are a burden and should be punished for living such a lifestyle. The police will find any reason to belittle and arrest you. Citizens will blame you for crimes even if you were not the one who committed the crime. You are an easy scapegoat. Be safe and be aware of your surroundings.
4. Find a Place to Sleep
It’s gets cold at night. Sometimes you will not have a blanket and it’s dangerous to build a fire because it will bring attention to your whereabouts, making it easy for the police to find and arrest you for anything they think you may be doing wrong. It is best to find shelter in a shack or other sort of small building. The best place to go is the hut that is used to store charcoal. The man who owns the hut is very nice but there isn’t a lot of room, so get there early. And always make sure you find a sleeping place with someone you trust. It is best to not be alone, as you don’t want to be taken advantage of.
5. Have Fun with Your Friends!
Sure, life on the street is hard. But children have a resilience and drive that can be impressive when compared to adults. Follow the crowd to the local field and play a game of football. You might be able to even round up a team of fellow kids living on the street to play a team that has proper coaching and training. And you know what, your team will probably win! Now that’s good for morale. If you’re lucky, the local missionaries might bring by a snack for you after the game.