While we were feeding the kids on the green space in the middle of town, many people started to gather around to watch. They weren’t helping, just watching. I later learned that many of the people in town don’t support the kids on the street because they think they can just go back to their families. This idea isn’t far off from how many view the homeless population in America - The homeless are too lazy and just need to get a job and can ask their families for support. However, I can’t imagine many in America would fault a child for being homeless, telling them to just go back home to their abusive family.
What struck me most on this day we were feeding the kids was an interaction afterwards. One of the onlookers asked us what good we thought we were doing by feeding the kids. He told us that just feeding them would not solve the problem and asked why we were doing this. My first reaction was to take offense. Did this man not know I have been working with the kids for 8 years? What about him, what was he doing for the kids? How could he pass judgement when he wasn’t doing anything to help the problem? At least I was making relationships. This is how I was able to get the boys together to talk. This is how I started Children of Bungoma. The kids and I would hang out at the Posta ground and every now and then I would feed them. It was a way to build trust. It was a way to continue the conversations with the kids in asking them how they got where they were and where they wanted to go. How dare this man question my work. Of course I knew feeding them one meal wouldn’t solve the problem. How could he be so ignorant in thinking I was ignorant. To this day I am still trying to build trust in the community, especially with the kids. We may not have a lot of money but we do have kindness and intelligence and empathy. I wanted to give this same rant to this man but then another thought hit me, a more important thought, one without judgement or ego.
This person, this community member, had something to say and was actually questioning the actions of an American and of an NGO. Most people would just come up to us and tell us good work and thank you for helping but not this guy. This guy wanted more, he wanted to see actual change. Good for him. We were in a hurry so I didn’t get to speak with the man. Philip explained our mission in brief terms and we moved on. But what I should have done was embraced that moment. With much of the community thinking lowly of the kids on the street, here was a man who was asking important questions and looking out for the well-being of the kids.
What I should have done was asked him more about what he thought the kids needed. I should have asked him what the community needed. I should have asked him what the community could do for the kids, what he could do for the kids. But I didn’t. I was tired and stressed and let my ego get in the way of his statements to us. Even though I didn’t get to ask those questions and engage in a more meaningful conversation, I learned something important that day. I learned that there are some community members that do care and perhaps even more than I give them credit for. I learned that there is hope in this community and that there is a forward way of thinking that goes beyond aide and charity to support and empowerment. The key is to get these players involved. I am not going to solve street homelessness for kids of Bungoma but one day, maybe the community will.