The story behind the face of WACIT

This was my third visit to Nakuru in Kenya and, as fate had it, R had to be the face of WACIT!

When I first met the children in a rural slum in April 2015, an older girl brought this 18-month-old toddler and put her in my lap. She did not move while all the other children introduced themselves. This picture somehow became symbolic of the first phase of WACIT. The visit also proved critical in trying out the training programme with a completely new group, including community leads and elders, that I had not connected with

before. And it seemed promising, giving me a lot of confidence.

When I went back in February this year, we had just tested the organisational strand of the model with regional managers in Nairobi, which seemed to take WACIT to the next level. At the time, R was almost 2.5 years, and more conscious, at least when her mum was not around.

We shared a few photos this third time around with R’s mum, almost at the end of the 6×6  programme. R was growing nicely, although she appeared more interested in her biscuits! It looked obvious that her and WACIT have been growing in parallel, I hope they do in years to come.

WACIT Africa 1: The end of 6×6 with street children workers in Tanzania

It was a pleasant surprise to see so many initiatives for street children in Africa and South America at the conference organised by Railway Children and Jukoni NGOs. A range of individual and family interventions have been developed and adapted for this most challenging group.

Pulling this together to test the WACIT model at the end was a telling opportunity to wrap up the last six weeks.  Time to go back and think through the next steps. Thanks for your encouragement!

WACIT Africa 1: Political cartoons from boys in Kenyan slum

In each country, I asked participating children and young people to draw a topic important to them as contribution to the WACIT art train.

I was surprised that the boys in the Nakuru slum opted to draw political cartoons. Even more so, when I challenged them to tell me their meaning (or parabole, as they called it):

Here is society being torn by politicians (looked to me more like the British PM trying to deal with Brexit!); football players being exploited by agents and associations; and Kenya slowly mending their post colonial relationship with the UK.

There goes another myth that they have neither the interest nor the intellect to be involved and contribute to wider societal issues – it is opportunities that go begging instead.

WACIT Africa 1: A lifelong dream to run in Kenya 

When I was asked to close the sports day with a few words at the Nakuru slum school, I confessed to the young people that, after watching all those great Kenyan middle- and long-distance runners over the years, running with them in Kenya was a dream come true (even if on the slow end…). 

“There is nothing you can not achieve, but you need our help too”. However, I was not convinced they could hear me, at least not yet. Self-belief takes time, particularly if you have been led to believe that there is no way out for you. This is where schools, sports clubs and NGOs come into play in their ‘therapeutic’ role. 

WACIT Africa 1: Living in the slums and having to pay school fees in Kenya

Primary education is now free, and hopefully high schools will follow at some point. But not yet, so these kids have to pay school fees which, no matter how small they may sound to others, are high enough for their parents.

If one adds the non-negligible factors of disengagement and dropping out of school, this could be the tipping threshold for some of them. The lack of opportunities for employable skills only adds to their misfortune, as the gap for further education is by now too high to bridge. 

This is also a difficult predicament for teachers, who have to meet inflexible targets. Transparent sponsorship linked to effort and motivation, and some tokenistic input from parents on some occasions, as implemented by NGOs like FANET in Nakuru, could make all the difference for some youth at a critical life point.

WACIT Africa 1: A girls soccer team like any other, but still in a Kenyan slum 

“Can I join you in central defence?” (sceptically) “Yes, sure…” “Are you good at it, to rely on you?” “I am good.” “Fine, because I’m not!”

True to her word, C was the best player on the pitch. She scored the winning penalty too, and saved my blushes for the own goal (although I did equalise to keep a brave face with the girls). Both teams were fun though, as well as competitive. The participating teachers and the professional commentator from the Journalist Club added an edge to the game (I could hear our names mixed with Barcelona and Rooney…).

Playing on a bumpy and dry field, where it was difficult to control the ball, was the least of their worries. The stats in this urban slum alin Kenya are against them in terms of all the risk indicators surrounding them: child maltreatment, domestic violence, alcohol use and offending. 

Where will these girls be in a few years? Can they built enough resilience through school and other supports in the meanwhile?

WACIT Africa 1: It could be any school sports day, but this is a slum school in Kenya

It was all proud parents expect from their off spring on a middle class school sports day anywhere in the world. It was fun and great skills too across many sports and activities – karate, self defence, gymnastics, girls soccer, you name it.

Yet, this is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Nakuru, Kenya, with so many risk factors surrounding these youth outside school, and blocking their potential. Their teachers were a safe base and the FANET charity input beginning to show.