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“You act like you’re not part of the group and apologise to the robbery victim, then meeting up with the rest and check the loot.”

That’s how Sarah, a former street child, thief and alcoholic, describes a typical scam. Sarah (not her real name) spoke to the Star at a Kiambu rescue centre where she receives counselling, decent meals, a clean bed and fresh clothes.

She has been there since March when she reached out to a city social worker.

A few years back Sarah was raped and has a child living with her alcoholic mother.

She moved to Nyeri to live with her father, an abusive alcoholic.

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In February she fled to the streets of Nairobi and wanted to die.

The 19-year-old would spend the next month evading the law, fighting alcohol and trying to survive.

She’s slim and has a boyish appearance that helped her survive predators and cold nights on the pavement.

“When I arrived in Nairobi, I didn’t know anyone. I kept walking in circles and each time I would find myself right where I started,” she said. “I met a man who introduced me a lady called Sally and I started living on the streets with her.”

Sarah says that to survive on the street, you need a ‘base’, so she joined other street children near the Central Bank and started moving with them.

They would spot big, fancy cars and beg well-dressed men and women inside for food or money to buy food. It didn’t always work.

Sometimes she sold sweets.

When things got bad, they robbed passersby.” We stole everything — watches, chains, rings, phones, cameras, purses and laptops,” she said.

If it looked valuable, they would snatch it.

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Usually one of them, often a ‘non-threatening’ girl like Sarah would ask the target for directions and the other kids would strategically surround the victim.

“If I approached you, said I was lost and needed directions to Westlands, you would want to help me. As we would speak, my friends would stand behind and beside you,” she said.

The ones in back would rob you “and I would act like I wasn’t part of the group,” the former street child said.

Those beside the victim would act as back up.

“Afterward, you’d act like you’re not part of the group and apologise to the victim, even asking forgiveness before leaving to meet up with your friends,” she said.

When they stole trackable items such as phones and laptops, they took them to be wiped clean before selling them.

“There’s a place where they charge Sh200 to flush a phone and Sh500 for a laptop. You need to act fast because the items are trackable, so if you don’t immediately find a market you sell at any price,” Sarah said.

Afterwards, they’d split the money.

“If you are assigned to market the item and you sell it at Sh10,000, you tell the group you sold it for Sh5,000, then give them their cut and keep the rest,” Sarah explained.

Most spend the money on drugs and alcohol.

Sarah used to buy marijuana and alcohol because she needed something that helped her feel okay.

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She’d sleep on makeshift beds of cotton and sacks and have to constantly evade authorities and periodic roundups of street families.

“You couldn’t separate me from my alcohol. The environment is ruthless because there are days (Mondays and Fridays) that we cannot sleep in the CBD to avoid arrest,” the former urchin said. “We had a cop we called Kapastor who would throw tear gas at us or beat us up.”

Some people try to save money through trusted friends, so they rent small rooms and leave the streets.

In March, Sarah couldn’t take it anymore and when she saw a city social worker on the street she asked for help.

She’s spent only about a month on the streets. Her journey to sobriety and a better life has just begun. Now she feeds chickens and does chores.

Sarah hopes to enrol in a polytechnic so she can support herself and her child someday.

– The Star

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