“I grew up living under a bridge . I lost two daughters to the harsh weather conditions we are subjected to under the bridge. They succumbed to the bitter cold since I had nothing to make them warm”, Margaret Atanda who grew up in the streets of Eldoret town narrated in an Interview with KNA.
Atanda who later gave birth to other children said “because I was not ready to lose one more child I gave up my three children to Open Arms Children Home and everyday it pains me that I do not even have the money to go and see them’’.
Atanda and other street families have converted one of the bridges in Sosiani River that they have christened ‘Jua Kali’, aka ‘the base’, into a home where they shelter and raise their children. What may seem like a dirt path with a lot of smoke is a safe haven to them.
For bedding, beneath the bridge, they have placed cardboards or old discarded mattresses and those with luck cover themselves with blankets donated by well-wishers, but for the majority, they have to do with sacks for protection against the chilly nights.
Each morning, the male adults and older boys go out to hustle for menial jobs that can enable them to have something to eat while the females stay back at the base looking after the children.
“Every day, I go out looking for something to do, most of the time getting jobs such as loading and offloading goods that come to the market. It’s not every day that goods are brought so when I don’t have something for the day, we don’t eat, says Kimani, Margaret’s partner.
The younger children go out to collect used cartons at the dumpsite or dustpins and later sell to people who do recycling. Unfortunately for every sack they fill with cartoons, they are paid a paltry three shillings which they say is not even enough for a meal hence the struggle to fill as many sacks as possible by the end of the day for them to get food.
“When you fall down here, no one helps you, it is you to pick yourself up and keep moving, and sometimes the hunger is too much that is why you see street children demanding money menacingly from passerby’s in the street, “says Margaret.
The harsh conditions they are exposed to while living in the street has forced most of the street mothers to give up their young children to children homes so that they have a chance of surviving.
Mary, mother to a four-month-old toddler said the fear of losing more children to the vagaries of street lives, tough weather conditions and unpredictable access to food forces the mothers to let go of their children as they find it better to give them away than to watch them die or struggle at the base.
“After losing my two girls, I gave birth to three more children whom I surrendered for their own good. Two of them are in Open Arms children home while one is at Kipchoge children’s rescue centre. I always yearn to see them but I don’t have enough money to get me there. At times I am ridiculed by my colleagues who tell me I sire children for other people to adopt, it pains but at least I know that they are in good hands and will have a better future than I,” she adds.
She further explains that she is among the many women who opt to take their children to Open Arms Children Home which they said was best.
Although some of them go out looking for a way out of the streets circumstances drag them back as Sila explained, “I got a chance to be sponsored at an artisan school, Kaiboi technical, where I learnt carpentry hoping that I would get a decent means of life once I finished. However I went out to look for jobs but faced numerous hardships that turned me back to the streets. My tools were stolen and l didn’t have money to buy new ones. Although I am willing to work, I’m not accepted because I look dirty to prospective employers”.
KNA by: Angel Wanjala/Kiptanui Cherono