In a darkly lit section off Outtering Road in Umoja One area is a group of street children. The group comprising both boys and girls numbers about 20 and stand strategically in wait for any passer-by to offer them monetary aid or food.
The ‘base’ as the street children refer to it, is not just a place for begging but a source of income to some. While here, some of them get such jobs as washing people’s clothes or cleaning some kiosks around here at a pay of between Sh20 and Sh200.
Among the crowd is a persistent member of the ‘base’ who is shouting at the top of her voice for the attention of commuters, motorists and traders at the Mutindwa market off the road. “Mummy nisaidie tu ka-hamsini nubuyie mtoto maziwa (Madam, please buy me milk for the baby),” says a seemingly young girl with a baby on her back.
Margaret Njeri, 23, was married when she was 14. She, however, separated with her husband after she got her second child. “My then husband was 19 years old when we met. We met at this base and moved into his house in Kariobangi South. But he started being violent when my second born was a few months old. That is why I left and took my children to my mother. “Maisha ya hii base, unajipatanga tu mmeoana (Here, you can easily find yourself married to a street boy in the group,” she says as she attends to her one-year-old baby who is seemingly oblivious of her predicament.
The first born in a family of three girls reveals that her mother, who had then separated with the father in 2007 left her alone in their home. “We were then staying in Lungalunga and I remember my mother just left to Kisumu and never came back until after a year. This really hurt me. I later learnt that she had been married to another man. I felt betrayed and neglected by my own parents and that is how I ended up in the streets,” says the now mother of three children aged six, four and one.
Her ex husband, who was a street boy used to collect plastics for sale. But later in the eveing he would go back to their single room in Kariobangi.
Njeri sat her Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination at the Star of Hope Primary School in Lungalunga in 2007. She scored 207 out of 500 marks but because her mother could not afford her secondary education, Njeri stayed home. Given some capital, Njeri says she hopes to starts a hawking business in Pipeline area in Eastlands. Her younger sisters aged, 13 and eight respectively, are now on an education sponsorship.
Njeri comes to the base throughout the day and in the evening goes to to her friend’s house in Kariobangi South. To her, the base is just a place to make some money to feed her children.
Although most of her friends in the When their children fall sick, the street mothers say it is the hospitality of a children rescue centre in Umoja 1 area that saves them. When either of them needs sanitary towels, the girls come together and beg strangers for money to buy the sanitary towels from the nearby shops.
“If you interact with the people at this base, you will realise that they are not as poor as people perceive them. In fact, if you went into the houses of some of them, you will be surprised. They only come here to hustle,” Njeri reveals.