Empowering not patronising

In true ‘gap yar’ fashion I spent my summer in Mombasa, Kenya working with a not for profit organisation called the Joy Rescue Project. The project aims to protect and rehabilitate children living on the streets in and around Mombasa. They work with local primary and nursery schools to get as many kids back into education as possible. They also work with families of street children to try to rectify the issues which meant the children were on the streets to begin with. This often involves fixing sub standard housing, finding sponsors to fund the school fees of the children and training young people in trades, allowing them to begin earning money.

The philosophy of the project is very much focused on making individuals and communities responsible for the outcome of their lives. This involves developing projects which allow communities and families to be self-sustaining.

The project works with two nursery schools, one in Mariakani and one in Mikindani (areas of Mombasa). It also has connections with other local primary and secondary schools. It is through such connections that the project can monitor the older siblings of the nursery children in their care, and coordinate support for them with, as they obviously face the same problems at home.  However, the emphasis is very much on the nursery schools, educating children between the ages of 2 – 6 years in addition older children who have missed out on the foundations of an education.

Mostly, the children involved in the project were found loitering around slums or begging in Mombasa town. The project helps them locate their family, offers them informal counselling as well as the opportunity to go to school.

I spent the first week volunteering in one of the nursery schools, St. Brigit’s, which has recently begun working with Joy Rescue Project to take on children who cannot pay their fees. The majority of the children who attend have lost one or both parents and usually stay with members of their extended family. Unfortunately these family members cannot always take care of them, let alone pay their school fees.

During the time I was there, school was officially shut for end of term holidays, but like most schools in the area, they stayed open. This is imperative, as it is important that the children do not get back into the habit of begging and as a result, not return to school. Prior to my arrival, there had just been one teacher for a group of 20 children of mixed age and ability. My presence meant we could split the kids up into smaller groups based on ability and teach more specific subjects and topics. I took the smaller class for English, Maths, Singing and Environment classes. The rest of the time I was there (five weeks in all) I worked in different branches of the project fulfilling a similar role, trying to help with the work load of the staff and volunteers.

It is projects such as this which I feel fall under the category of ‘good aid’. The antithesis of this is obviously ‘bad aid’ and by this I mean unhelpful giving which simply reproduces the problems it hopes to solve. However, I feel educating some of the most vulnerable children in the vicinity, is a productive and potentially empowering act, not a patronising one.

So consequently, I was quite sold by this experience of seeing members of a community seeking to support and care for children, whose family have not been able to and who the state have ignored. I was particularly blown away by the generosity of the local community to help support the project. Many families took in a child, despite the fact they could scarcely afford to. As a result, on my return to the UK, myself and a few friends decided that the most useful thing we could do would be to help the community continue to help itself (excuse the cheesy line). Thus, we set up S.K.I.N.S (Street Kids’ In Need Society) and whilst our aim is general fund raising to improve the services offered by the project, we also wish to pursue sponsorship for individual children.

So far this year we have raised £591.25 through cake sales, a breakfast bar, sponsorship and Halloween events. We have a fantastic group of dedicated people all working hard on new events. So if you see us around, let u know what you think of what we are doing so far. If you would like to be involved, please get in touch by emailing [email protected] or find us on facebook.