LIFE ON THE
Mlango Kubwa is a small sector of the Mathare slum, the second-largest slum in all of Africa. Here is where we find many of the street boys that attend Alfajiri throughout the week. Life in Mlango Kubwa, and across the slum, is unspeakably difficult. The kids often have very little to eat and possess few opportunities, if any, to earn money. In addition, most have no adult role models, and worse yet, often have suffered terrible abuses within their homes or out on the streets. In general, they must fight to survive within the dismal streets each day, and tomorrow is never promised. Despite living in some of the world’s worst and most inhumane conditions, these kids are beaming with smiles, generosity, and curiosity. When given a space for art, they are creative, engrossed, and often strikingly gifted. These talents are on full display when they come to Alfajiri, a calm and safe environment for creative self-expression. When given grounds of boundless art expression, the Alfajiri staff is able to discover the unthinkable horrors that go on in the streets of Mathare, and do all that they can to help.
The “base” (seen above) is what the street boys commonly refer to as their home in Mlango Kubwa. The base usually consists of younger boys living in a communal fashion and taking care of one another. This “base” is all they have, and its referred to this way because these orphaned boys have no home and no structure in which they sleep within the slum. Incredibly, though abandoned and often abused, these “street kids” bond together, recognizing their camaraderie, and find “safe” places between the alleyways of ram-shackle dwellings where they can sleep. That is until they are obliged to move on by external forces. When walking through Mlango Kubwa, it is hard to ignore the complete lack of infrastructure, sanitation systems for trash, and human defecation on every corner. Little government intervention has been developed throughout Kenya to dispose of the increasingly worsening trash issue. Although this is a nationwide problem, the benefit of these heaps of trash is that it offers some of the kids a place to sleep and others food scraps for consumption to stay alive. These children are left with no other choice than to seek these places because of their traumatizing home situations. Likely some boys steal to survive, so in the streets general competitive insecurity due to the insufficient food and water available brings out the worst in those who can catch them. Education is crucial in areas like this as it is an opportunity for a brighter future and a way for kids to earn a more healthy living. Until then, children on the streets have to resort to a mere survival of the fittest to make money by begging and stealing. Theft and crime in the area have also brought a heavy police presence to Mlango Kubwa, which has resulted in unjustifiable killings and further violence in the streets.
The inexplicable trauma that these boys endure gives Alfajiri a reason for being, and that is to rehabilitate. Our grounds are a secure sanctuary apart from physical and emotional abuse, theft, neglect, drugs, and hunger. When a child arrives at the Alfajiri center, they are met with serene peace composed of canopy trees, many places to play and roam safely, and of course, numerous art form practices that ease the mind and provide a much needed escape from the harsh reality of life in the streets.
WORDS FROM A VOLUNTEER.
John Wiercioch at the base in Mlango Kubwa
"Kenya’s response to COVID included curfews and lockdowns, meaning no one on the streets after sunset. These kids have no home — yet when found on the street, the police routinely beat them! It was even more horrific to learn some sick people would toss them food that’s poisoned, perversely as a way to rid the streets of their “pestilence.” This may seem unthinkable, yet for impoverished folks who feel trapped in a slum, it’s a reality. Many of these boys fall prey to terrible diversions like sniffing glue or rags laced with jet fuel, which temporarily eases their hunger pangs and numbs the harshness of their life. Of course, like all in Mathare (and slums everywhere) they are at great risk to diseases and health issues from unclean water and food, and lack of sanitation.
These boys know hunger intimately, and I’m sure do what they must to stay alive. But they also smile and laugh and tease each other; they care and are kind and truly ache to just be accepted and treated with some degree of dignity. They were elated we had come (we told those we had worked with at Alfajiri the day before that we’d visit) and clearly it meant the world that someone was interested in them. It’s one thing to work with kids and be aware they live in extreme circumstances, it’s another to immerse oneself, even for a brief time, within their world." - John Wiercioch