By Dickson Ntwigae, member of the TRF Cadre of Technical Advisers and Rotary Kenya Country Office Trustee
In May 2020, when COVID-19 cases were on the rise in Kenya, we, the Rotary Club of Meru Rotarians, decided to reach out to the most vulnerable group in our community: street children in Meru County. At the time, Kenya had just reported 758 Covid-19 cases, with 42 deaths and 284 recoveries. The control measures implemented to try to limit the spread of the virus had been significant. Schools, colleges and universities closed, and we saw food prices jump by at least 50 percent.
It was a challenging but pivotal moment for us to take action.
Some of the children we helped came from areas bordering Isiolo and Samburu counties, which had been severely affected by locusts. More than 300 children were now living on the street in Meru town without any government support.
Even before the pandemic, conditions for Meru’s street kids were dire. They were grouped into four categories:
- Children who work and live on the street full-time, living in groups in temporary shelters or dark alleys.
- Children who work on the streets by day but go home to their families in the evenings.
- Children who are on the streets occasionally, such as in the evenings, weekends, and during school holidays.
- “Street families”, children whose parents are also on the streets.
Joint action and results
It’s against this backdrop that the Rotary Club of Meru Rotarians and Rotaractors, in partnership with the Rotary Clubs of Grantham Kesteven, Lincoln Lindum, Middleton, Sittingbourne Invicta, Guildford Chantries, Northampton, Kimbolton Castle, St. Neots St. Mary’s, Sleaford in the UK and Oakville Ontario, Canada, resolved to take action to alleviate the suffering of the street children in Meru County.
“Being a girl of action, as we like calling ourselves in Rotary, I couldn’t just stand by while the street kids starved to death,” says Karen Kinya, one of the Rotaractors coordinating other Rotaractors to help with cooking and distribution of food to the street kids.
“Now more than ever, they need my help–an opportunity for me to practice Rotary values…to serve above self!”
Every day, we bought food at the market at a cost of about USD $112. We cooked and packed meals at the Cloverleaf orphanage, which I founded in 2014. The kids at the orphanage did an amazing job helping. They happily pitched in to prepare, cook and pack meals for children less fortunate than they are – “kids helping kids.” As a result of our efforts, more than 88,000 meals were served to 300 children on the streets of Meru.
The County Government of Meru didn’t want to be left behind – it wanted to be part of our success story. As such, out of the 300 street kids we fed, 150 youth were recruited into the the Meru County Government program, whose aim was to change the mindset and offer hands-on skills training to the street children. The first program graduation was officiated by the Meru County Governor Kiraitu Murungi on 11 February 2021.
And as Jacqueline, one of the street kids and beneficiaries, says, the initiative meant more than food: “Every evening when I see Rotarians coming to feed us I am hopeful that I can also be like them – I want to become a policewoman and help girls like me.” Then she adds, “But for now, I can only be grateful to the Rotarians that I can stay alive as I am assured of at least one meal a day.”
More information about our club’s service projects is available online.
The following contributed to this story: Caroline Newton, Richard Pennell, Joy Mwenda. Photos courtesy of Kelvin Mwenda