It is a Saturday morning. A young man is busy commanding glue-sniffing urchins.
“You, keep away the glue and get to the pitch. The match is about to begin,” shouts Benson Abila as he advances towards some urchins.
It is December 18, 2021, barely a week to Christmas Day, and every family is concerned about providing a decent ‘Christmas’ to their loved once.
Here at the Goan Institute ground in Kisumu, Abila is rushing against time to provide an opportunity for over 200 street children to have their early Christmas, before he can join his own family.
Loud music from one corner of the ground makes it even more difficult to coordinate the kids.
But within a short time, Abila has managed to put together two soccer teams for a 30-minute aside match.
Order is restored as the street children engage in the match, albeit with little regards to the rules of the game.
Abila has been doing this for the past few years through Homeless of Kisumu, an organization he registered to help rehabilitate street children in the city.
“I am passionate about street children because I have gone through a lot in life, and I feel what they feel,” said Abila.
Through the organization, Abila and his team helps to reunite the street families with their families, while some are placed in children homes, where they regain the opportunity to get back to school.
“Children get to the street due to different reasons, and what we do is try to provide guardianship to them, understand their issues, and find a way of getting them out of the streets,” said Abila.
On this fateful day, Abila’s team has managed to identify two children who will be taken back to school when the school reopen for 2022 session.
But it is not as easy as ABCD to have the attention of the children.
Abila begins by bonding with the street families, providing them with basic needs like food, clothing, and sometimes medication.
This then gives him the opportunity to immerse himself into the lives of the children who then open up to him on the issues facing them.
“We then get into guidance and counseling sessions, and slowly have them begin rehabilitation, and finally get out of the street to join their guardians, families and even children homes,” said Abila.
On this 18th day of December, 2021, after the football match, the children retreat back to a shade under a tree where young volunteers engage them on guidance and counseling sessions.
By noon, the activities and over, and the children line up for a meal.
Through his friends, Abila has managed to mobilize for resources, and has managed to buy foodstuffs enough for all the children.
“It makes me happy when we have these kinds of engagement. I do not have a home to host them so that we have a continuous engagement, and I wish I could turn my heart into a home,” says Abila.
His heart is big enough to accommodate the children, and he has mastered most of their names, or faces.
“How do you control those coming for meals more than once?” we inquire as the service continue amid some bit of disorder.
“We know all of them, and we use their colleagues to ensure discipline as they feel they own this program,” says Abila.
Margret Natasha is one of the youth volunteers at Homeless of Kisumu.
The young graduate from Maseno University’s Media and Communication Department has been here for over six months, and is slowly gaining understanding of the street life.
“At first I feared them (the street children), but I discovered that the more you accommodate them, the more you earn their trust, and they open up to you,” she says.
She however notes that there is need for the government to open up education and medical services for free for the street families.
“Sometimes they get sick, or get injured during their own fights in the street, and they go to the public hospitals and sometimes fail to get treated due to lack of money. We do not have enough money to cater for their needs, and this is the only way the government can help,” she says.
Vincent Ochieng who runs St Phillips Rehabilitation Centre in Kisumu’s Nyalenda Slums has been working closely with homeless of Kisumu in their street children rehabilitation program.
According to Mr Ochieng, the biggest challenge is always tracing the homes of the children in cases of death.
“As a street leader, all we do is try to understand the children, and get to be part of them so that they have a place to retreat to when they have challenges because not many people would want to associate with them due to numerous negative myths about them,” said Ochieng.