Former street children recount burden of the pain they carry

Street families sleeping at city park. [Jenipher Wachie, Standard]
Samuel Mutua, 23, wishes he had a normal childhood. He was four-years-old when his parents were brutally murdered.

Events of the fateful day have never left his mind despite spending eight years at Thunguma Children and Youth Empowerment Centre in Nyeri.

Mutua witnessed armed robbers murder his parents in Machakos County and the aftermath was Schizophrenia induced by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Regular counseling sessions have not done much to help him regain normal life. He is still on antipsychotic drugs and often sees a psychiatrist.

When Saturday Standard met him at the rehabilitation centre, he was tending to flowers as he waited for his colleagues to return from school. After losing his parents, he was put under foster care until he was eight years before he was moved to Othaya Approved School for delinquency and later committed to Thunguma rehab centre when he was 15-years-old. He escaped to the streets of Nyeri due to the mental condition.

“He was really tormented and the emotional trauma recurs from time to time. Two decades later, he still talks about his parents and how they were killed,” said the centre’s administrator Daniel Waithaka.

Mutua is among the 162 children hosted at Thunguma rehab centre.

The centre hosts reformed street children who are taken through formal or informal education.

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Waithaka said the children ended up in the streets due to problems ranging from poverty, sexual abuse, violence at home and abandonment.

“Most of these children have troubled lives because they have witnessed all manner of things at home and in the streets. Children who witness domestic violence at home have higher risk of developing depression that has far running effects on their psychological development,” he said.

The administrator revealed that they set up a drop-in centre in Nyeri town where the social workers manning them go scouting for children and entice them with lunch to woo them to the rehabilitation centre.

“We have a psychiatrist who holds educational sessions after lunch to convince them to leave the streets. Some will give in after several attempts and they are admitted to the facility,” he said.

At the centres, the children are taken through medical tests to establish if they have any disease; physical or mental.

Varied disorders

The administrator said cases of HIV and Aids, malnutrition and skin conditions are common besides the psychological disorders. Those who are diagnosed with HIV are supplied with ARV drugs by Nyeri Provincial General Hospital. Waithaka admitted that managing bitterness and anger following extreme encounters like violence and sexual harassment is a major challenge. “Some children end up in streets due to broken families and they get mentally tormented. We hold counseling sessions for such cases and it might take years for them to lead normal lives,” said the administrator.

For instance, he cited an incident where Mutua survived mob justice after residents mistook him for a criminal after they saw him attempt to open a car.

“He was beaten up and left for the dead but luckily he survived. No one knew he was mentally ill. His life changed completely since the parents were killed,” he noted.

“Mutua, for instance, was violent and he would beat up strangers but he has shown slight improvement since treatment was administered.”

The experiences end up bringing out angry and bitter children who at times do not value humanity. In most cases, they choose to run to the streets. Waithaka, a medic at the centre, said exposing children to extreme violence is psychological abuse that may make children kill without remorse.

Some he said, attempt suicide due to depression especially after being diagnosed with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.

“Some children will tell you they have been to hospital but have not been told they have HIV. Others will come aware of their health status but informing them about this disturbs them, especially those who are abused by close relatives,” said Waithaka. Seventy per cent of the children at the facility are boys.

“They are taken through vocational courses such as welding, masonry, dressmaking, carpentry, agribusiness among other courses,” Waithaka said.

Rathithi Vocational Training Institute in Karatina hosts about 87 students who sit for national examinations in the certified government institutions.

Rehabilitation centers also admit street children through the children courts where magistrates commit those who are arraigned over criminal cases to various public centres.

“We usually get committal letters from courts to host them for certain period of time. Religious and community leaders and well-wishers also make reports on abandoned children who need care and protection and we will visit and step in if it warrants our help.”

Benard Oduor, an alumnus of a rehab centre in Nairobi, now a staffer at Thunguma, said some traders offer the children glue as a token for helping them carry luggage.

“The only way traders could keep us in the streets to help them move luggage from one point to another was offering drugs. That was so selfish of them but thankfully we regained dignity,” said Oduor, a graduate of Information Technology

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Samuel MutuaPost Traumatic Stress DisorderStreet families