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Varsity-bound ex-street boys pay back society

BILLOW KERROW
By | July 7th 2010

By MOSES NJAGIH

When Steve Biko Bantu and Bernard Oduor were mopped up from the streets of Nairobi where they had spent four years scavenging for food and sniffing glue, they did not know that the gesture would transform their lives forever.

Although they were considered a nuisance on the streets, Bantu and Oduor resisted the move by the Government to move street families to rehabilitation

Former street boy Steve Bantu at Nyeri’s Thunguma Children and Youth Empowerment Centre. [PHOTO: GEORGE MULALA/STANDARD]

centres and enrol them in the National Youth Service (NYS). Within months of taking over, the populist Narc administration initiated the ambitious Street Families Rehabilitation Fund in Nairobi and major towns to reduce the number of people living on the streets

The boys believed the move would curtail their freedom after many years of roaming the streets at will.

Bantu even led a strike at Pumwani Youth Centre, where the young street boys were taken while the youths were hurled into lorries and taken to be enrolled in the NYS.

At Pumwani they were told they would be enrolled in primary schools but they felt it was a waste of their time. So when the start of learning was delayed due logistical challenges, Bantu led the street boys in a march from Pumwani to Jogoo House, where they sought audience with the then Local Government Minister Karisa Maitha to asked to be allowed back to the streets instead of whiling away the time at their new "home".

Heeded advice

"We met Mrs Betty Tett, the former Assistant Minister and she gave us money and asked us to return to the centre as our grievances were addressed," says Bantu.

He is grateful he heeded her advice and convinced his friends to return to Pumwani. Since then Bantu and Oduor have completed their primary and secondary education and are now waiting to join University of Nairobi.

Bantu will study for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and Political Science, while Oduor will pursue a degree in Environmental Science.

Now the duo are "giving back to the society" at the Thunguma Children and Youth Empowerment Centre in Nyeri, an institution that rehabilitates street children and youth.

Bantu took us down memory lane, grateful of the initiative that helped him rebuild his shattered life. "The only determinant of which class you were placed in was height and perceived intelligence. I impressed the school administration and taken straight to Standard Seven," he says.

After sitting KCPE, Bantu shocked everyone by scoring 416 of 500 marks and earned himself a place at the prestigious Starehe Boys Centre.

It was at Starehe that he realised his life was undergoing a major metamorphorsis and started dreaming of a bright future.

He sat KCSE in 2008 and got a mean grade of B-.

Oduor, says midway through rehabilitation he was greatly tempted to quit. While at Njoro Boys High School, he found himself sneaking out of the school to beg for money in the streets, questioning whether education was the path to success.

Inspire

Bernard Oduor during a lesson at Nyeri’s Thunguma Children and Youth Empowerment Centre. [PHOTO: GOERGE MULALA]

Now they share their experiences with the former street children at Thunguma, to motivate them to withstand the challenges they are facing adapting to their new life.

"We are role models to them who inspire them to take their studies seriously," says Oduor.

Hopeful as they are, the duo are not sure they will manage to join university and are already running a year late according to their admission letters. They failed to take up their place after the Street Children Trust Fund, which was supposed to pay their fees, did not.

The Assistant Director at the Children and Youth Empowerment Centre Patrick Miheso says the fund is working to resolve the problem to enable the two continue with their education.

Miheso says if this does not happen it might de-motivate the reformed boys.

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