Kartel is from Umoja slum in Nairobi. Another social worker and I found this 4-year old at a garbage dump site, shivering with cold. We took him to the hospital and then looked for his sole caretaker, a 14-year-old brother. They were living alone much of the time, but we later discovered their grandmother, also a street dweller, living in a mabati (an iron-sheet shelter) flooded with water. We could see where they huddled together with goats at night to keep warm. When we suggested that the boys join us, the grandmother was relieved to know Bosco Boys would care for her grandsons.
This is just one story that I have learned since 2017, when I began working as a social worker with boys like these two at Bosco Boys. Right now I volunteer there, as I am studying for my bachelor’s degree in sustainable human development at Tangaza University in Nairobi. The work at Bosco Boys is now part of my practicum requirement.
At the Bosco Boys informal school, I teach art and life skills and serve as counsellor and after-school tutor. This informal setting is a basic preparation for some of the boys to later attend Kuwinda, a primary boarding school. I like the boys and find them friendly and cooperative, and we have grown in mutual understanding and trust. I also find they are unusually responsible in doing their work, except at times when they fall behind in doing homework.
I think their responsibility is a result of having to live on their own and fend for themselves. But the discipline of study is challenging for some because — coming from street life — their listening abilities are not well developed, and they are easily distracted.
One of the methodologies proven successful for rehabilitation at the center is play therapy. The boys spend several hours a day in games. One of my challenges in working with the boys is understanding their slang. It is like another language. I have to ask them to explain what they are saying in ordinary language.
The boys are organized into four group houses, and positive competition is encouraged; they are rewarded for good behavior and completed assignments. Although this system is a way to help them to discipline themselves, as they can keep each other from “messing up,” there are times when informal cliques erupt into fights, even over small issues.
Bosco Boys Langata rehabilitation center was established in 1994 by the Salesian Priests to help boys overcome addictions and behaviors learned on the street. Thirty-two boys ages 5 to 11 are undergoing rehabilitation at the moment, and more than 3,000 have benefited from this center. Some of the boys live at the center, but others are day students. The boys usually stay from one to two years, and a good number of them are successfully rehabilitated.
Most of the boys I work with are from the slums of Kibera (the largest Kenya slum), Mathare (the second largest slum), Rongai and other slums around the country. These very large slums are infamously tough, marked by widespread poverty, unemployment and high crime rates. It is not an easy place for children to grow up, although many do. Education is also limited because school fees are a luxury for most families living there.