Field Stories

ICTs are empowering street children in Kenya

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A pioneering project aimed at training ICT skills is transforming the lives of children who live in the streets of Eldoret, an agriculturally rich town in Kenya’s lush Rift Valley region. Led by SNV, a Dutch development agency, in collaboration with the “Ex-Street Children Community Organisation” (ECCO), a group of formerly homeless young people, the initiative provides street children with basic computer skills, thereby enabling them to take part in society and giving them a voice. Educational expert Joseph Langat will present this inspiring project, along with some successful real-life stories, at eLA 2010.

By Reuben Kyama in Nairobi

Tucked away some 300 kilometres northwest of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, is the town of Eldoret. With help from SNV, ECCO has developed an eLearning programme here that provides street children with a platform that not only enables them to share ideas with each other but also to communicate with rest of the society. Using ten computers, mostly donated by well-wishers, the organisation has come up with ‘drop in’ centres where street children from the town gather to become familiar with ICT skills ranging from the basics of working on a computer to how to send e-mails. “In 2007, while working in the town, I noticed the group of former street kids, and I started to work with them”, said Joseph Langat, a fifty-year-old senior advisor for local governance and education at SNV. According to him, the children had selected areas where they could all gather together to share a meal or take a shower. “That’s when I realized that the children were organised and only lacked some basic communication skills of how to relate with others.”

Life on Kenya’s streets

J. Langat (seated) demonstrates his proposal to colleagues S. Yiega and M. Kituu

In sociological terms, street life is dirty, violent and short. Whilst most people living on the streets are ravaged by poverty and war, it is the children who struggle most. In Kenya, some are sent out by their impoverished parents to work or beg, while others have lost their families through war or diseases, such as HIV/Aids. Others have simply been abandoned because they have become too much of a burden in poverty-stricken homes.

Whilst Eldoret is home to many of Kenya’s legendary marathon runners and has produced more champion athletes than any other town in the world, not everybody appears destined to escape the challenges the city faces. According to recent reports, some 2500 children live on the town’s streets – the majority of them orphaned, abandoned or abused. Most of the people in the region are small-scale farmers who live below the poverty line. In 2008, the town was the epicentre of politically motivated violence that broke out countrywide following a disputed presidential election. Hundreds of people were killed in the town, including children, while thousands of others were rendered homeless.

Langat was involved in addressing the issue of education among Kenyans forced to flee their homes during the post-election violence. He says that despite the free primary education offered by the Kenyan government, many children from less-privileged settings, including street children, people living in the slums, as well as other vulnerable groups from arid and semi-arid areas, do not have adequate access to education. Sometimes, the children who attended school felt marginalised and tended to drop out.

The positive impact of ICT

“SNV is involved in providing education for all, and when we noticed the challenges that the street children were facing, we saw the need to come in and help”, Langat says. Realising the huge potential that Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) offered to the world’s poor and underprivileged, SNV entered into a contract with the ECCO and provided them with training on basic skills in computers. “That [basic training alone] has changed their lives!” says Langat. “The ability to be able to type really opened their eyes.”

The impact ICT had already had becomes obvious in the centres, where today the street children communicate via e-mails, share photographs, and discover and develop their interest in education. Joshua Lubale, a former “street boy” who is now chairman of ECCO, proudly proclaims that the eLearning initiative has motivated many street children ‘to want to learn’ and has reached out to over 2000 of them since its inauguration in 2007. According to Langat, eLearning can be instrumental in helping people living in the streets to gain knowledge and to get ‘informed’, irrespective of their age. “We have realized that even overage children, who would otherwise shy off from being in class with their juniors, are gaining interest when it comes to learning how to use the computer. It fascinates them”, he points out.

Through the new venture, reformed street children and adolescents can stand on their own and be productive and self-sufficient in society. “This is the only way these young people can become able to raise their voices in their environment. Through participation in various projects like the production of videos and presentations in the media, the training programmes empower them to discover more about themselves and the world.”

Sharing success

According to a UNICEF report evaluating the situation globally, there were still more than 100 million children not attending primary school in 2007, the majority of them girls. Many of these young people live in sub-Saharan Africa. At this year’s eLearning Africa conference, Joseph Langat will demonstrate the ECCO project as a case study, displaying how eLearning techniques can provide street children with tools that enable them to transform their living conditions, understand and demand their human rights, and ultimately help shape their own destiny. Langat has been working with a team of five individuals, including three former street children now in their late twenties, to develop his presentation. “I want to use their true stories as exhibits”, says the education specialist. He is eager to pass on his experience to other organisations whose target is shaping a better future for street children in Africa and beyond.

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