“Every human being deserves a decent life,” says Viney Gisore, 22, the founder of Out of the Street Foundation, an organisation that caters for the welfare of street children in Nairobi.
“I have participated in community service since I was 10 years old through activities organised by my church,” says the fourth year civil aviation student of Moi University.
Before she joined university in 2015, Viney and six friends began to contribute money to buy food for street children who they would visit and spend time with. They later partnered with children’s homes in Eastleigh and Mathare neighbourhoods, hoping to reach out to more children.
“We set up a feeding programme for street children in these estates. We would also organise medical camps and counselling services for them,” she recounts.
After months of the programme, Viney was dissatisfied with the progress it was making. She was, for instance, concerned that even after feeding, treating and counselling the children, they would still go back to the streets.
“Good as our work was, I realised that our efforts would remain ineffective unless we changed the children’s circumstances,” she says. Their objectives also differed, making it hard to work together.
“For instance, the children’s homes targeted just a few children, while I envisioned a more wholesome approach that would reach out to many more,” Viney explains. And so she terminated the partnership and went solo.
“Out of the Street Foundation was registered in 2015 as a community-based organisation (CBO), our aim to help street children leave the streets for good,” she says, and explains,
“As an organisation, we now operate more seamlessly and with a greater impact on communities. Our activities are also now more recognised.” The CBO focuses on education and rehabilitation for street children, recycling of waste and civic education.
“In our education programme, we help to enroll the children in school since most of them fall within school-going age, and with the help of volunteers, we create beauty accessories such as bangles and neckpieces using plastic bottles, which the children collect. This is part of our waste recycling agenda.”
Viney explains that it is easier to raise money for the children’s kitty by selling these decorative articles than through asking well-wishers to contribute money.
The CBO targets families in Nairobi neighbourhoods in its civic education programme.
“We move from door-to-door teaching adults about the rights of children. This year alone, we have visited 500 households in Kibera and Majengo,” she says.
The organisation’s rehabilitation programme incorporates health services for street children and slum dwellers through occasional medical camps, where the street children have their wounds cleaned. They are also dewormed and are counselled. In 2016, the CBO conducted a survey in Majengo and Kibera to find out why children from these slums run away from their homes.
“Most of them are running away from domestic violence, poverty, and the consequences that often come with divorce. Before we met them, members of a dancing group called Street Dancers were drug addicts. Today, the reformed group is made up of responsible youths who make a living from dancing.”
“We emphasise on quality services so that the children we have supported can inspire others to leave the streets and do something meaningful with their lives. Street Dancers now have hope of a better future.”
Whereas students in public universities resent prolonged holidays and lecturers’ strikes since this means more time spent in school, Viney considers these breaks a godsend.
“I am never idle, and I am able to run my organisation with ease. I also use this time to study courses close to my heart, for instance, I am about to complete my diploma course in aeronautical engineering at the Aviation School of Kenya.”
Viney’s efforts have not gone unnoticed - in 2015, she was a guest speaker at the NGO Summit in India and at the United Nations Environmental Assembly.
“In 2016, we received the Global Give Back Circle award (GGBC) in the education category, and I was an ambassador at the local youth-empowerment programme, BLAZE, this year.”
It hasn’t been all smooth-sailing for Viney’s social enterprise though. “Several times, I have almost been assaulted by street children who accused me of preferring other children to them - today I fear walking in the streets alone.”
Also, children she has rescued from the streets sometimes steal from her family when she houses them. There is also the fact that in most cases, the children lie about why they are in the streets, making it difficult to prescribe the right support for them while some that have been rescued and enrolled in school drop out and return to the streets because they are unable to fit in.
There is also the cost of running the CBO.
“We rely on contributions from members, friends and volunteers - personal sacrifice is necessary for an initiative such as this to keep going. I, for instance, channel almost all the money I earn as a press assistant at a local organisation into the project.”
Viney decries the misconception among some that those who run social initiatives do so to benefit themselves.
“This is not always true, some are genuinely passionate about their causes,” she argues.
The CBO’s long-term goal is to set up a facility to rehabilitate street children.
“We are fundraising by selling space in our magazine, where corporates can advertise their products. We are also planning fundraiser soon to enable us buy a piece of land to build the facility,” she says.
She encourages more young people to vigorously take part in community service.
“Kenyan youth must know that the society requires their active engagement in finding practical solutions for the various socio-economic challenges our country faces, by actively contributing their fresh ideas,” she says.