Mercy Njoki is 21 years old, but her biggest problem is not what she will wear to the next party. Rather, it is how much food her pocket money can buy for the scores of street children that she has taken under her wing.
One day in 2012, the third-year student at Kenyatta University of Technology was going home when she saw two street boys fighting over a loaf of bread at the Globe Cinema roundabout in Nairobi.
“One stabbed the other on the back with a broken bottle. I was horrified and touched, and wondered how many other children went without food for days, or even died fighting for it,” Mercy told the Nation last week.
She decided to do something about it and for the last two years, however, the student of Mass Communication has been using her pocket money to regularly buy food and clothing for more than 70 street children in Nairobi.
No, she does not come from a rich family. Neither does she have a high profile job or big business with a sizeable income. In fact, on weekends, she works as a caddy at the Muthaiga Golf Club, earning Sh1,000 for every day she spends in the greens pulling golf carts.
The money she gets from her job and what her mother gives her as pocket money is what she relies on to feed the boys and girls that, to many in Nairobi, are nothing short of a nightmare, an eyesore and a menace.
In the beginning, Mercy used to buy breakfast for about 40 street children once week. She would gather them at a food kiosk near the Globe Cinema roundabout where a cup of tea and a chapati cost Sh50. The treat would cost her about Sh2,000 each week, a considerable sum for a person who depended on her mother for pocket money.
When she did not have money, Mercy would pack leftovers from her roommates and take it to the children.
“Most of the girls (in her hostel) don’t finish the bread and chapatis we are served, so I usually pack what remains in paper bags and take it to the children,” she said.
Recently, she bought one of the street boys a pushcart, which he now uses to transport luggage around the city for a fee.
“When I am able to, I help those who show a keen interest to start income generating activities,” she says, living the Chinese adage that it’s better to show someone how to fish rather than keep giving them fish.
Not long ago, she even loaned Sh4,500 to a street boy who was always telling her how he was keen to start a business and embark on the road to self-reliance.
The agreement between them was that she would hand over a portion of her savings to him on condition that he would pay back Sh500 every week. So far, the young man has... repaid Sh1,000.
Mercy has also placed 10 children in foster homes in Mathare and Huruma.
One of her biggest challenges, she says, is when one of her “adopted” children falls sick or dies.
“I cannot afford to take them to hospital,” she said.
Some time back, she had to organise transport for the body of an eight-year-old boy who died in the city and was to be buried in his rural home in Murang’a County.
“His street family had no money to bury him. The only option left was to transport his body back home, yet they had no money for that as well,” Mercy said.
With the help of friends, Mercy raised enough money to send the boy’s body back home for his relatives to give him the final send-off.
What does she think about drug abuse by street families?
Drugs, she said, help them to cope with their miserable existence, and unless they are taken off the streets and given expert help, it would be difficult to get them to quit.
Last week, the Nation team joined Mercy when she went to give her charges a hot lunch of rice and bean stew that she had bought at Ngara Market for Sh3,500. She also gave them clothes, shoes and beddings, all donated by her friends.
“The youngest is only four months old. She did not have any clothes or blankets when I met her, but now she has enough warm clothes,” Mercy said, pleased by the impact of the simple gesture.