Streetwise (year 2000 text)


Vocational and life training school for street children in Nairobi

“On the street you constantly have trouble, with the police, with other boys. You have to beg, steal, run away, fight. But at Streetwise you’re secure. Here you are happy.”Carefully14-year-oldlames places a freshly painted clay pot on the ground as he talks. The young Kenyan used to be one of Nairobi’s approximately 60,000 street children. Before he came to Streetwise: a few workrooms, a classroom, washroom and toilets.
With paintbrush and paint 43 young people from the surrounding slums can now develop handicraft and artistic skills. The boys paint pots, frames and small pieces of furniture. The girls sew suitable furnishíng fabrics, cushion covers and decorations for them. “We want to promote the social integration of children and young people”, stresses Lesley Lodge, who brought Streetwise into being in 1994. “In working together they are to develop social values, self-assurance and confidence in their own skills.” The initiator of the school for street children is proud of the fact that most boys and girls come regularly. They sell their products in their own shop. The project’s daily outgoings are covered from the proceeds, the remainder being paid out to the young people. The financial system is based on reciprocal trust; everyone is informed of all incomings and outgoings. “When a street child can tell you the price of half a tomato or a spoonful of salt, you realíze how important each earned Kenyan shilling is”, says Lesley Lodge.
The older young people take responsibility for purchasing and selling, learning in the process how to run their own businesses later on. So that the young artists also learn to read and write a teacher runs literacy courses which are also open to other children from the neighbourhood. 2 other teachers, working partly on an honorary basis and partly for expenses only, look after the craft side of teaching.
Streetwise is supported by the East African Women’s Federation, the “Childlife Trust” and by the region’s schools. Many former street children are now attending vocational training courses and even continuation schools. Streetwise manager Aggrey Okutu is proud of them all; “They look fine they’re in clean clothes and full of self-Confidence. They’ve found their way to the better side of the street.”

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