Stories from the streets

Evans Obanga, a 14 year old living on the streets of Nairobi's Westlands Neighborhood. (Photographer: Brendan Bannon)

One of Nairobi’s street-children walks through Westlands’ traffic

Uncounted hundreds of children and young men live rough on Nairobi’s streets. They tell Mike Pflanz their stories.

WESTLANDS, April 25, 2011 (Daily Dispatches) – It used to be worse, people tell you. The kids would swarm around your car, ready to launch a handful of faeces straight at you should you fail to pay. Keep your windows up, doors locked, that was the only way to drive through Nairobi.

Today, that doesn’t happen anymore. The government, in operations with questionable motives and methods, have moved many of the city’s street children to ‘homes’ on the outskirts.

Many, however, remain, struggling to find the money even for a cup of tea, constantly fleeing authorities, homeless and with fuzzy futures often devoid of opportunity. Too often ignored, each, however, has a story.

Kennedy Mbai, 16

Kennedy Mbai, 16, a street kid who lives in Westlands, Nairobi. (Photographer: Brendan Bannon)

There was a time I was in school, when I was younger, here in Nairobi. But I am an orphan now, see my parents died in 2004, and I don’t have relatives in Nairobi. There are some family upcountry, in Kakamega in Western Kenya, I could go there, I suppose, but I don’t have even money to buy a ticket.

So instead now I am here, sleeping in the bushes at night when it’s not raining, sleeping under the balconies of shopping centers when it’s pouring. The life is the same each day, I wake up, I beg for money on the streets, if a well-wisher gives me something, I buy bread or milk. That’s my day.

The morning hours are the best, when there are a lot of cars and there are traffic jams. Even evening. With the jams, you have time, you can squeeze around all the cars. Sometimes people will watch you for long then finally they give you even 60¢.

The most difficult thing for me, it’s simple, it’s sleeping hungry every night, waking up in the morning hungry again. Somedays people are giving nothing at all. Today is a holiday, there’s no money today, there’s no jam, it’s very hard.

Friday, hey Friday is ok, yes, Friday is ok! Here we call it furahiday, in our language furahi means like to be happy, to celebrate. There are many people on the roads, there are jams because people take their car to work, then later there are people all over the pubs, restaurants.

Then I can find $1 from one person, 50¢ from another, and another. With that I can buy tea in the morning, lunch and dinner in the evening even, even tea the next morning.

Every day the police are what make us afraid. They come in the night when we are sleeping, they beat us, beat, beat, beat, they whip us, chase us away.

Sundays I like going to church to listen to the pastors, have prayers in the church, then you come back here and there’s a hope that someone will listen to your prayers and give you something small.

Harrison Shem, 14

Harrison Shem, a 14 year old street kid living in Westlands, Nairobi (Photographer: Brendan Bannon)

I finished primary school last year, 2010, but you know my graduation certificate is there at the school, and when I went to collect it, they told me to pay for some books that I lost. I was supposed to go to high school, but I cannot because of these moneys owing. You think this is a lie? That is the truth, I tell people the way I’m telling you.

I need to pay the books to go to secondary. There are six books, two of Mathematics costing $5.09 each one, English is $3.81, Kiswahili $3.68, Science $9.58, Art and Craft around $3.67. The total? That I don’t know. Something like $47, $48?

I have parents, they are here in Nairobi, but you know there’s some problems, my father has problems, we live only with my mother, she’s is alone and things became difficult for her. It is easier for her if I can care for myself here.

Things are hard though. There is the sun all day, then in the night the police harassing us. When they find us sleeping inside the bushes, they come and start beating us, then take us to the police station, give us some hard work, but we earn nothing and we come back here hungry and we must start again.  They beat us because they don’t want us in the streets, but we don’t have energy or means to find something else to do.

There are times I can feel a bit happy. When I believe that today somebody will come and find me and buy me something to eat. That is all. In some years time, I am sure that I will be back in school, when I pay that bill and they open school to me, and maybe some people they come to offer to help me. They will find me, I hope.

Isaac Mutinda, 13

Iaasac Mutinda, a 13 year old street boy living in Westlands, nairobi (Photographer: Brendan Bannon)

I was living here in a slum in Nairobi with my grandmother, but she does not have food, she can’t take care of me. I’ve been here one year now, and the hard thing is that I want to go back to school, I was there but then there was no money for school fees and I had to stop. I can be dreaming about that most days.

But that’s when the police come to harass us, to beat us, even when we are sleeping. I don’t know why they do this. I don’t know why they hate me.

All I know how to do is to beg on the street to find food. Here there are many clubs, pubs, restaurants, there is the casino. When you beg there people have money, they give you some money, especially at night. Weekends, that is the best time. People are happy, they don’t mind giving you 30¢ or 40¢. You can buy tea, at least. But sometimes on the weekend, there are people who are drunk, you think that they will assist you but they just fall down and then leave in a taxi.

Daniel Maina, 13

Daniel Maina, 13, a street kid in Nairobi's Westlands neighborhood. (Photographer: Brendan Bannon)

I used to go to school, here in Nairobi, but then there was a friend who lied to me that if I leave school, I can find money. We came here, but since then, I am just begging for money.

I go to where the nightclubs are. There people are kind. But there are other boys, thieves, they steal people’s phones. Then the police, they hear about a robbery by some of these big boys, and when we are sleeping here in the bushes the police come and they just chase all of us, the people who have done it, those who have not. We are all arrested.

I’m happy when I am begging and somebody gives me $6, even. Then that’s the happiest time, I know I will eat well, maybe for two days. You know, in five years, I think you’ll find me here, near the roundabout, doing this same job.

Evans Obaga, 14

 (Photographer: Brendan Bannon)

I’m here because my parents died in that violence of 2007, I was living with my aunt but she doesn’t have money, she doesn’t have anything, so I came here in the streets. I have only one reason to be here, that is to find money, then go to school and learn and then come and help my people at home.

I am from rural area, Kisii, it’s far from Nairobi. I came here last year, I cheated my way onto the bus to come here. I heard there is money is here. Now I am begging to get money to eat, sleeping here in the bushes near the bus-stop.

Everybody is helping me, sometimes on a good day $2, then I can use that for dinner and what is left I save for breakfast and lunch the next day. I like corn meal, greens. Sometimes there is meat, but it’s too expensive. It’s better not to have a little meat, but a lot of other food.

The most difficult time for me is when I go to beg from somebody, and they look at me like I’m from Hell or what. They think I am crazy, but I am an ordinary boy, really. They rush away from me. But sometimes someone stops and listens to the problems I have, and she understands, and she gives me some money.

I have a dream that someday somebody will come and take me and adopt me and I will be their child and I will to go to school. You know my best subjects are maths and science. I want to be an engineer, to build and fix things. Can you get somebody to sponsor me? That is all I need.


Related: Brendan’s full-size images of Nairobi’s street children and where they call home

© DAILY DISPATCHES: Nairobi 2011

8 Responses to “Stories from the streets”

  1. Lindsey Scutella says:

    This makes me want to adopt all these children…I can’t believe that I am sitting in a comfy home with plenty of food, and these children barely have money for bread. I just got back from the exhibit at St. Bonaventure. Very moving. Thank you for doing this work.

  2. Marilyn Wargo says:

    These stories and photographs are truly amazing. There needs to be more work like this all over the globe. I just visited your exhibit on St. Bonaventure’s campus with my social media class – hopefully more awareness can be raised. Again, this is amazing work and I can only thank you for doing it. Keep it up!

  3. Mary Masucci says:

    After viewing these photos at the Quick Arts Center at school today, I couldn’t believe these photos were just taken yesterday. This made me apprecriate my health, home, and education after seeing these pictures and reading their stories. Not only is what you’re doing moving and eye-opening, but seeing what you’re actually writing about means a lot. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Cydney McGlawn says:

    The images posted my daily dispatchers, gives us a quick glimpse into the lives, joys, struggles and advances of the Nairobi people. The images have a more personal intimate feel due to the short passages that follows. The simple picture posted of Isaac Muntinda age 13 says so much without even reading the passage. The camera captures a close up of his face while the background is blurred. From this image, we all able to look in his eyes and feel his pain. According to John Berger, author of the 1792 Ways of Seeing, we see images they way the photographer wants his viewers to see them. In this image, it seems as if the photographer and daily dispatchers wanted to show viewers what they see, and un-commercialized, real life snapshot of these struggling kids. By doing that, we are able to make a better connection between them and ourselves which John Berger says we often do. Daily Dispatchers simplistic method of getting their point across uniquely motivates other to take a closer look, to get more involved.

  5. shani harris says:

    a great dispatch. captivating and challenging. asante sana!

  6. Nicholas Carter says:

    As Americans, we are often awarded opportunities that are taken for granted. Basic things such as food and shelter are provided for us until we are capable of providing them for ourselves. The pain and hardship that these “kids” have experienced in their short time on this earth is more than most American adults ever have or could even fathom. The vivid pictures alone tell the stories of lives filled with the pain and sadness. The picture of 13 year old Isaac Mutinda shows a scared boy who must be brave enough to play the bad hand that life has dealt him. Though each of the young men has a sad story to tell, the sadness seems to be overcome by a tremendous feeling of hope. Hope that one day they will be able to go back to school. Hope that one day their parents can afford to take care of them again. Hope that one day things will be better. Great dispatch, very touching story.

  7. Sarah Marciniak says:

    I saw this exhibit on campus at St. Bonaventure University. It is truly amazing to see the work you guys have been doing. It is easy to forget that there is a world outside of our little Bona Bubble. Reading about these kids who want to go to school and who would do anything to get there makes me appreciate the opportunities that I have had. It is a humbling experience to go through the exhibit and see the behind the scenes of Nairobi that not everyone gets to see. Keep up all of the good work, I have found that I look forward to reading your updates. Thank you.

  8. Cydney McGlawn says:

    . Bannon posted simple, close up profiles of the young men featured on their website. Bannon wanted to show viewers what they see, and un-commercialized, real life snapshot of these struggling young men. The lack of drastic emotion allows the young men to be more relatable to the viewers which John Berger says we often do. Daily Dispatchers simplistic method of getting their point across uniquely motivated me to take a closer look, to get more involved.