Yesterday, we sat down with some boys from the streets of Mombasa (survivors, as they prefer to be called) in a shady patch of grass where they practice fire dancing as part of Koru’s MotoMoto program. These boys, who have been with MotoMoto on and off throughout this year or longer, shared some about their lives and what MotoMoto has meant to them.
Most had lost or run away from one or both parents due to death, abandonment, or abuse. Brian told us about losing his parents in a car accident. Amfrey’s father remarried and left him for a new family after Amfrey’s mother died, and Omari left home because his father beat him. Faraji can’t even remember his parents. The boys described begging or working odd jobs to earn a few dollars, on a good day. Samuel never went to school, so he works as a laborer, carting goods. Omari works as a “scraper,” collecting and re-selling bits of metal and plastic from trash dumps. All seek food from dumps when they can’t earn enough money for food. “But,” Martin said, with a laugh and a lift of his cap to show his funky hair-do, “I like to get my hair cut when I have a bit of extra cash.” Most sleep in shacks and trees in a small settlement of similar youth wedged in an alley between private athletic fields.
Despite the hardship of their lives, many still dreamed of something more for themselves. They spoke of dreams to become pilots or boxing trainers for police academies, or acrobats, or musicians, or rugby players or just going back to school and living in a house. Martin, still only 14, said, “For me, I want a house, school, clothes, food, and maybe to go abroad.” Brian, who is no longer school aged, loads goods in cars, trucks, and buses for tips described wanting a real job with stead wages so he can realize his dreams of leaving the streets and living in a house. “I just want to get a job, to leave the street, and to have a house.” Samuel, who followed the pattern of many youth all over the developing world by leaving his rural home in hopes of a better life than fragile subsistence farming, agreed, “I don’t like this life. Who could like this life?”
All described the impact of MotoMoto with enthusiasm, as providing a much needed distraction from the stress of their lives and keeping them too busy for stealing and doing drugs, like sniffing glue and smoking marijuana. As Brian explained, “Because of moto moto, I don’t steal so much. People don’t disturb me. I don’t do drugs because I like to keep practicing. So, I take time to be alone, avoiding these other things.” Martin told us, “When I play with fire, it relieves my stress and I don’t think of drugs or stealing.”
This year, the program saw around 90 street children and youth, like Amfrey, Omari, Samuel, Martin, Brian, and Faraji. Many only came once, but around half came to the program multiple times. Each visit is an opportunity for them to escape the constant “hustle” of finding money and meeting basic needs. They learn something new, get a nutritious, clean meal, and have a chance to share about their experiences in a safe environment. The program, which has been running since 2009, will soon partner with a children’s shelter and create a more advanced system of referrals to ensure those who come to us to learn, grow their self-esteem, and gain empowerment can access the long-term support they need. We are always looking to expand the program, which is currently funded solely by Burners Without Borders and offers just two classes a week. We would love to grow the program to every day of the week because constant practice develops skill and confidence more quickly, which can be critical for giving children the courage to make long-term changes in their lives. You can visit Burners Without Borders if you would like to get involved in the lives of children and youth like Samuel who don’t like life of the streets and dream of something better.