“Most children make an active decision to live on the streets because they think the streets are better than their home and more often than not, they are.” Vicky Ferguson, Glad's House

ChildHope is proud to be working with Glad’s House, an organisation supporting children and young people who live on the streets of Mombasa, Kenya. Glad’s House’s chief executive Vicky Ferguson tells us more.  

“Glad’s House is named after my grandmother. She was the last of 11 children and aged 13 she left home and went into service. She was a real matriarch in our family. There was so much love in her house and there was always a hot meal for anyone who came through the door. Whoever you were, you were welcome. That’s the ethos we wanted to create for Glad’s House.

We work with children and young people who’ve just arrived on the streets, who’ve been there a few months or who’ve been there for years, if not decades. We’ll work with anyone aged nought to 30 – if you’ll want to work with us, we’ll work with you. But our core group is young men aged between 14 and 24.

Often these young men arrived on the streets as cute children and they survived by begging. But as they grow, they have to survive through other means because they’re not cute anymore. No one’s going to give a big burly 19-year-old any money. So they’re forced to make choices in their lives that aren’t positive. The streets are very dark places where very dark things happen to children and young people from the day they arrive.

Most children make an active decision to live on the streets because they think the streets are better than their home. And more often than not, they are. Neglect and abuse are the stories we hear most. Children are frightened and sad and they’re desperately craving something that they can’t be given. They’ve been failed by the adults in their lives and often these adults are the reason they’re not safe in their home.

Most of these children and young people have never had an adult that they trust. They come to the streets and the very adults who should protect them - the police and government workers - stigmatise them and deem them bad children. But they’re not bad children - they’re children who’ve been failed. But those adults can’t see that.All they see is dirty, smelly, troublesome young people with glue bottles in their mouths, while we see bright, resilient, funny courageous young people full of potential.

We run different outreach activities throughout the week. We have street soccer where young people come and play football, get first aid, have loads of chats and eat a hot meal, like beans and rice. Our street education mirrors street soccer but with education instead of football. It’s usually very basic stuff like holding a pencil or simple literacy and numeracy.

Our outreach workers literally pound the pavements every day. They visit the main bases where children and young people sleep. The children can sit and talk to them about how they feel, and they are heard and seen and valued. This is huge, because many of them have never been seen or heard or valued in their lives.

The children’s main base is called Maboksini, a long narrow alley with a few tin shacks and lots of rubbish and recycling. It’s about three minutes’ walk from the most expensive hotel in Mombasa. There are around 300 to 500 people living there, from newborns up to 80-year olds. It’s a proper community and while it can be a harrowing and violence place, it’s also full of life and love and joy. We feel privileged to be welcomed in there.

We take a ‘slowly slowly’ approach to building trust. Often we’ll be given a fake name or a fake story. But that’s ok. We believe in journeying with the children and young people, not intervening and telling them what to do. We sit with them and learn about them and they share with us and then we say, “Where it is you need to go? And where do we need to go with you? What do you need from us to facilitate those things?” They’re the experts in their lives. They make the changes - we just offer the opportunities to make those changes.

Our work can be demoralising – you take one step forward with a young person, then 27 steps back. But we have to keep in mind the context of their lives. They’re so young and they’ve experienced so much, and most of it is negative. The trauma they hold means progress is slow and hard and frustrating.

But you can’t give up on a young person. You have to keep fighting even when they don’t want to fight. I think that’s the core of what we all are at Glad’s House. We will never stop seeing our young people’s potential and we will never stop fighting for them to reach that full potential, but we know it’s going to be a really long journey.

We’re so proud to be working with ChildHope. Our partnership will help build the capacity of Glad’s House, making it as robust and strong an organisation as it can be. ChildHope is helping us develop our financial management systems and our monitoring and evaluation, and networking with other ChildHope partners means we’re learning from other people all over the world. We’re also part of ChildHope’s global consultancy on safeguarding, which means we can upskill our own staff and hopefully become one of the leading experts in safeguarding in East Africa.”

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