“Vicky, I want to be a doctor even more now!” Steven, Mombasa
ChildHope is proud to be working in partnership with Glad’s House, an organisation supporting street-connected children in Mombasa, Kenya. When we spoke to Glad’s House’s chief executive Vicky Ferguson, she told us about Steven, a former street child who has set his sights on becoming a brain surgeon.
Steven was 13 years old when the staff at Glad’s House first met him in early 2013. He had been on the streets for around three years, but he had only just arrived in Mombasa. “Many children come from smaller cities, but all roads seem to lead to Mombasa because of the beach and tourism,” explains Vicky from Glad’s House. “Around 90% of children living on the streets of Mombasa aren’t from Mombasa, which makes life harder for us when we’re trying to support them home.”
Before he left home Steven had lived with an aunt, but their relationship had totally broken down.
Glad’s House immediately saw Steven’s potential. “From day one we could see he was a very bright boy,” says Vicky. “He would come to our drop-in centre and play soccer with us. But it took us quite a long time to get to know him and build a relationship with him. We tried to help him rebuild his relationship with his aunt through mediation, but she wouldn’t engage with it.”
In early 2014, Steven felt ready to leave the streets and he moved in to the Glad’s House residential unit. He had completed his primary education with high marks before he had left home, so unsurprisingly he did very well in Glad’s House education programme. “It was clear to us that he was very capable and needed to get back into formal education,” says Vicky.
In Kenya, pupils often board for their secondary education. Glad’s House and Steven made the decision that he would go to a boarding school and in the meantime, Glad’s House would continue trying to mediate with his aunt so that he would be able to go to her during the school holidays.
Steven started school in January 2015 – and thrived. “For the first two terms he was top of his class, even though he’d been out of education for three years,” says Vicky.
But at the start of the third term, Steven’s headteacher stood up in front of the whole school, singled out Steven and said, “Do not trust this boy. He was a street boy. He will steal from you.”
Vicky explains: “We had been totally open about Steven’s history. But we think the headteacher had only just found out. It highlighted the massive stigma that’s attached to street children in Kenya.”
Steven quickly disengaged from education and before Glad’s House knew it, he was back on the streets. “His self esteem and his self-worth hit rock bottom and he was too ashamed to come and tell us what had happened,” says Vicky. “When we found him back on the streets, we told him, ‘it’s ok – we know why you made the decision to leave school but we wish you’d talked to us first. You’re welcome back at our programmes. We’re not angry with you, we love you and we’re here for you when you’re ready to come back to us.’”
But Glad’s House knew it would take some Steven some time to return to them. It was very hard to watch such a bright boy with huge potential making negative decisions to get by. “By now he was big, burly 17-year-old. He was parking cars for around 20 shillings (15p) and was probably engaging in some low-level theft to survive,” says Vicky.
Steven stayed on the streets for a year. One day he turned up at Glad’s House and said, “I think I’m ready to go back to school.” He moved back into the residential unit for six months, working intensively with the Glad’s House therapist to learn coping strategies. Meanwhile Glad’s House identified a different boarding school for Steven. “It’s a really great school,” says Vicky. “They know all about Steven’s background and they’re totally cool with it.”
Steven returned to school in January 2017. He spends his holidays with his aunt and with Glad’s House, who hope to fund him through university when he finishes school in 2020.
In the meantime, through their partnership with ChildHope, Glad’s House wants to secure funding to grow their education programme so that more street children will be able to benefit from it.
Crucially the new, improved education programme will employ social workers specifically trained to work in schools. They will support street children to deal with any stigma they may face when they return to the classroom. “If Steven had had a social worker checking up on him in his first school, we might have been able to prevent him dropping out,” says Vicky. “We’re determined that what happened to Steven will never happen again.”
Steven is 20 now. He has always been interested in a career in medicine and a recent stay in hospital has spurred him on further.
“Steven was very sick earlier this year and came back to Mombasa for an operation,” says Vicky. “I went to visit him in hospital and he said, ‘Vicky, I want to be a doctor even more now!’ His ambition is to be a brain surgeon. I really think he’ll do it. He’s brilliant.”
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