When I first came to Kenya in February 2018 I knew I was home, but little did I know the impact the children here would have on me. The children living on the streets are the strongest, bravest, most courageous children I have ever been lucky enough to meet. This is just one such child in a city of many.
This is Ben’s story, he deserves to be heard.
Ben is 16 years old and he’s been living on the streets of Nairobi for the last 3 years of his short life.
When he was 12 years old his mother died and his father soon remarried, for Ben this meant new siblings and a new mother, which one would think is great. It wasn’t that way for Ben. His new mother beat him regularly and his father couldn’t handle the situation so he turned to alcohol and then eventually just disappeared completely one day, to never return.
Ben being only 13 years old and with nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help ran away from home. His home is about an eight hour drive from Nairobi but somehow he found his way to this bustling city on his own and began his life on the streets.
His life on the streets consisted of begging for food, trying to avoid being arrested, tossed into juvenile hall and beatings from the older street children.
He soon adjusted to his new life and began to accept that this was how he would live out the rest of his life, as a street boy.
He began making friends with other street children and together they became a family of sorts. They help each other when they can, they protect each other the best that they can and they truly care about each other in the harshest living conditions any child should ever be forced to live in.
Ben befriended a lady who works at a shop in downtown Nairobi and she would help him whenever she could. She kept him from turning to alcohol and drugs, she gave him hope that life could one day be different, but different from what?
All he has known is beatings at home and then more danger of it living on the street. He never once did any drugs or drank any alcohol and always knew he wanted more and that he didn’t want to be on the street, but where was he to go?
I first met Ben on Sunday Feb. 2, 2020 when we were doing a street feeding for the children. He was a little bit on the wild side, acting like a tough guy, when on the inside he was still just a boy.
He approached and asked us for help to go back to school. We gave him a phone number to call and said to reach out if he was serious. Well he was and he did, he called me the next morning from a borrowed phone and we set up a day and time to meet to discuss how to get him off the streets as soon as possible.
We met with Ben on Tuesday and everything changed in a heartbeat.
Hearing Bens story completely for the first time shook me to the core. We were doing anything we could go find Ben a safe place to go, two of us on our phones, two more googling, we called numerous children’s homes to see if they had space to take him for just one week, and not one of them could, but one gave us a number of a home for street boys.
We called and thankfully they said yes we could bring Ben there as soon as we could.
My heart skipped a beat and the dark gloomy cloud that had been hanging over me since Sunday was finally starting to lift, just a little bit though. I was still worried because he had to survive one more night on the street, I was scared for him, all I wanted was to bring him home with me just for one night, but I can’t do that in Kenya, which is probably a good thing in hindsight otherwise I would need a much bigger home.
One of our associates met with Ben on Wednesday morning and took him to buy some new clean clothes and some shoes. He was very excited that day, he woke up extra early, went to a local place to shower, and then ran downtown Nairobi to the city clock to check the time, he didn’t want to be late for his meeting.
He wasn’t, he was very early, he even had time to get a haircut.
Driving to the centre in Ngong where Ben would be staying was exciting for me, I was still full of mixed emotions, happy, sad, scared, worried every emotion that you can have I think I did for that 30 minute drive.
All I kept thinking was “what if he didn’t like it there”, “what if he didn’t fit in”, “what if he doesn’t make any friends”, the what if’s just kept coming. Was this really the best option for Ben, or was I being selfish because I wanted him off the street? So many unanswered questions until we finally arrived.
The director of the home was very welcoming as were all the boys living there, they accepted us all and were very kind to us. After speaking about how we can help Ben and what Ben would need to readjust to a life with structure I started to feel much better about Bens future, I was still on edge and near tears the whole time but I finally started to feel like Ben is going to be okay.
The best part of the whole day was when Ben went out of the office and came back to the door with the biggest smile I have ever seen and introduced us very proudly to a boy, one of his friends, who had also been a street boy.
Yes Ben already had one friend and that did it for me.
The tears came and I had to turn away, he was happy, truly happy and most of all he would be safe.
Thanks to a sponsor Ben will soon be starting class 4 (Grade 4) in school with his friends and he will finally be able to live life as a child should.
I need to thank you Ben for allowing me to be a part of your world, and most of all for being brave enough to ask for help and willing to accept the help that was given to you. You are a survivor and I know you will succeed at whatever life throws your way, you’ve already proven that in more ways than one.
Deanne Berarducci grew up in Revelstoke and recently launch the NGO Because All Children Matter.