Footprints and Photos - childhood in the slums

They have a hard life but they make me smile

Life in Mukuru informal settlement, or in any slum, can be tough. A childhood in a slum, well life doesn’t get tougher than that. I want to introduce you to a few friendly faces that despite their hard life, make me smile. Here is a story about what life is like for them. Meet:

The Babies of Mukuru

Footprints and Photos - childhood in the slum

So keen for a visitor – these kids are completely innocent and expect nothing and ask for less.

I can hear you “nawwwww” from here and believe me I feel the same way. These incredible youngsters are daily visitors to Baby Care – a kindergarten here at Ruben Centre. Whilst not sounding overly exciting, this kindergarten plays a massive role in the lives of the families it helps. Having access to childcare means parents can work – how often do we hear of issues back home about this; it’s so expensive, they are full, I have to stay at home, etc etc. Well put those complaints into context here in a slum. A large number of families are single parent with the mothers sticking with the kids.

I like to say all the fathers have gone to a ficitional “Papa County” because so often you hear that the papa is gone. Gone where? Well now there is an answer, Papa County. So being the only parent, the ability to gain income or employment is even tougher for these mothers.

Providing for the children

A recent study released in Nairobi suggests more and more women are turning to crime. The statistic is now that ~60-70% of women would attempt crime. The reasons; to survive, to feed their kids, to pay rent. Obviously some answered revenge, anger, provocation but a large number are feeling forced into this lifestyle. It is the kind of ‘work’ where they can ‘still be home and look after their children’ and have money coming in.

Footprints and Photos - childhood in the slum

I can’t even imagine this child’s life, but those eyes beg me to.

A safe haven

Now Baby Care. A safe place for babies and a chance to leave home and get meaningful employment for mothers. Ruben Centre also offers a “Stop Child Labour Program”. This program rescues children from child labour activities and identifies children at risk. The parent is employed on a work-for-cash scheme which teachers them skills (charcoal brick making, cleaning, cooking, etc) on a rotation basis. At the end of the program the parent is empowered to start a business or seek ongoing employment with their new abilities. The children are provided additional physical, mental and social support in order to integrate back into school. Prior to this program, the children were sent to scavenge, steal or sell themselves in order to provide food for the household. Now, the mothers (or sometimes the fathers) have work, the smallest of children are safe in care and the older ones have the chance to attend school.

Footprints and Photos childhood in the slum

Being in Baby Care, parents know their little ones will be safe, fed and happy.

Childhood scavenging

Make no mistake though, school aged children are still sent to scavenge during school holidays, with some even doing it on the weekends. It is not uncommon on my drive into Mukuru to see children standing with the pigs and cows and goats on a pile of rubbish with no shoes and big hessian bag to collect anything of value. Check out my Instagram feed for a recent photo if you need to see it to believe it.

To help combat weekend scavenging a fundraising event was recently held. The outcome has meant that Ruben Centre can supply 70 children with a bag of maize and beans on a Friday each week for the next year. These bags of food are enough to help the families eat and hopefully prevent the children from having to work. Speaking with the headmistress of the primary school about this, I learnt that not only do the kids come back to class smelling like a rubbish tip (water costs money and so does soap), but they are distracted, hungry and disruptive. Often it takes a week or two after holidays to bring the kids back in to line – but what if you are doing this every day after school or every weekend?

Footprints and Photos children of the slum

Is this where you’d want to leave your child while at work?

Given a chance

That is life for many of the women and children here in Mukuru. Please don’t take this to mean that all men have abandoned their families. I have met so many wonderful men here that love their families and who work hard to provide for them. It is often the women that break my heart though. The lives they have lead, the issues they have faced and now the challenges to raise their families; it is just too much. That’s why I’m glad to see places like Baby Care and the Stop Child Labour Program. These programs give the women a chance – and we all know given half a chance, us women can rule the world or at least we can raise babies that will!

Footprints and Photos - a childhood in the slum helped by Baby Care

Baby Care – a safe place to learn and grow


For more on the people of Mukuru, see The Wild Life of Kenya, or if you’d like to know more about the facilities at Ruben Centre, click here.