Part 2: The Rescue Center Peace House
This is a follow-up to my first post.
The pictures on the coffee table showed my mother standing in front of a house at an opening ceremony. She had a pair of scissors in her hand and was getting ready to cut a ribbon. The sign above the front doors of the house read, “The Child Welfare Society of Kenya, Peace House Rescue Center.” I immediately riddled her with questions wanting to know what this was about.
CWSK Main Office – www.facebook.com
The Child Welfare Society of Kenya (CWSK) was established in 1950, and officially recognized as an exempt organization in 1955. The Society’s main goal is to safeguard and advance the welfare of children and youth, particularly those who are at-risk, so that they may have equal access to opportunities and contribute to the development of the societies that they live in. My mother served as a Probation Officer with the CWSK, mostly dealing with delinquent children.
According to Kidji Nduku, in her article titled, “Labor Pains – Kenya Tries To Lend A Helping Hand to Its Impoverished Million Street Children” (1997), the Rescue Center Peace House was established in Kenya in 1992, and was part of a major project funded by the International Labor Organization (ILO), to eliminate child labor and exploitation in different countries. Similar houses were established in five other priority countries namely, Brazil, India, Indonesia, Thailand, and Turkey (Nduku, 1997). The Peace House targeted children and youth who were most in need of protection and care as a result of being orphaned, abandoned, poverty-stricken, physically/emotionally/sexually abused, and facing various forms of exploitation.
In her article titled, “What is Child Labor?”, Mary Mbeo-Manyasi (1999) notes that it is challenging to define what constitutes child labor in many parts of the world, given that different societies have varying cultural perspectives on what types of work are acceptable for children to perform, and what types of work would constitute child exploitation.
Mbeo-Manyasi, who served as the National Program Coordinator for the ILO’s International Program for the Elimination of Child Labor (IPEC), attributes the causes of child labor to poverty, lack of education, limited access to opportunities to acquire or build skills that could lead to better employment, single-parent or large family households, and the accepted cultural perspective of child labor as a way to support the family (1999).
Mbeo-Manyasi also states that the sectors where child labor is most prevalent in Kenya is in construction and mining, domestic service, informal sectors (such as garages, vending/hawking items on the street, and tanneries), and commercial sex (1999). Regardless of the age or gender of the child, working in these sectors is considered hazardous to children, given that most times they are not adequately protected from inhaling substances that are dangerous to their health, serious workplace injuries, severe fatigue, and physical and sexual abuse (Mbeo-Manyasi, 1999).
Child labor has always been a problem in Kenya. Nduku (1997) states that with the rising costs of healthcare, education, and food, the problem only became worse, particularly in the 80s and 90s. Many parents could no longer afford to keep their children in school. Those relying on government subsidies to pay for their children’s tuition and other fees were the most affected, following government cuts to health and education programs (Nduku, 1997).
To date, since most parents (particularly in rural areas), cannot afford an education, their jobs consist of working on farms, selling vegetables, or working in factories to earn a living. Their earnings are barely enough to feed, clothe, and educate their children. More and more children, especially girls, are pulled out of school and forced to work with their parents, beg on the city streets, or prostitute themselves. Since most of these children are under the age of 16, they are considered to be working in dangerous and exploitative jobs.
In 1973, Kenya signed an ILO convention banning exploitative and dangerous labor for children under the age of 16 (Nduku, 1999). The country had yet to establish proper laws that would guarantee punishment for employers who were exploiting children. With the rising cases of child labor, it became obvious that the Kenyan government needed to review existing policies regarding child exploitation, implement legislature, and design policies that were more effective in eradicating child labor (Nduku, 1999).
The unfortunate reality at the time, and even now, is that despite there being laws and policies that prohibit child labor, many families still need to survive. As such, parents and children will continue to work to sustain themselves. Since they are considered to be a cheap source of labor, employers will continue to look the other way and exploit young children.
Once the Peace House was opened, the CWSK utilized Social Workers to assist with recruiting girls from the streets to live in the home (Nduku, 1997). The Social Workers established a rapport with the girls, learned more about them, their families, and home situations, for those whose relatives were still alive (Nduku, 1997).
The Peace House had 18 beds and offered programs that included providing health care, skills training, extracurricular activities such as music and drama, spiritual support, and counseling (Nduku, 1997). As part of their program, the CWSK also provided support for the girls’ families, in the hope that they would be reunited once the girls completed the Peace House program. In some situations, the CWSK was able to offer loans to the parents to enable them to start their own legitimate businesses, such as growing and selling their own crops. With the money they earned, the parents would be able to maintain their homes, and provide food, clothing, and an education for their children (Nduku, 1997).
Once their rehabilitation was complete, the girls were encouraged to enroll in school with the support of the CWSK and their families. The goal was to ensure that these girls graduated with a high school diploma, which would enable them to seek further training, and hence acquire good jobs, or acquire a college degree. Once these girls started earning a salary, they would pay back their loans to the CWSK, so that these funds could be utilized to assist other girls and their families.
My mother, sister, and I made several trips to the Rescue Home to visit the first cohort of girls. We assisted them with their reading, had conversations with them on how they were adjusting to life in their new home, and got to see first-hand how well they were learning important life-skills that they could employ in their daily lives. The girls were taught how to cook healthy meals, how to clean and maintain their personal spaces, and how to care for their bodies. As part of their rehabilitation, they engaged in drama and singing classes where they recited poems and told stories about their personal life journey, which they also recited to public audiences and the national media.
By 1997, 77 girls from Nairobi and other parts of the country, had been admitted to the Peace House Rescue Center, though not all of them successfully graduated from the program (Nduku, 1997). Most of these girls were accustomed to life on the streets and had a desire to go back. The concept of change and the expectations placed on them to overcome addiction, sexual assault, go back to school, and basically put all their efforts into improving their own situation was quite intimidating for several of them.
For some, their families refused to support them, which further discouraged them from remaining in the program. For others, it was easy to succumb to peer pressure from those who preferred to return to the streets. In other situations, girls who enrolled in school experienced substantial difficulty with transitioning and fitting in, particularly due to the apprehension of some of the students and teachers, who felt that the girls would be a bad influence, given their background.
In addition, when other parents learned about the program and support that would be provided to families, some saw this as an opportunity to force their children to go out into the street, so that they could be recruited into the program. Once the CWSK assessed the girls’ home situations and provided their families with loans to start their own businesses, some of these parents misused these loans.
Maintaining homes like the Peace House is a very costly venture. Donations cannot always be relied upon, and grant funding for such programs could run out or be eliminated for a variety of reasons. While it is meaningful to rehabilitate at least one girl, if a significant number of girls are not graduating from the program, this has negative implications for the program and funding, since this always raises questions on how feasible or effective the program is.
Drawing from this experience, my mother had a strong desire to do more for women and the girl child. She acquired a job with CARE International in Kenya, where she had various opportunities to work on different projects, including the Girl Child Network, which were geared towards development, advocacy, and human rights for girls and women. My sister, Rosa and I, took a very keen interest in these projects. We already had diverse experiences with volunteering, but we knew that we could do a whole lot more. It therefore came as no surprise when my mother expressed an interest in establishing an organization, through which she could implement programs and provide services to local citizens in her home town. Several visits to see our grandparents opened our eyes to the vast need for specific programs and services in the area, and the desire to serve in this field was firmly established in my mind.
In Part 3 of my blog series, I will talk about my work with CHANGE, Kenya. Thank you for following along!
Member of the Board of Directors, Rukmini Foundation
Grants and Research Manager