When you give to BGR, your gifts travel thousands of miles and land in the hands of trusted national partners. They live and work side by side with their neighbors in need. They’re passionate about serving their people. They’re invested in their communities. And you give them what they need to make a real difference.
In this three-part series, you’ll meet a few of the local heroes who give their time, talents, and lives to raising strong, independent communities.
On an afternoon in late March, a fire roars in a courtyard of the Naivasha Children’s Shelter. About 20 boys, between the ages of 7 to 14, stand around the blaze and watch as the clothes they wore when they lived on the street burn to ashes.
It’s a ceremony the shelter holds every time a new group of boys is rescued from the streets. That’s your life on the streets in the fire. That’s not your life anymore. It’s time to move forward.
For Eunice, who helps run the shelter, moving forward for the boys, a lot of times, means going back—back to their families.
A MEANTIME HOME
Eunice had been working with people living on the street for a long time before she came to Naivasha in 2014. For more than a decade, Eunice and other partners struggled to find a place where boys living on the street could be rehabilitated.
“We prayed for a long time for God to have a place where the boys could have a home,” she said.
And the Naivasha Children’s Shelter became that home. But in 2016, the shelter was struggling for funding. Eunice and other shelter leadership looked at each other around a table and realized they only had six months’ worth of funds to keep the shelter open.
“You have staff looking at you, you have children looking at you, and they are expecting everything to flow,” Eunice said.
So in order for the shelter to stay flowing, they needed a new source of funding. That’s when they turned to BGR, and friends like you stepped up and delivered. Since that time, you’ve helped support the yearly operations of the center—things like food, educational resources, and even a carpentry program for the boys.
Eunice said the experience of BGR stepping up to help in their time of need strengthened her resolve that God was in control. God cared for the shelter. God cared about the boys.
PEELING BACK THE MASKS
Unfortunately, the community doesn’t share that same compassion. Locals call the street boys chokoras—translated as “one who eats something out of a dust bin.” People would roll up their windows to avoid having to interact with begging street boys.
“They’re viewed as trash,” Eunice said. “The way you sweep trash is the way people want to sweep them away rather than understand them.”
Eunice said you have to take the time to understand them if you want to help them. Most of the boys ended up on the street when their families fell apart. Many have lost one parent or both to HIV/AIDS. Some of them come from unsupportive families, where their parents are addicted to alcohol or drugs, or just don’t have an interest in raising their children.
Poverty is also a huge factor. Eunice said many boys just tell themselves, “Let me see if I can get a better life elsewhere.”
So they turn to the streets and usually find their way to a “base,” a group of other street boys with an older boy as a de facto leader. As a trade for letting them stay in the base, the older boy will command younger boys to bring back a certain amount of money from begging. They start doing hard drugs. Before long, the street way of life is the only way of life.
That means it’s not always easy to convince a boy to leave the streets. But Eunice said it starts with forming relationships. Naivasha social workers go to bases a couple of times a week and buy a meal for the boys. Once the boys know to expect them, the social workers will start playing street soccer with them, a favorite pastime. Maybe once a week. Then twice. During that time, social workers get to know the boys and figure out if they’re ready to leave the streets or not.
“It’s peeling back a mask, one layer after another, until you get to know that boy,” Eunice said.
Finally, after months of outreach, it’s Rescue Day. Social workers find the 20 boys most ready and willing to leave the streets and bring them to Naivasha.
When they arrive at the shelter, Eunice and other staff welcome the boys and show them their new beds and clothes, the first new clothes many of them will have had in a long time. Then, they’ll get to take a shower and cut their hair, more firsts.
After the burning ceremony, the boys finally get to have a meal. And, oh, do they eat—a lot!
“We’re feeding boys,” Eunice joked.
For the first two nights, the staff take the boys to a camp away from the shelter where they can bond each other and detox from the drugs they’ve now had to stop cold turkey. Eunice said the camp has lowered the number of boys who try to run back to the streets in the first week.
Back at the shelter, the boys have a strict routine every day to build consistency: clean their room, eat breakfast, go to devotion, attend counseling sessions. The boys don’t attend school during the year they stay at the shelter so they can focus entirely on rehabilitation. Older kids do, however, get the chance to take courses like carpentry and welding to help them get good jobs when they leave.
A FOREVER HOME
But Eunice said as great as these programs are, the shelter is not an orphanage. The boys are never meant to stay. The goal, she said, is reconnecting with their families.
“The place of a child that’s best is a home,” she said.
After a few months, staff take a boy back to his home to meet with the family and try to understand the reasons why the boy ended up on the streets. Together, they work out a plan to welcome the child home, with the safety of the boy as the first priority.
Eunice said she’s seen boys come to the shelter completely without hope, convinced they were destined to stay on the streets forever, who ended up accomplishing amazing things.
When David* came to the shelter, he couldn’t even read and write, and he was too old to start school. Eunice said he refused to give up on his education. He studied hard and pushed himself. When the national test scores for admittance to high school were released, David was the top student in all of Naivasha! He went on to receive a scholarship to cover all four years of his high school.
Another boy, Edi,* went in a different direction. He didn’t care about formal education, but he loved the carpentry program. When he applied for an internship at a local workshop, he did so well that a licensed carpenter hired him to start doing projects on his own. Now, Edi pays his own rent and can even support his sister.
“They didn’t think they could get there,” Eunice said. But with the shelter’s help, they found their confidence and their ability to take care of themselves.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR NAIVASHA?
Eunice said the shelter operation is just getting bigger. Later this year, BGR will help send a team to teach the boys a specialized type of welding that will set them apart from other students when they’re looking for jobs.
Eunice also hopes to start a family empowerment program, where the shelter can support the needs of the families in the community and—hopefully—prevent boys from ending up on the streets in the first place.
At the end of the day, Eunice said the greatest ally to help street boys is the boys themselves. She hopes those who stay at the shelter will use what they’ve learned to show other boys a life after the street. That they can move forward, too.