Methodists Making a Difference with Children in Kenya
Tens of millions of children sleep on the street around the world. As once rural economies become connected to international markets, replacing established systems of support with unequal economic growth and locally experienced stress, the number of children who live on the streets will continue to increase. Some of these children are abandoned by parents from death or desertion and others choose to leave abusive home environments. Children who live on the street are at significantly higher risk of parasitic infections, respiratory illness, substance abuse, injury, malnutrition, diarrhea, psychosocial stress, physical abuse and sexual abuse.
While the problem of children living on the streets is global, the best responses are always local. Because each community is different, offsetting the challenges faced by street children requires invested local leadership with the ability to network local and international partners. This is the sort of network the Pan-Methodist Campaign for Children in Poverty is poised to become.
One great example of a local entity leading a community-wide response to street children comes from the Maua Methodist Hospital in Maua, Kenya. Originally founded by Methodist missionaries, the hospital continues to network and receive support from Methodists in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark and Kenya. The primary provider of quality medical and surgical care in Meru County, Kenya, hospitals have seen the rise of children on the street over the past decade.
The director of the community health department at the hospital, Stanley Gitari, has become increasingly uncomfortable with the fact of children sleeping on the street. These boys, ranging in age from 7 years through adulthood, are almost always seen sniffing bottles of shoe glue purchased at a low price from a local cobbler, dulling psychological and physical pain. Mr. Gitari is connected with a medical university in the United States – the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston – through Texan Methodist missionaries. Mr. Gitari found technical support to identify causes, concerns and hopes of the children from UTMB and has begun convening a response team comprised of community stakeholders to develop a data-driven response to the complex phenomenon. Active in the community response effort are tribal chiefs, pastors, municipal leaders, social workers, business leaders and educators.
When Mr. Gitari presented the action plan to municipal leadership, the heads of the police department, child welfare department, and the district commissioner abandoned their own previous plan and decided to follow the leadership of the Methodist hospital. In a letter circulated among the leadership and shared with the hospital, the district children’s officer wrote “the Methodist church/hospital partners have a more strategic and scientific approach in addressing the street children problem, which the sub-Committee unanimously and positively considered as it is long-term in scope.” The municipal leaders then requested that the hospital extend its study and community response beyond Maua to include two other townships with street children. With the formative research mostly done, the stakeholders are mobilizing and seeking funds for an adequate response that will cover some of the multiple causes and risks relevant to street children.
As the global economy continues to extend its reach, it is important that the church continue its global vocal action on behalf of the most vulnerable. Perhaps this is nowhere more important than with respect to children, the hope of a brighter future. For more information on how to support the street children project, please contact Stanley Gitari. For more information on the street children study or establishing a global academic-community partnership with UTMB, please contact Michael Raimer-Goodman.
Submitted by Michael Raimer-Goodman who is an MDiv graduate of Candler School of Theology (Emory University), and is currently a doctoral candidate in public health at the University of Texas Health Science Center.