Striving to provide food for the hungry
A greater percentage of the donations, however, consists of food. The foodstuff donated includes maize meal, cereals, fruits, vegetables, sugar, cooking fat, bread, margarine and milk products. The trust gives these donations to ensure that children in charitable organizations are fed on a balanced diet. The history of the Childlife Trust dates back to 1992 when – out of public awareness campaign on the plight of street children
The programme brought together concerned individuals, private companies, businessmen and Non-Governmental organizations. The programme is a brainchild of a Nairobi businessman Mr Anup Shah. On realizing the magnitude of the problem of street children and the biting hunger written all over their faces, Shah then started soliciting funds from friends and the business community, which he would then use to feed children on the streets. “He later realized that feeding children on the streets was not solving the problem but instead led to an influx of children to the streets”, reminisces Ms Leah Ambwaya, the trust’s administrator.
Ambwaya says that the strategy had to be changed because some children would leave their homes and schools to go and feed on the streets. The programme was then guided by a steering committee, which later evolved into a trust, acquiring registration in 1995. A secretariat, which brought together stakeholders in children’s issues was then established. It was discovered that it would be easier to identify various children’s homes and centers where the food would be channelled.
A major media campaign was then launched in 1995. Dubbed “The only handout street kids need”, the campaign aimed at sensitizing the public against giving handouts to children on the streets. Instead, the public was advised to channel their food and cash donations to either Childlife Trust or to other institutions that take care of the destitute children. It was envisaged that this would reduce the number of children on the streets.
Childlife Trust has three broad objectives, which include promoting support opportunities for children in need and those in difficult circumstances, research, documentation and assessment of sites where children can go for help and creating awareness about children in need and those in difficult circumstances in order to involve the public in seeking solutions to those problems.
The public awareness activities include two annual community events designed to encourage understanding and commitment to helping destitute children. They include “The other side of the street”, an exhibition of, for and about children’s programmes. It also includes appeals for food donations. This is a weeklong forum at which children’s centers and homes promote themselves. Then there is the “Christmas campaign”, which appeals to the public to donate used clothing to be given to destitute children.
Early this month, the trust – in collaboration with Uchumi Supermarkets Limited, Multichoice Kenya and the Nation Media Group - launched a programme aimed at buying food for the destitute children to enable them enjoy the forthcoming festive season like the rest. Shoppers at Uchumi – a leading chain of supermarkets - are provided with donation boxes in which to deposit their contributions. The initiative runs till 10 November in readiness for the commencement of end year festivities namely “Diwali”-the Hindu festival of lights, the Muslim holy month of “Ramadhan” and Christmas.
During the launch at the Sarit Centre Branch of Uchumi Supermarkets, children from four charitable homes participated in a shopping spree that involved picking designated food items as fast as possible. Those with the highest value of shopping were declared winners. The participants carried home US $898 worth of shopping. The homes that participated included Shelter Children’s home, Gatamaiyu home for the mentally handicapped, Light and Power home and Mama Fatuma’s children’s home.
And the children could not hide their joy. “It was fun meeting children from other homes and seeing everyone so happy. At least it gave me a sense of belonging and I felt like somebody really cares for me”, said Evelyn Chepkoech from Shelter children’s home. Multichoice Kenya General Manager Peter Faukel appreciated the public response and hoped that the initiative would achieve its desired goals.
The trust has since 1995 expanded its donations following an encouraging public response. Apart from food, donations now include clothing, hygiene products, medical items, house- keeping needs, educational supplies and tools. These are supplied to children’s homes and training centers. These donations are solicited by the trust from local organizations, businessmen and manufacturers.
The manufacturers mostly donate their products. For instance, millers donate maize flour while other food companies donate their food products. Pharmaceutical companies and publishers donate medicine and books respectively. Besides donating their products, the companies also give cash donations, which the trust uses to buy food for onward transmission to children’s homes and centres.
The overwhelming public support is clearly evident by the abundant foodstuff, clothes, books and medicines that fill the trust’s stores located on Nairobi’s Kijabe Street. Through its Human Elements Linking People (HELP) programme, which was started in 1996, the trust has attracted several university students, who work as volunteers. They are sent to the field to assess the specific needs of institutions that the trust works with. The students also help in terms of monitoring and evaluation.
The trust also helps student groups, professional and business communities to develop available human resources. The youth in homes are also given positions within the trust that help them acquire job experience. And to ensure that support goes only to those who deserve it, the centers and homes submit proposals, which are then researched and approved for intervention by the trust’s management committee.
When a project site demonstrates strong and sincere viable long -term strategies, Childlife targets funds or items to meet specific needs. A successful link for Childlife’s project support has been to find contracts for skills training sites, where youth from needy backgrounds are attending free courses. These contracts are then extended to children’s homes and centers.
The trust discourages the public from giving handouts on the streets to destitute children because with handouts, the streets look more attractive than homes and schools. Handouts also enable children to buy glue and other addictive drugs. Many adults also misuse children by sending them on begging missions. Worse still, the children turn into marauding gangs who harass people on the streets.
For these reasons, the trust appeals to the public to give their support to schools, homes and rehabilitation centers that work well and to treat destitute children with respect and love. More emphasis is laid on food donations in order to alleviate food shortages that threaten the closure of some children’s centres. The trust also appeals to employers to hire the youth from the training programmes it supports.
Due to the overwhelming support received, Ambwaya told “Africanews” that the trust has found itself offering help in as far afield as Machakos, Thika and Kiambu, although the programme was targeted at Nairobi. She says in the near future the trust will spread out its outreach to the whole country.
Asked which companies or organizations have been at the forefront of donations, Ambwaya said that she is grateful for any contribution whether it is in cash or kind. “We do not want to single out certain organizations, but I must say that we always appreciate whatever little donation we are given”, she said. However, she acknowledges that the trust has achieved a lot through networking and collaboration with the media houses, the government, the Kenya Alliance for the Advancement of Children’s Rights (KAACR), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Girl child Network.
Despite a considerable degree of success, the activities of the trust have not been without challenges. Because of the current economic situation, food donations that come in are barely enough to cater for the over 300 institutions that the trust works with. For this reason, says Ambwaya, the trust is now toying with the idea of looking for foreign donors to supplement local effort.
The trust has also fallen victim to phantom children’s centres, which immediately disappear from the scene after receiving donations. Some of the bogus centres also sell the foodstuff donated to them.
Due to increased cases of family disintegration and the HIV/AIDS pandemic which has given rise to a number of orphans, the number of street children continues to swell, thus threatening the trust’s goal of removing children from the streets. However, Ambwaya says that this does not deter her and vows that the trust will always strive to support those in need.
For further information on the trust’s activities, please contact:
P.O. Box 46309, Tel. 254 2 339621,