Providing street-connected youth with employment-based skills in Kenya
Janet Kariuki and Su Corcoran
A number of children or young people in Kenya have not been able to complete formal, primary level education during their younger years. There are many reasons for this, including poverty, difficult home situations or living on the street. They are now unable to attend regular schools because of their age and the limited time already spent in school; or because they now have commitments at home, such as being a young parent. Yet such young people want and have a right to an education. In this article, Janet and Su explain about the work of Child Rescue Kenya (CRK). CRK runs an empowerment project to improve young people’s livelihoods through vocational skills training, life-skills education and supporting them to develop income generating activities.
Who we are
CRK is based in Trans Nzoia County, Kenya. It works with children and families, in and around Kitale town, to strengthen communities to support children and young people. This work includes street-based interventions to encourage street-connected children and youth to move back into the care of their communities and attend formal schooling. CRK also supports bio-intensive agriculture training for young people and families, to improve their self-sufficiency and develop sustainable incomes, and promotes the involvement of the local community in all projects.
One of CRK’s projects for older children and young people who have missed out on primary education, provides either short-term vocational training or apprenticeship placements as tailors, hairdressers, and mechanics (partially funded by the UK-based Big Lottery Fund). CRK run a formal tailoring class, but the other professions are taught on-the-job in placements with local businesses. The trainees also acquire skills – like business planning – to help them start service-based businesses with low capital outlay.
The trainees, and other youth living on the street or in the slums, can also access adult education classes that prepare them to sit their end of primary school exams, should they wish to. CRK run a drop-in centre where street children and youth come to wash themselves and their clothes and attend classes in life-skills and primary level subjects such as mathematics, Kiswahili and English. The teacher, qualified to deliver adult education, also provides classes for the older students. These classes are small in size and delivered a few mornings a week.
Those who attend regularly, and show commitment, are entered as adult candidates for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE). They are also encouraged to assist with delivering the occasional class for younger street-connected children attending, which helps the exam candidates to consolidate what they have learned, gain confidence in their knowledge and prepare for the exams. Bringing the youth into the drop-in centre for these classes shows the younger children still on the street how important it is to go (back) to school. They see their older peers trying to fit their studies around their vocational training and can be motivated to return home and return to formal schooling.
Relationships between young people who are part of the livelihoods project are nurtured through sports activities. These include: competitions between street-connected youth and those living in slum areas; inter-association or group competitions; and building connections with the wider sports leagues in Kitale. CRK also helps those who show great talent to be mentored under registered sports clubs within the project area. Staying healthy and active is also important to CRK’s work assisting the young people to overcome habits picked up on the street. For example, support is provided to help them avoid drugs or solvent abuse. There are also educational activities to build awareness of HIV/AIDS, and testing and medication for sexually transmitted infections is available. CRK offers follow-up treatment as required.
Putting the community at the centre of our projects is important, and in this instance CRK build up a community around the young people. Many of the young men in particular have been, or continue to be, street-connected. Some will have lived on the street full time, but most now reside in low-quality housing in the slum areas and tend to rely on street-based informal employment networks for survival. This can involve the illegal brewing of the alcoholic drink changaa and other risky activities. In order to protect them from these activities, CRK has developed peer networking groups.
The alumni of the vocational training project are assigned to support those new to the project. Groups are established and the members encouraged to meet regularly to share experiences. They may also develop group savings plans (known as merry-go-rounds in Kenya). Each member pays into the group on a regular basis and members take turns to receive the lump sum to develop their business, pay for unforeseen events or make large payments on essential items. In some cases the young people will develop business plans together and, with the support of CRK staff, make the move slowly towards being economically self-sufficient.
The benefits of a skills-based education
The young people involved in CRK’s livelihoods programme are able to gain vocational training that helps them to support themselves and their families. They can access a means of completing primary-level education in a supportive environment. The peer groups provide a community in which they can move forward together – an inclusive network that operates as a team to gain entry into the labour market.
Janet Kariuki has been Programmes Officer for CRK for 10 years. She can be contacted at: email@example.com
Su Corcoran is a doctoral researcher at The University of Manchester and has been working with street-connected children and youth in Kenya since 2009. She is also a trustee for CRK-UK: