Where street children use courtesy to charm drivers with an eye on their cash
Victoria Chelangat was reaching for her safety belt after putting away the three baskets filled with fresh fruits and vegetables she had bought at the roadside stalls in Emali township when a polite “Shikamoo!” startled her.
Upon looking up, she locked eyes with a pair of warm, brown smiling eyes on a scruffy face.
“Tafadhali ni saidie na pesa ya chakula (Please give me some money for food),” the boy in a dirty vest and torn pants pleaded.
“Get off the street and go back to school,” Ms Chelangat lashed in disgust, as she rolled up her window.
“Asante. Uwe na safari njema (Thanks, have a safe journey,” he responded, evoking a deep sense of guilt in the mother of three.
“I rolled back the window and handed him a few coins, with a firmer admonition that he goes back to school,” the Nairobi medic told the Nation recently.
Her experience is common among motorists who shop at the town that straddles Makueni and Kajiado counties, whose street children have learnt to equate courtesy to survival.
There are between 200 and 400 street children in Makueni, a 2018 survey by the Department of Children’s Services found. More than 150 boys and girls aged 10 to 24 roam the streets of Emali.
Interviews with some of the children found that some are truants from the neighbouring Emali, Ndwaani, and Nairattat primary schools. Others came from distant Nairobi and Mombasa to eke out a living in the busy township.
Some of the youngsters are talented dancers and musicians. They recently told the Nation that they would like to go back to school but are prevented from doing so by poverty, peer pressure, orphanhood, and lack of parental care.
“I found solace on the street after my parents started neglecting me following their separation,” said an eight-year-old boy.
Often, the older street boys recruit the younger ones into using drugs, the common ones being glue and marijuana.
The authorities and the local business community complain that the number of street children in Emali has been rising.
The attractive fresh fruits and vegetables displayed in stalls that line a section of the Nairobi-Mombasa highway that cuts through the busy township lure motorists. Besides, the town is a stopover for thousands of truck drivers heading to and from countries such as Rwanda.
Notably, Emali is the most economically vibrant town in Makueni County, going by the revenue it has been generating in recent years.
Interestingly, most motorists turn down the children’s pleas for cash until they wish them a safe journey. This calculated courtesy works miracles for the children.
“Shoppers who are initially hesitant to engage the children suddenly get interested in them because of their courtesy. They briefly tell the motorists about their backgrounds, and soon get money. Unfortunately, the young ones lose the money to their older colleagues. They spend some of the money on glue and drugs,” says Mr Reuben Mutua, the chairman of the Emali business community.
Some people feel that the children are a nuisance to motorists. Their approach provokes so much guilt that a motorist recently said he would stop buying commodities at the market after he felt constrained to offer them a full chicken meal he had bought for his family after they thanked and wished him a safe journey when he refused to give them money.
“He vowed not to stop here again until we get the children off the street,” said trader Jackline Muthoni.