Years ago, when I was teaching street children in Kenya, a little girl came into my class who had a particularly troubled look about her. She had sticks and weeds in her hair, as if she had just come from sleeping on the ground. She had torn clothes on, an unruly smile, and an undoubtedly empty stomach. Something about her was wild and different from the other children in the class, who were also destitute, but well accustomed to the daily exercise of our informal classroom.
I learned then that her name was Agnes, and that her mother had kicked her out of the house when she could not have been much older than nine or ten. I wasn’t sure what would happen to her, since children who turned up out of the blue at our center often disappeared just as suddenly. I remember someone saying that she was intending to work as a maid.
Years have passed and Jitegemee has continued to keep track of Agnes, who has grown into a beautiful and bright student in school. This year, she writes in English about what happened to her, and I feel like I am hearing it for the first time.
The stories of these kids, and the chance to watch them grow up over the years and struggle against life’s innumerable challenges, are one of the greatest gifts I have had in my life. No matter what struggles I face in my life—a tough boss, a stupid financial decision, a personal crisis—these kids have had to overcome far worse, and they have done it with dignity and grace.
This year, our program is continuing to grow, not just in numbers of children but in services provided. Eva Kivuva, a team member in Kenya, and Mike Kimeu, Jitegemee’s Program Director in Kenya, have begun a new phase of vocational training, in which children over 14 come to an informal classroom five days per week to prepare themselves to enter vocational apprenticeships in partnership with the Undugu Society, one of Kenya’s oldest nonprofit organizations.
Passing on some key responsibilities for the development of the program to the local community is a big theme of Jitegemee’s progress this year. Mike has set up a local advisory board comprised of long-time friends of the organization in Machakos, including social workers and a doctor. This group will help us marshal resources for the program, better advocate for kids, and get our message out to a broader audience.
On this side of the ocean, Jitegemee has been overjoyed to get two new board members this year, Njeri Gichohi, a law student at Suffolk University who has taken on the big job of fundraising czar, and Cathy Mosca, who has generously volunteered many, many hours making sure our system of contributions and receipts run smoothly. We are raising funds this year, in part, through a series of small dinner parties. Amelia Kaplan, a New York board member, just put on a great event, and David Woods, a DC board member, has agreed to have one in the fall.
Many other developments are on the horizon: a better website, a new database tracking the progress of the kids and a big event in Boston planned for the fall. But we are keenly aware that, whatever successes we achieve here in the US, Jitegemee’s real progress in bettering the lives of children is due to the hard work of our dedicated staff and partners on the ground in Kenya, and, ultimately, the struggles of those children themselves. So I’d like to thank all those working on behalf of Jitegemee in Kenya, and I’d like to say: Excellent work, Agnes!
By Farah Stockman