Hard economic times have hit Machakos this year, but Jitegemee has remained firm in its commitment to help vulnerable street children and youth grow in mind, body and spirit. Our region in Kenya has experienced a serious drought, combined with a financial crisis that hit Kenya like so many countries. As a result, the price of food has increased considerably. A bag of maize that used to cost about $17 (1,300 Ksh) now costs about $40, making it even more difficult for poor parents to feed their families. Jitegemee has witnessed many kids flocking to the streets to fend for themselves.
But we are proud that our children did not drop out of school, even with these many problems. We attribute this success to our lunch program where more than 75 students come to eat daily. We worked hard to ensure that children have food, clothes, medical and support.
Our strategy remained participatory and collaborative. We have an outreach program to meet with street kids, observe them to understand their potential, and act as a catalyst for change and holistic development. This year, we recruited 30 new students from the streets to our vocational program, which is proving to be one of our most successful.
After 6 months of rehabilitation classes, youth who despaired in life start to build their ambition. We then place these youth in hands-on apprenticeships with skilled tradesmen. About 80 percent of our graduates are earning money from their trade through commissions, employment or self-employment.
I am also pleased to report progress among our students in formal education. Our students did very well in their exams last fall, and this year we enrolled six children in prestigious secondary schools, including two in Machakos Boys High School, the best in the district, where they are now scoring A’s in mathematics and science. Another joined Makueni Boys, another leading district school. Three others also performed very well and joined Kaumoni, Kathiiani, and Mumbuni Girls High School, three respected provincial schools.
Jitegemee improves academic excellence and motivation by introducing empowerment sessions during month-long school vacations. During the April holiday, all the secondary school scholars were enrolled in tutoring classes to help them improve their skills. “I believe the tutoring I attended during the holiday has given me a new perspective about organizing my time in school,” Mbithe Mutinda, a high school senior said.
We also invite motivational speakers, counselors, teachers and parents to talk with the children to encourage them. Children who joined Jitegemee have been able to see that teachers, parents and others in the community care for them. They have been able to translate this into care for themselves and a commitment to their own lives. In this way, former street kids have developed aspirations and ambitions for their future.
Last summer, Jitegemee launched a microloan program with a pilot group of 14 kids with the aim of bringing loans into process with former street youth. The aim was to create opportunities for the kids to start or improve their business by issuing loans of about $50 to graduates of our vocational program who submitted promising business plans. We faced a number of challenges, as some youth involved in the program took jobs outside Machakos, making repayment a challenge. About 60% of the funds were repaid. This year, Jitegemee staff revised the program to increase parental involvement, institute closer monitoring and require that youth who participate save a certain amount with Jitegemee before receiving a loan. This spring, we issued another round of microloans, and so far the program is working smoothly. Jitegemee also acquired its own tools, which youth borrow for their businesses. For example, two vocational graduates who learned tailoring borrowed Jitegemee’s sewing machines to make school uniforms to sell.
As you know, Jitegemee has had a long-term goal of acquiring our own office, vocational class, and library and computer lab. Now, our dream is almost coming true. We are in the process of purchasing an acre of land, and will begin the process of designing our new building this fall, with input from parents, staff, kids, and experts. Your donation will go a long way towards making this plan a reality and serving more street youth to become self- sustaining and productive members of society.
By Mike Kimeu