Every street has a society

Bradley decided to see what was what. He took a trip to Kware where he found a spot with a number of street children gathered.

Street children often operate in groups, with each one having what they refer to as a ‘base’ – a location at which the group congregate and centre their lives around. Each base can have anywhere between 20 and 100 street children, usually young men and boys and sometimes a few females (more on this later).

For this group, the individuals were all male, primarily aged between 12 and 17, with a handful in their 20s. Bradley sat back and observed, taking his time to suss out whether he wanted to make a move and speak to them. He was reluctant because of their reputation, and knew he could easily be met with hostility.

Eventually he built up the confidence to go over to say hello. Not knowing what he was doing, he chose to fist bump them all one by one, before proceeding to ask one of the young men if he could have a chat. Bradley asked the young man who he is, what he did and where he was from. The conversation wasn’t going too well as the the young man was under the influence of drugs, and Bradley in his nervousness had forgotten his name within minutes. Bradley asked if they could meet again the next day – same place, same time but requested that he comes sober.

To Bradley’s surprise the young man was there the next day. This time, it was as though he was not the same person – no more staggering movements or stammering speech. He rediscovered the young man’s name was Denis, aged 20. Bradley went about befriending him, learning of his personal story. Denis was an aspiring musician who along the way ended up getting caught in street life.

The group Denis was a part of were the self proclaimed ‘Riverside Gang’ – aptly named due to their base’s close proximity to the river running parallel to the road on which they were centred.

Denis was the link between Bradley and the other members of the group, he would vouch for Bradley and acted as an ally. Bradley sensed that Denis was feared by the others in the group and that he held a position of authority. As the group’s trust in Bradley grew, Denis began opening up, and one day gave Bradley a disturbing confession. Denis said that during one of their earliest encounters, he was carrying a gun. When Bradley asked why, he was told “Its for work… but that’s a story for another day”.

The truth about life on the streets was slowly unravelling before Bradley’s eyes. He was learning more and more about the world in which these young men and boys operate in.

Eventually Bradley formed a routine, promising to visit the group every week to hang out. On occasion he would take meat, flour and other provisions to help them along in their day-to-day life on the street. The result was Bradley being accepted as a brother to the group. Bradley was aware this was no easy feat of achievement as there are many individuals who pose as friends to these groups but are in fact sent to infiltrate them by government agencies, in order to seek information on any criminal activity they are undertaking. Groups are weary of any outsiders.

Bradley began trying to mentor the members of the group with mixed success – providing them with ideas on how to lead a better life. Some of the group were open to the thought of leaving street life behind and finding a new path, but others not so much.

Bradley’s role evolved into him being a mediator of the group’s turbulent existence. Whenever there was an incident, disagreement or police arrest he was called upon for help. People close to him floated the idea of formalising his role by founding a charity, but Bradley was reluctant. His fears were that the perception of what he was trying to achieve by being around this group could be twisted into one driven by malicious intent – someone could say he is funding and supporting criminal activity.

In the end, he knew it was the right thing to do in order to create a sizeable impact on the children’s lives, so he registered Smile Foundation Kenya with the tagline ‘Inspiring fresh hope’. Registering a charity in Kenya is no easy task – at the time, it took Bradley 8 months from start to finish. This meant he had to wait quite some time before being able to set up a bank account for the charity to begin fundraising.

‘Chokora’ is a slang word used to describe street children. Seen here, a boy is unconscious by the Koja bus stage in Nairobi. Out of shot lies a broken glass bottle of industrial glue, the residue of which sprawled over the palms of his hands

Every street has a dream

For the receptive members of the group, Bradley began to discover what they wanted to do with their lives, with the hope of using this information to shape the efforts of Smile Foundation. One of the immediate issues they faced were local gangsters vandalising and destroying their base in the hope of pushing them out of the area. The group requested that Bradley speak to the police, in order to explain that the Riverside boys were now working with a charity called Smile Foundation and attempting to turn a new leaf. The boys wanted support from the police so that they would no longer be at the whim of gangs and troublemakers.

Bradley wanted to help the boys start a legitimate business, and their chosen starting point was to set up was a carwash. When you consider the low startup costs, non-essential specialist knowledge requirements and minimal specialist equipment required to run a carwash, it was a good idea. At first there were problems with vandalism and theft of equipment. A neighbourhood gang started claiming rights over the piece of land the carwash was on, but over time with the help of the police things improved. Parallel to this, Bradley was out drumming up business from the community, telling them to give the boys some support by showing up to have their car washed. This proved fruitful and the business began to grow.

Over time there were street children and young men from further afield who started showing up to the carwash to hang out with the newly reformed Riverside kids. These visiting individuals had a shady second life of crime – so were not the best of influences on Denis and his crew. Bradley would attempt to speak to these new boys when he had the chance – telling them about how the Riverside boys have reformed and are on a new path. Bradley would ask them how they thought things would turn out in the future if they continued leading their current life of misdemeanour. Unfortunately his efforts were futile and he was usually met with hostility. Bradley knew the right thing to do was to tell Denis to stop hanging out with these boys, but little did he know that Denis was already going out and stealing with them in secret.

It was the day after Bradley had warned Denis not to hang out with the boys that he received a phone call from him with some harrowing news.

Every street has known blood

“Do you remember those guys you spoke to me about? Well, last night they went out on a job and none of them made it back alive”.

The police had spotted one of the boys attempting a robbery, and later that night he was recognised when walking with a group of four friends. The police riled up the whole group and lied each of them down, face flat on the ground.

“You have disturbed us for too long” the police officer announced.

All five of the young men were executed by gunfire, point blank range.

From K24TV: ‘Five suspected gangsters that are thought to have posed a threat to residents of Kware slums in Nairobi’s pipeline estate were gunned down Sunday night by the police. The gangsters aged between eighteen to twenty five were found armed with home made pistols and machetes among other crude weapons. Residents had reported a steady rise in insecurity in the area.’

We have witnessed a lot of things, some of which brought us fear like theft. We thank our officers because those we have seen indulge in crimes like theft have been stopped

[Translation of man speaking in video]

Denis explained to Bradley that was it not for his warning, he would have been with the group of boys that night and would have died alongside them. Bradley’s last words to Denis came back to him “Denis, don’t stay out here with these boys tonight, go home”.

Traumatized, Bradley took a step away from visiting the Riverside kids for two weeks. This was not the first time he had come across such an incident – getting to know young men in circumstances like these and then hearing of their death is unfortunately a common occurrence.

Bradley spent some time evaluating things, considering how and why he is doing what he is doing. He was reminded of his original purpose which led him to these young people. He was reminded how many others struggle to engage and intervene with street children – whereas he had a knack for connecting with them. He was accepted by the Riverside kids, and with this came responsibility.


Article by: Shammi Raichura

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