Steve and Joshua

Publish date 15-03-2022

by Aurora Antonucci

Every time that Father Renato Kizito Sesana meets the Sermig fraternity and volunteer friends it is always a moment of great growth. Our paths have crossed on several occasions since 1999. Since then, friendship has grown together to the concrete aid that in recent years has gone to its communities in Kenya: 26 shipments for over 13 tons of material, mainly of a technological nature.

A few weeks ago, Father Kizito, Comboni missionary, former director of Nigrizia, founder of the Koinonia community, in Africa since 1977 first in Zambia and then in Kenya, he met the volunteers of Re.Te. at the Global Village of Cumiana. Father Kizito began by illustrating the situation of Covid in Kenya, thus helping us to see how the pandemic is lived on the other side of the world. From a medical point of view, the impact of Covid was minimal: today more people die from malaria and AIDS in Kenya. The economic impact, on the other hand, was absolutely devastating and created a further gap between rich and poor.
“The high schools had to close overnight, the order took effect immediately and then a curfew was declared from eight in the evening to five in the morning, which was followed by a ban on moving from region to region. The decision to close has put us in enormous difficulty; however, we managed to persuade the government structure to let us keep two houses open. In one we have about thirty girls, one of the most terrible situations. How a ten-year-old girl can end up on the street is easy to imagine. In the other house we have about forty males. Both houses are isolated, in highly protected contexts, so the institutions understood that it was much better to keep the children there than to send them back home. The economy collapsed, there was no longer a tourist around - tourism accounts for 20/25% -: a dramatic situation, many people have lost their jobs ".

As often happens, even in moments of maximum difficulty the possibility of doing good does not fail, opening the heart and the doors which, in theory, should remain closed.
«Even in the center where I live from evening to morning it is all over. A place full of life, of young people, of activities: suddenly closed, deserted. A situation of lack of life which, however, was suddenly reversed. National television had reported on 40 young people who lived in a central park in Nairobi and were accused, probably rightly, of surviving on petty criminal activities. A talented journalist illustrated the situation of these young people who had not eaten for three days and, on live television, they began to cry. The President appears to have seen this service and mobilized government structures. In short, one morning they called me, I consulted my collaborators and I agreed to welcome these 40 guys. We had never worked with adult street kids, but only with kids up to 16, so we were a little scared. It wasn't easy to get organized overnight. They arrived exhausted, dressed in rags. Little by little, hungry, dirty, exhausted boys emerged from these rags. After 15 days, as the experiment went well, the government brought us more than 100 children and teenagers under 18. We worked hard: find bunk beds, find kitchens, pots, the necessary to make food for this quantity of people. It was an experience that frightened us at first, but then it turned out to be extraordinary, because when we were obliged by law to empty our shelters, the same government brought us boys to start over with. all over again. Adults have completely different stories, very difficult stories behind them. Situations in which the finger of God is truly seen ».

Just God's finger, or even his whole hand, Father Kizito saw in the story of two boys, Steve and Joshua. «Steve, very lively, an eighteen year old full of life, always cheerful, immediately after being brought to us began to say:“ I want to go home because this is not my environment, I'm not a street kid. I have been on the road for three months and now I want to go home because my parents are taking me back, I have no problems going home ". Then we commission one of our operators who takes him home to Migori which is a corner of Kenya between Uganda and Tanzania, 500 km from Nairobi. Steve had told us that he had ended up on the street because he was a moto-taxi operator, boda boda they call them from us. He worked in this town of 50 thousand inhabitants, then when his employer was absent for three or four days, he took the income of those days, 8000 shillings, about 60 €, and gave up his job, the motorcycle and he went to seek his fortune in the big city. Arrived in Nairobi, he then ended up on the road. Our operator, who brought him home, checked everything: everything was really as he had told us. Steve is a very simple guy, special, so we gave him the stolen 8,000 shillings, so he could give them back to the employer who forgave him and gave him back the job.
But the story does not end there, it had a completely unexpected sequel.

«Steve, once again working as a motorcycle taxi driver, began to tell everyone about his amazing adventures in Nairobi, about his new friends, about those who were on the road with him. He built a kind of great poem. Soon the whole city learned of his story. Now, Migori is almost on the border with Tanzania.
Beyond the border we find a small town called Tarime, between Migori and Tarime the wood. The story of him has reached the border where taxi drivers exchange customers, then reaches the Tarime market where there is a lady who sells dried fish. This lady hears the story and says, “But one of those kids is my son! I haven't seen my son for 5 years, one of those guys the boy from Liguori tells about is definitely my son ". This lady's son had gone to Nairobi 5 years earlier, deceived by an uncle who had promised him money and money. People who go to the city, when they return to the village, tend to exaggerate by telling of great successes and therefore that boy, Joshua, had gone to Nairobi, where he discovers that his uncle was selling sugarcane juice on the street that he extracted with a machine. His uncle, after promising Joshua that he would send him to school and give him who knows what job, had put him to work 14 hours a day grinding sugar cane without paying him and mistreating him as well. After a couple of years, Joshua fled that life by going to the street, without money and knowing how to get home. Mom imagines her son could be one of Steve's boy friends. He closes the stall, goes home and sells all the fish he kept in reserve, leaves two minor children (their father had died five years earlier in a car accident) in the custody of a neighbor, jumps on a motorcycle and goes to Migori. He cannot speak English, it is the first time that he enters Kenya, but he must go in search of his son. He arrives at Migori and manages, by asking everyone, to find Steve and convince him to go to Nairobi together. They come to me and find Joshua, who was in the group that was brought to us with Steve. They stayed with us for a week, then we brought them back home ».

Kizito's gaze lights up when he reminds us that: "Truly the hand of God is great" because even in a pandemic like this "we have had wonderful stories, stories of reunions, of some boys who return to family and find a normal life, of others who have begun to study, thus rebuilding their lives".

Aurora Antonucci
NP December 2021

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