Two years ago, Juma was sleeping in the streets. His home was a cardboard shelter that he had constructed on the rough pavements of Buru Buru, about two kilometres from SOS Children's Village Nairobi. He was making a pittance of a living by collecting discarded plastic and paper, selling it for anything between Ksh 1 and Ksh 3 a kilo. It would take him and his friends a week to earn Ksh 150 (150 Kenyan shillings are approximately two US dollars).
Juma stood out a little from the other street people, because he liked to draw, and next to his makeshift home he kept a picture that he had painted on an old piece of tin sheeting. Although he appeared 'cool' as he posed for a photograph next to his picture, it was difficult not to notice the dirt and poverty that surrounded him.
Fausta, a former SOS child from Nairobi, now working as a social worker at the SOS Social and Medical Centre located next to the village, was trying to help him and his friends and registered them as part of the new programme at the social centre to assist street people.
Daily aim is to survive
Josephine Rombo is the SOS Development Co-Coordinator of Street Children and she cares deeply about their fate. Although Juma was 22 when Josephine met him, he was still in need of care and guidance. People who live on the streets have different rules than the rest of us. Their needs are the most basic - food and shelter - and their daily aim is to survive. So, what most people take for granted - getting dressed in the morning, eating breakfast, going out to work or study, all accompanied by the rituals and courtesies of social interaction - is usually beyond reach and relevance to those who live rough.
Josephine's task is not only to help the street children get off the streets, but also to re-integrate them into a society which considers them outsiders. While she tries to find out about their parents or family (there usually is one), the youngsters are taught basic literacy and numeracy at the SOS Social Centre, they are given a place to shower and wash clothes, and they receive a daily meal. The next task is to place them on a training course that will eventually allow them to generate an income and become self-reliant.
Sponsored course run by Revlon
In the centre of Nairobi on the edge of the central business district, Revlon, world famous producer of hair and beauty products, runs a hairdresser training centre, where, since March 2004, up to 48 young people have been trained annually. Not so unusual in itself, except that this Revlon training course is provided to needy and enthusiastic young people free of charge. When Josephine heard about the sponsored hairdressing course at Revlon she went to meet the Academy's senior tutor, Yves Ilunga, and managed to enroll several students from the SOS Social Centre, including Juma.
It's not easy to get a place on the Revlon course. Potential students not only have to demonstrate their lack of funds, but they also have to show a willingness to work hard, to persevere and to learn. Juma was one of the lucky ones to be accepted and he began his hairdressing training in January 2005.
The twelve-month course consisted of learning from the professionals both within the Academy and on work placements at various prestigious salons around Nairobi. In order to pass the course, Juma had to demonstrate a serious approach to his work, have a good attendance record and carry out practical training in front of an external examiner flown in from England. On 18 December he graduated, receiving his certificate from a well-known Nairobi media personality. At the ceremony, the Revlon professional staff made it very clear that their standards were high and those who met these could take pride in themselves.
Like all the other successful students, Juma also received a free starter kit of hair products, courtesy of Revlon, to enable him to continue practising hairdressing or to even start his own business.
Job offer for Juma
After joining the hairdressing course, Juma moved back in with his mother, who has provided a point of stability for him. Both she and Juma's eight-year-old brother attended the graduation, and like Josephine, they were very proud of him. But one of the proudest people of the day was Juma himself as he walked off the catwalk with his certificate and prized hairdressing products. According to Josephine, who monitored his progress throughout the course, he has been offered a job in the salon in which he did his practical experience and is due to start in January. Josephine hopes that Juma's mother will continue to play her part in his rehabilitation and that Juma himself will have gained some self-reliance. She will, however, continue to keep track of his progress.
Meanwhile, six more young people from the SOS Social Centre's youth section are due to begin hairdressing training with Revlon in January. Juma, a former street boy turned hairdresser, may have a word of advice for them. And who knows? Perhaps one day he too will be offering work placements to those who want to follow in his footsteps. It's a nice thought.