“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
— Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism.
Imagine being seven years old with no home and no parents.
For food, you scavenge through garbage dumps looking for anything worth selling for a few pennies. At night, you huddle in storm sewers to keep dry and warm along with other children.
Sometimes you are physically abused, arrested for vagrancy, sick and starving and most likely high from sniffing glue to take the edge off the horror of your life.
In Nairobi, Kenya, you are one of who they call “The Street Boys.”
Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city, sprawls over 270 square miles and has a population of 3,138,369 people.
It is known as a city that never sleeps and for its hip-hop music, many trendy bars, restaurants — including Pizza Hut and KFC — shopping malls and museums.
Tourists love visiting Nairobi National Park, the wildlife capital of the world, where giraffes, antelope and lions roam plains and grasslands set against a background of skyscrapers and metro offerings.
Yet amongst its multi-level beauty, these abandoned children living along the outskirts are subject to inclement weather and preyed upon by older teens and adults.
According to Kenya Children of Hope, there are an estimated 60,000 homeless children in Nairobi with 50 percent of them 11-15 years old and 7 percent of them under age 5. With no parental guidance, they are sexually and physically abused, exposed to unsanitary conditions and, in many cases, dying of starvation.
With only four months since he married, Plattsmouth Community Center Director Michael Lennen and his wife Katie left Eppley Airfield in Omaha Jan. 10 on a plane destined to arrive in Nairobi at 11 a.m. Thursday.
They won’t be dancing all night in the hot spots of the city. There will be no shopping trips for souvenirs of their visit.
They and five others from Restore Community Church (RCC) in West Omaha will be on a mission to learn how to best advocate for the street children of Nairobi.
“There is a mission family there. Amy and Tyler Maxwell who have been there for seven years. They work with the street boys, homeless children who live under highways and near trash dumps,” Michael said. “What they do is go around and try to find things to recycle to sell.”
Michael said he and his wife had been attending RCC even before they knew each other. Both had heard Amy and Tyler share their stories of the street boys and wanted to help.
“The weekend of Thanksgiving, it all came together and we decided we were going to do it,” Michael said. “Last Thursday, we learned we had raised the $4,000 we needed for the trip.”
Michael and Katie will stay at the Maxwell’s home. Their pastor, Dustin Fulton, and the others will stay in a guest house on the Maxwell’s property.
Dustin described the plight of these children in a letter asking for donations to make the mission trip. Each person needed $2,000, nearly half of which was spent on the plane ticket.
“Many of them start living on the streets as young as six years old,” Dustin writes. “They squeeze through storm sewer grates at night so they can sleep in the dry sewers without the fear of being beaten or raped by older boys.”
Dustin explains that many of them suffer from drug addictions from sniffing bottles of glue sold to them illegally “as they try to mask the pain of being homeless at such a young age.”
“Often you will find them with the bottle up their sleeve in order to conceal it out of embarrassment,” Dustin writes. “In the past year, many of the boys have also been rounded up and arrested for no other reason than an attempt to ‘clean up the streets’ before important events such as elections.”
The older boys sort through the trash in the fields to find anything to sell to a recycling plant where they get just enough to buy a roll or piece of bread.
Despite their young age and the wealth surrounding them in the city, the street children are looked upon as less than human by most of the Nairobi residents. It’s difficult to find them a permanent home or even feed them on a regular basis.
“They come and go on their own,” Michael said. “They may come to the mission one week and leave the next and they may never be seen again.”
The Maxwells are working to change that perception by caring for them, feeding them, and ultimately, getting them off the streets through an in-depth discipleship and job training process.
“Their goal is that former street kids will become leaders in both the churches and their larger culture,” Dustin writes.
The Lennens and other missionaries will be not be giving them handouts. “We will be helping Kenyans to be self-sufficient and help other Kenyans,” Michael said. “We will be teaching basic life skills to the kids such as writing and personal hygiene.”
Michael will also organize soccer games for them to play. “I’ll play soccer with them and help them with their classes,” he said.
Time will be spent teaching Kenyan ministry workers advanced skills such as photography, financial management and leadership, so they can earn funds and teach others the skills. “We will also take some time to work with other organizations that minister to children in need such as Tim and Alicia Stewart, who are with the Christian Ministry Fellowship’s (CMF) Missions of Hope International,” Dustin writes in the letter.
The most important aspect of the trip, Michael explained, is coming home and advocating for the children. “We’re there to observe and to have our hearts broken for them, and then come back and be advocates for them. We will give witness for what it’s like over there,” he said. “We’re trying to create leaders and ministry workers who can help the kids. The goal is that these former street kids will become leaders in their churches and their culture.”