It’s the April school holidays and the streets of Mathare are filled with children playing. One group throws stones and hops across a chalk pattern drawn on the road, while a pair of boys take turns pulling one another in a rolling suitcase.
But in a nearby community hall, the atmosphere is focused. Groups of children are huddled around tables, either writing in exercise books or listening to a teacher. In the pre-primary group, a girl traces out the number six in an exercise book. Across the room, older children discuss grammar with a teacher about when to use “who,” “whose” and “whom”.
These children are here for a holiday camp run by Tushinde, a Mathare NGO working closely with 86 families. The initiative, started in 2016, is running this month for three weeks, Monday to Saturday from 8:30am to 5pm. It runs for 11 weeks a year.
Programme manager Anne Gathoni, trained in social work, explains that Tushinde started the camp “to keep the children together and also improve on their performance in school”.
She explains that during the day, many of the children’s homes are empty. “The highest percentage of caregivers we work with here in Mathare are single mothers. And you find that with single mothers, they are quite occupied, given that they have to go out and look for casual work.”
Emmanuel, 15, lives with his sister, cousin and mother, who does casual work. “Anywhere she can find a work, she does it. Today she can go wash clothes in town, tomorrow she can sell cabbages.” About the holiday camp, he says, “If there was no camp, now I could just be playing outside. The camp always helps me to revise, more than playing.”
His 14-year-old friend Patrick, whose mother is a hair salonist, says, “I enjoy making some friends in the camp. The teachers are very kind and eager to show you what you don’t know. And they even teach us life skills.”
While Tushinde is keen to give the children a learning boost during the break, it’s not all books. “You might find them studying, but you also might find them singing, or doing games.” Tushinde partners with a nearby school that has a field so that children can spend time playing games outside.
Programme officer Denis Kangu grew up in Mathare and has a university degree in early childhood education. He describes the camp as a “blessing”. It “limits the children from going to the street and being idle. As they say, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop”.
He said the camp can be helpful for children, especially boys, in avoiding recruitment by gangs as well as peer pressure to get involved with drugs.
“The Tushinde office in Mathare is on the Outer Ring Road, and then it is a 30min walk to the holiday and library site,” he added.