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When “Stay Home” Means Sleeping on a Tree Branch

In recent weeks, unthinkable scenarios have played out around the globe. Many of us have been asked to shelter in place in order to avoid contact with others and slow the spread of the novel Coronavirus. 

The concept of staying home is simple—unless you don’t have a home. Then what? 

Titus, a 2018 Zoe Empowers Kenya graduate, used to sleep in trees with his two older brothers. At one time the family lived in a home, but after their father passed away in 2010, a prominent community figure plotted to steal their property. 

In 2013, Titus’s mother was maliciously poisoned and his two older brothers were tricked into selling the land, leaving the family orphaned and homeless. Desperation and embarrassment pushed the brothers to live in a tree where they could escape judgment and questions from the community. 

While enrolled in the Zoe Empowers program, Titus’s group helped his family build a new house. They fetched water, set foundation stones, constructed the frame and painted the finished structure. Even in his wildest dreams, he could have never imagined a home like the one he lives in today while he was suffering from homelessness. 

 

Titus’ living situation before Zoe Empowers mimics that of millions of other street children. As rules and regulations surrounding COVID-19 protection are being issued, children who live in trees, latrines, fields and other public places are being chased away. 

On April 12, International Day for Street Children, this is the issue numerous social justice organizations brought to the media forefront. Although they are homeless, street children, by law, deserve the right to acquire a safe space to protect themselves from COVID-19. 

But, as the Consortium for Street Children (CSC) has pointed out, many countries are overlooking street children when implementing policies to keep their population safe. The inequality toward this vulnerable group is more exposed than ever before. 

Because many Zoe Empowers children were once in the shoes of the street children (on average 25% of incoming children in Kenya reported to be completely homeless before joining the program), they have stepped up to support homeless young people in their village in a multitude of ways: 

  • Some groups have set-up roadside hand-washing stations 
  • Other groups have shifted their business to making hand sanitizer
  • Many groups are distributing printed materials about COVID-19 and the importance of hand-washing  

As our Impact Data shows, Zoe Empowers children have historically been proactive about sharing knowledge, but, during the current pandemic, we are seeing another level of service and obligation emerge amongst the groups.  

While Coronavirus is an unprecedented problem for everyone, the prior acquisition of confidence and faith from overcoming the myriad of challenges addressed in the empowerment program has prompted many Zoe children to help those who are less fortunate, knowing that without Zoe Empowers they would have relied on such support during this time.

This ripple effect of kindness was started by people like you. Because of your partnership, the life of a child/family was dramatically changed, and now this empowered child/family is equipped to not only keep themselves safe, but they are actively contributing to the safety and wellbeing of others. 

You can make a pledge toward a full or partial Zoe empowerment group partnership or consider a donation toward the Zoe COVID-19 Fund during this time.

*343 households enrolled in the Kenya Zoe Empowers program were surveyed and asked the question, “Where do you live?” and 25% responded they did not have a permanent place to stay.

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