The RHYCO Safe House Project
The Real Hope Youth Community Organization
Located west of Nairobi, Kenya, is Kawangware, a slum that’s characterized by overcrowded shanty houses and filthy living conditions for more than 600,000 inhabitants. Like in most slums, residents of Kawangware live under the grip of extreme poverty that makes life a constant struggle to survive. They get no financial help from the government, and a lack of training and education has led to high unemployment, substance abuse, and hazardous living conditions.
Children and youth in Kawangware are especially vulnerable, with many turning to the street to escape unbearable conditions at home. Girls are often forced into the sex trade, and many boys join gangs to get the sense of belonging they lack at home. They quickly learn that life on the streets is violent and unsafe; yet with few other choices, their decisions lead them directly into the cycle of poverty.
In 2014, we partnered with the Real Hope Youth Community Organization (RHYCO), a highly respected child welfare organization, to introduce more options to the community. Together, we opened a drop-in centre that gives children and youth in Kawangware a safe place away from the dangers of the street and the abuses of home life. The centre provides nutritional support, education, mentorship, psychosocial support, and hygiene care. Program leaders and social workers also work with the parents of these children by educating them with knowledge and skills to develop a functioning family unit. The project has been a great success.
The Safe House Project
Then COVID-19 hit, and Kawangware saw a rise in crime, violence, and a spike in domestic abuse. Over the last year, we’ve heard horrific stories from RHYCO about the physical assault of boys, the rape of young girls by male family members, and prostitution taking place at home to pay rent. After hearing these stories, it was apparent to RHYCO and our team here in Canada that some of these children needed more than a drop-in centre; they had to be removed from their homes as soon as possible.
During the summer of 2020, RHYCO submitted a proposal for a gated safe house compound to shelter extremely at-risk children. International Needs joined forces with several foundations and appealed to our donors for funds. We received a tremendous amount of support, which enabled RHYCO to sign a lease in November and begin renovations and construction of two dormitories, a staff house, dining hall, kitchen, classrooms, office space, laundry room, storage room, and washrooms. Now that it’s complete, the real transformational work has begun. The compound serves as a drop-in centre for up to 70 street children and a safe house for up to 20 children who require temporary shelter from violence and abuse.
The key to the success of RHYCO lies with the gifted and passionate leaders, who know how to build strong relationships with local people and understand the culture and needs of the communities they serve. The RHYCO management team consists of dynamic individuals who each spent their own childhoods on the streets, in and out of care homes supported by various organizations. RHYCO was born out of their experiences, inspiration, and desire to reach out to others like themselves who could have a better life if given the right help and encouragement.