“A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine. Fabulous!”Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film maker
by Chris Dade
‘Umoja’ (Swahili for unity) is an exhibition and book which contains intimate accounts and voices of some of the 300,000 children who live on the streets of Kenya. Portrayed through my documentary images, and the words and photographs by the children themselves, it is a testament to the issues that many children all over the world now face. It comes at a very apt time, when globally we have never before experienced such large numbers of displaced people, with the numbers of street children continuing to soar. It offers an insight into life on the streets, suggesting that no child chooses to live on the streets, and explores the issues they face. These portraits are the unseen faces and testimonies of children and young people who
live in the shadows of society. Looking directly into the camera, they confront the viewer in order to engage us and to have their lives acknowledged. The images and words speak of a society that seems either socially blind or violently hostile to their existence. This project is also a story of hope found in the most impossible of places, and is a testament to resilience in overcoming the harshness of the contemporary human condition, which tells of the struggle to leave the streets and the successes of starting a new life in a safe house ran by the charity, ‘Harambee for Kenya’. At this time in history when the trend is towards isolation, with countries building walls and the divide between rich and poor increasing, Umoja is a call for unity in this fractured world and offers an insight that is relevant to the life of everyone. It is the voices of children who have seen the very worst of this world, and whose voices I feel have authority and should be listened to. In these voices there is such a sense of hope and clarity. As Hudson, one of the boys states “In this world we must be united, If I help you and you help somebody, we can live together as one. If you are left alone, you alone can not do anything”. All profits from the book and exhibition goes directly to the charity ‘Harambee for Kenya’ (www.harambeeforkenya.org) helping street children to start a new life. All quotes attached to the images are from the children written in workshops. You can purchase ‘Umoja' the book by following this link http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/8934118-umoja. The exhibition is part of the Brighton Photo Fringe and runs from 5th-11th October, St Augustine’s Centre, Standford Avenue, Brighton, BN1 6EA.
Living on the streets isn’t easy. It needs one to employ survival tactics. There is nowhere to find food, shelter or love. No-one to read you a bedtime story, Not even a blanket to keep you warm.
You lose hope on the streets and end up using glue or marijuana. When you sniff glue you disappear into your own world. It keeps you warm, but eventually it destroys you.
Sometimes I would collect food from the dustbins, people would call me street boy, others beat me up and I felt very lonely. I felt like I was in hell.
We don’t play cards for fun, we play cards to make money and survive. A game played badly can mean a day without food.
You are not a person, they see you as a street dog or something without honour.
I wandered the streets trying to find things to collect and sell, so I could buy food, but this world was empty. It felt like the world had turned its back on me.
When you sniff glue you get confused and you forget about your past. It makes you think you are no longer on the streets, and your mind forgets all of the problems.
This is a war zone. No love, only endless battles.
The street for me was a jungle. A place for animals, where there are predators and prey.
Life on the street is no good. You just snuggle by yourself, depend on yourself, no one is there for you, that is why we moved from the streets to the safe house. We feel it is better than our homes, they show us love and we love them.
When a new boy arrives (in the safe house) we wash him, we welcome him, because he is my brother. He has been suffering as I was suffering. I know how he has suffered.
When boys are taken from the street (to the safe house) we show them that we love them, so they do not go back to the street.
Jumping in the river, feeling cool, this is the best feeling. Unlike the streets, where there is no clean water to wash, to swim and to have fun in.
What we have is umoja, unity, we love each other.
Never forget that life is a journey and the experience is your best teacher.
Without hope in life, life is useless. The streets stole my hope, the safe house gave it back to me.
I am hoping to be the change and the hope for the rest of my brothers back on the streets.
I am happy that no-one will call me a street boy again. No-one will come and beat me for no reason.
When I was on the street I never lost hope that I would go to school again so that I could become somebody.
We are like a family, we always work together as brothers to show that we love each other, and that we are as one people.