Kenya: School Transforms Bus Into Computer Lab to Attract Street Children


Giving the youth and young children the chance to learn life skills is one of the main aims of the Wema Centre in Bamburi, Mombasa. To achieve this, they set up a project called Dreamcatcher, which involves the use of a modified and refurbished bus equipped with computers for them to learn computer skills. The project launched early 2013 is used to conduct mobile computer lessons not only to the residents of Wema Centre but also the youth in the neighbourhood.

According to the project manager Henry Otieno, the bus is also a way to gain the trust of street children as they get to learn computer skills.

"It is an efficient way of reaching out to the street children and giving them the chance to master computer literacy skills but at the same time giving the social workers at Wema Centre the opportunity to initiate trust-building process with the children in order to help them move towards alternative areas to get support away from the streets of Mombasa," he says.

The centre has its own curriculum for the basic mathematics and literacy skills. Some of the activities the children use the computers to learn is sound association, where the kids learn how to associate numbers and letters to their sounds.

"This is for grade two children who are supposed to work on numbers up to 20, but sometimes we stretch them a bit to 30, and in letters we do up to Z," says Richard Chando, a community worker and teacher at the centre.

The children also get to learn co-ordination where they find out how to navigate on the keyboard and how to use the mouse. During the initial lessons, the students, some as young as two years old, get to learn about the computer and all its components and a little bit of how to use the keyboard and the mouse. "In the centre, we teach children aged five and below but when we get to the streets, we train children aged 14 and below," adds Chando

According to him, the response from the streets has been quite good, with increasing number of kids coming to the Dreamcatcher bus. Since they started, the interest has been increasing over time and they are hoping to expand the project to reach out to more children in different parts of Mombasa.

However, the project is not without challenges, including personnel issues, when it comes to handling children and babies.

"Sometimes we work with babies, especially in Tononoka, and we have to equip ourselves with the kindergarten knowledge in order to handle them. Our teachers are committed with other children, and when we are out there we need more hands to help because these children need special care," he adds.

However, they also encourage the kids to learn from each other. Each child gets her/his own computer but there are times where the slow children are sat together with the faster ones in order to learn from them.

From the streets, they have been able to work with more than 700 children ever since the project started. Within the first year, they conducted an evaluation of the project and identified that a higher percentage of the children using Dreamcatcher were boys and the approximate age range is between two and 26.

One thing the centre got to learn from the project is that it is an effective and appropriate way to reach out to the children in the neighbourhood. It also created more space for the identification of other needs such as the need to cater for other kids with higher literacy levels and the inclusion of remedial programmes for drug abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder as well as HIV/Aids. There was also the need for setting up a boys transitional centre as per the indication that a street child is more likely to be a boy aged about 13 years old.

Source: The Star 13 November 2014