Sunday, July 5, 2009

What Just Happened?

In January of 2009, we traveled to Kenya to volunteer.  Our simple goal was to enlist our minds, our hands, and our hearts, however we could, in the fight against poverty and human suffering.  We gave ourselves 6 months.  Initially, we worked in an urban HIV/AIDS clinic outside of Nairobi, followed by a one-shot famine relief effort, delivering a ton of maize to one of the country’s rural pastoralist tribes.  A single month of relating to sick, starving, and dying people, dropped the full weight of Kenya’s – and Africa’s- worst problems squarely upon our consciences.  Dizzy at the crossroads, feeling angry, without a clear path to which we could apply ourselves, we decided to just be still amidst the whirlwind, watch and listen, right where we were- in a small, dusty frontier town called Isiolo.

There, under the calls of street merchants, the bleating of goats, and the rumble of cargo trucks bound for Ethiopia, we heard the voices of children. We stopped to look down towards our hands and were irretrievably captured by their eyes, having come out from their shady verandas and acacia trees, smiling and curious, but tattered like castaway princes and princesses. The path ahead became strikingly clear. We knew that our lives were about to change, and by our efforts, we vowed, so would theirs.

We spent the next four months in the streets, the slums, the bush, and the cities of Kenya trying to understand how there were so many children left alone to roam the streets and fend for themselves.  We took particular interest in their use of glue, as a drug, to escape their harsh street realities of perpetual hunger and fear, as well as quiet the memories of their haunting pasts of violent abuse, neglect and loss.  Our visceral response- a mixture of disgust and sadness- at the sight of children, even toddlers, inhaling a mixture of glue and gasoline from empty plastic whisky bottles, openly in public, while an indifferent community steps over and around them, signified that we were far from home.  We asked ourselves, “What forces could absolve us, as humans after all, from the responsibility to care for the young and vulnerable in our own communities?”

We wanted to find out how these children got to the streets in the first place, what they did to survive, and finally, what options they had to lead a better life.  Everyday, we were witnesses to some part of this riddle. Every night, back in our simple slum apartment, we would contemplate whether we were witnessing root causes, or merely symptoms of a larger social disease. Our search for reason and resolution led us to homes from which some children came, into bunk-rooms of orphanages, to toxic dumpsites on the fringes of humanity, into offices of local authorities and social workers, and finally into the air-conditioned Nairobi high-rise towers of the Kenyan government. We found that while many people shared in their understanding of the plight of street children, there were many more who lived comfortably in misconception, prejudice and detachment. Still, worst of all, no one would claim responsibility.

Our inquiry and experience culminates as a documentary film, with the core of our investigative footage and storytelling coming from relationships with specific street-child groups and individuals in 5 Kenyan towns, as well as a considerable number of aid groups, dedicated to a variety of strategies.  Our film will challenge those who accept the misery of children as a part of Kenyan life, and perhaps explain why 2% of Kenya’s 15 million children live alone, without a family, village or nation to care for them. 

-----We have arrived safely back in the U.S. and are establishing a home-base within lovely Santa Barbara and Los Angeles for creative venture and phase II of the Kenya experience: editing and post-production work on the film. Stay tuned to The Indestructible Beat for updates and please don't hesitate to contact us here or at We will be scheduling presentations and lectures commencing August 2009. Please contact us if you are interested! Thank you all and keep BEATing your Indestructible Beat!