It is 8:15 in Kisumu and Vicky is greeting me in her office with her large, generous smile. She asks if I am ready “to go to the field”. Today, I will spend the morning with her, visiting families in the slums of Nyalenda and Obunga in Kisumu, following-up on some of her current ‘cases’. Vicky is the “Child Rights and Advocacy Officer” at KUAP Pandipieri, Chance for Childhood’s partner organisation in Kisumu. She is responsible for the Child Rights Desk, a critical point of contact for community members, teachers and parents who wish to report or refer a child victim of neglect or violence in their community. She also regularly trains community volunteers to detect early signs of abuse in addition to weekly talks she holds in targeted areas of Kisumu known as hot spots for substance abuse, domestic violence and child labour. In Kisumu slums where extreme poverty affects 70% of the households, Vicky’s role is imperative.
But at just 26, Vicky’s shoulders are broad enough. She tells me that “it takes time to build trust with my clients. But I need to fully understand their challenges, family circumstances and background to be able to help them”. We set off to Obunga slum and our first stop is at a local ECD centre where Vicky wants to verify that five year-old Victor is attending regularly. Six month ago, a community volunteer acting as a ‘Child Right Actor’ asked Vicky to meet with the boy’s family, suspecting Victor was not going to school and possibly showing signs of malnutrition too. A meeting with the parents quickly highlighted their precarious situation: having just lost his job, Victor’s dad was unable to make ends meet, thus failing to cover Victor’s and his brother’s meals at school. With guidance from Vicky, the parents have agreed to prepare meals in the morning so the boys do not miss school while the family is getting back on their feet. Today, Vicky wants to gather feedback from the teachers to check that the parents are keeping their promises. The headmaster confirms that the boys bring their meals but that Victor is still not attending regularly, whilst his brother is. Vicky suspects there is more to the family’s history: Victor’s dad re-married and the stepmother is from a different tribe; a leading cause of neglecting children from previous unions in this part of the country. She will have to meet with the parents soon to discuss any unresolved issues and ensure both brothers receive appropriate care in the family.
As we head to our second visit, we are hailed by two older women preparing vegetables, just a couple of metres from what looks like a communal rubbish tip – in the absence of rubbish collection in the area, in some places the slum resemble a gigantic open sewer. Vicky tells me the women have asked her where we are going and that “she does not need to go any further and can give them the money”. This is just one of the many examples that shows the need in the region and that Vicky is constantly solicited for support. But she does not let it get to her and responds jokingly that she is here to support kids and their family.
We arrive at where Georges is staying, a single father of five whom KUAP has recently helped settle a payment plan with the hospital so he could return home and take care of his family. Unfortunately, Georges returned home to find out that two of his older sons, Jonas, 8, and Paul, 13, were missing. Vicky tells me that there was no one at home to take care of the family while he was being treated at this hospital for tuberculosis. The boys must have missed school and fled to the street to find food or money. And at this point, they are either too scared to return home to face their father or they have already gotten used to the sense of freedom and belonging to other groups of boys living on the streets. During our visit, Vicky also notices that 10 year-old Kevin, the third boy of the family, is at home whilst he should be at school at this time of the day. He says his teacher sent him home because he didn’t have the books required for the lesson today.
Georges is still recovering and cannot carry heavy loads. For this former labourer, resuming work won’t be easy. As we head back to the office Vicky looks very ‘pensive’. “This case is really complicated. Georges was himself born out of wedlock and his mother denied him access to the family land which he could have used to farm and sustain his family. We are going to help him make contact with the grandmother, while we keep searching for Jonas and Paul during our street outreach activities. It won’t be easy”. I have only spent 3 hours in Vicky’s shoes but it is enough to make me feel that it would take an army to fill them, and help so many children trapped in vicious circles of vulnerability and neglect caused by urban poverty and deeply rooted discriminatory traditional practices. Luckily, Vicky’s patience and determination seem undefeatable, and these qualities are what it takes to resolve such complex scenarios and to ensure every child has the chance to grow up being taken care of by his family.
 Officially Primary Education is free throughout the country, but this masks the reality of hidden compulsory fees such as school uniforms and materials that many parents struggle to afford.