THE STREET CHILDREN
The Fathers were also inclined to question the concentration on street
children, both by GOAL and a notable Irish nun, Sister Mary Killeen of the
Irish Sisters of Mercy. Again they appeared to feel that the street children
problem fell into the 'that's Africa' category.
Goal Street Children Project
The GOAL venture was in the hands of Maggie, a young Irishwoman who
was setting up a drop-in centre for the children. GOAL had taken over an old
house and a gang of workers were renovating this when I visited; Maggie was
contending with the usual sexual innuendo and ostentatious lounging of
loutish building workers anywhere, compounded by the fact that she was not
a very robust white woman in a black situation.
The idea was to provide
hostel-type accommodation for both boys and girls. The AIDS pandemic
means that street children are an ever-growing problem throughout Africa, as
in the Third World generally. The homeless children sleep rough, join gangs,
are pressed into prostitution or paedophile rings, and become prey to drugs,
violence and sexually transmitted diseases of all sorts. As most of the kids,
according to Maggie, are 'as high as kites', by the end of the day - on anything
from alcohol or glue to hard drugs - road fatalities are also common in
Nairobi's chaotic traffic.
Maggie eventually succeeded, with the aid of donors,
in creating her haven. The children now receive meals, some basic education,
psychiatric counselling and, above all, security.
“Mother Theresa, move over:” About Sr Mary Killeen
'Mother Theresa, move over', is how I have heard Sister Mary Killeen
described. She showed me how she operates in one of Nairobi's mini Sowetos
where sewage ran on the paths between the teeming shacks, and the
unemployment and general deprivation was such that I doubt it would have
been safe for me to venture into the area, even in daytime, without the
protection of her presence.
At one end of the cabin-type facility built by
GOAL, which constitutes her centre, AIDS victims are beginning to take up
more and more space. At the other end are the street children.
Sister Mary told me that as the AIDS epidemic spreads, a belief has taken
hold that it is safer to have sex with the young, because they will not yet have
been exposed to the diseases. Thus boys and girls are preyed upon by all levels
of society, including both police and priests (although let it be said that
amongst the former Sister Mary has found some of her best helpers). When I
met her, Sister Mary was trying to get the Church authorities to take up
complaints she had made against specific Catholic priests, but the hierarchy
was displaying the all too familiar pass-the-parcel policy of the Church
towards paedophilia. The Cardinal, an elderly African, had said he was too
old to deal with such a complex issue and was leaving it for his successor. The
Order, to which some of the men involved belonged, was also opposing Sister
Mary's efforts, and, as I learnt at first hand, so were some members of her own
congregation. Nevertheless, Sister Mary was prosecuting her enquiries
undaunted either by criticism or worse possibilities.
I met her leading two light-skinned children by the hand. Neither was more
than a year or two old and both had badly deformed feet. Sister Mary was
bringing them to a wealthy American woman - who customarily took over
not a suite, but the entire floor of the hotel she stayed in - in the hope that she
could persuade the millionairess to pay for an operation to straighten their
limbs. Their injuries had been caused by what was either intimidation or a
murder attempt on their mother. Her bed was set on fire by a gang as she slept.
The arsonists are alleged to have been attempting to dissuade her from giving
evidence against a paedophile, who had fathered the children on her while she
was under age. The man is a Catholic priest.
Wherever Green Is Worn: The Story of the Irish Diaspora