“They don’t want to steal, but they have almost no other choice.”
My mother took care of thirteen children, but she had no business. I couldn’t let my family go to bed hungry, so I did what I had to do.” Patrick (24 years old) has been part of a criminal group in Kenya for about five years. Out of necessity, he says himself. Mama Shamsa took him out of a network of women Faith with hundreds of other young people from the criminal environment, from the hands of terrorist organizations.
A shy child with closed eyes looking around with empty eyes. Patrick sits on a worn sofa in a concrete room in a poor suburb not far from Mombasa, Kenya. He lived in this square space throughout his childhood, with his mother, her husband, and twelve brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces. The dusty room is full of packages, glass jars, boxes, bags, and an old table and sofa. On the balcony there are cardboard boxes, pieces of old mattresses, and broken clothes. Patrick’s mother signals them to take all their belongings at night and the boxes in them so they can sleep.
No education, no work
Josephine was only 17 years old when she gave birth to Patrick. Accident father immediately fled. She was herself one of five daughters, much to her father’s disappointment, says Josephine in frustration. It was believed that girls had no right to education. I would never forgive him if I had had an education, my children would have had a much better life. Josephine gave birth to four more children from a new man, and when her sister died, she also took her children.
My father believed that girls had no right to education.
Despite big family and money worries, Patrick and his mother always had a strong bond. But the situation at home was far from ideal. Josephine’s husband rarely had work, there was no food. Desperation increased when Patrick was forced to drop out of school due to lack of money. I felt like a failure. I was there: eighteen, unemployed and my family had absolutely nothing.
He never planned to go down the criminal path, but he saw no other way out. “The first time I started stealing, I felt so torn. I didn’t want to be a criminal, but I couldn’t go home without food. I stole a phone, sold it, and came home with two big bags of cornmeal. It was the start of years of Theft and violence.” After a while, my mother heard rumors of my crimes, but I denied it. He said I have a job. I saw hair loss, but I couldn’t stop. The most important thing was that I could give my family some money and food.
I didn’t want to be a criminal, but I can’t go home without food.
In Kenya, thousands of boys and girls are part of criminal groups. They are targeted by recruits from terrorist groups like Al Shabab who promise them money and a better future. To take these young people out of the criminal world, People with a Mission in Kenya is working hand in hand with the Women of Faith Network. This network is made up of over sixty women leaders from all kinds of religious denominations, from Muslim and Catholic to Hindu. Network President Shamsa Abu Kabar Fadel: Mama Shamsa. The core of our network is precisely that those different religions don’t matter. What unites us is our femininity and our commitment to our communities. We are committed to countering violent extremism, but we also help women in need. When a woman comes to us for help, we don’t look at her faith.
Poverty and deprivation of women
Mama Shamsa says that young people who choose crime are a big problem in Kenya. Almost half of Kenya is made up of slums. You have to imagine that people here are constantly alive. The only purpose of the day is to be able to eat. There is no stable income and no education. It’s not that they want to steal, it’s that they have almost no other choice.
When a woman comes to us for help, we don’t look at her faith.
Another fundamental problem is the position of women in society. Girls marry at an early age, because they know that they have to continue in the family line. Most of all, men want to get married so they can have sin-free sex. There is no love in such a marriage. Many children see their parents as aggressive. Or the father leaves the family, leaving the mother and children to fend for themselves. They are hopeless cases. In addition, women face discrimination in everyday life in Kenya, Josephine says. Every day I go out to look for work. But they don’t want to hire women anywhere.
From a criminal gang to a self-help group
Mama Shamsa learned about Patrick and his group from the district police chief where Patrick lives. After hesitation, Patrick, at the insistence of his mother, agreed to invite the chef to come. There, Mama Shamsa’s words made an impression. “She made me realize what I was doing. I was there with my whole group and the network promised to help us if we did the fix. It was obvious that the Chef and Mama Shamsa really cared about us, we just felt really nice.
Patrick and his group pledged to the entire neighborhood for repair. They are now a registered self-help group. The leader, Mama Shamsa and the locals gave the group a responsibility to keep their neighborhood safe. Patrick: People trust me now. This week someone came to me looking for a room. I feel proud that I now have a role in the community. The network also supports groups in setting up small businesses, such as a car wash company or, in Patrick’s case, a garden. “We transformed the barren land where we used to hang out and made our plans into a vegetable garden so we could grow our own vegetables.”
speak and listen
In the past five years, the Women of Faith Network has already helped more than a thousand young people leave their criminal life behind in this way. Patrick believes that dialogue is the best way to get other young people to do the same. “When the president called me to come, I was afraid he would arrest me. But he and Mama Shamsa saw me as a real person and listened to what was going on inside me. I will not go back to my old life. I hope to make something of my future with the help of the Women of Faith Network.”