‘And who are you to this child?’ the fourth officer asked me. By now I had memorized my response and could even predict the next set of questions he would ask since I had been interrogated by three officers already. Here I am four hours later in a police station at Kapenguria, West Pokot county with a child who I was to reunite with the family hours ago. ‘How did I get here? This is not how my day was supposed to end. What should I do?’ These were the thoughts that were running in my mind at that time. Exhausted, angry, and frustrated I looked at the officer and began my narration from early that morning.
It was 5th May 2020 and by 6:30am was already at Tumaini ready to start my trip to West Pokot to reintegrate two boys that we had rescued the previous week from the streets. Edwin Wafula and Isaac Barasa,12 and 13 years old respectively. I was part of the team doing reintegration that day and we had almost 15 children to reunite with their families and I had been assigned only two. This would be easy and smooth and I will still make it back home on time before the curfew hours. I told myself, little did I know what the day held for me and Isaac Barasa.
Isaac Barasa is a second born in a family of five. He ran away from home after continuous physical abuse from his father who is an alcoholic. Before rescuing him, Isaac had stayed on the streets for almost 9 months and was unwilling to go back home to his parents’ home but rather preferred going to stay with his grandparents at Kapenguria. As caregivers, it’s our responsibility to make sure that the child is reintegrated into a safe and best environment for him so that he doesn’t bounce back to the streets and for Isaac, that environment was with his grandparents. While on the road we talked about what he loved doing at his grandparents, how he would go back to school, and never go back to the streets. To me this was already a done deal, he was willing to stay home and that was all we needed.
By noon we had already dropped Edwin and his home, talked to his parents and they were jubilant to have him home. As we left Edwin’s home, I felt a sense of pride and excitement and was eager to take Isaac home which was approximately 20 minutes away from Edwin’s home. We decided to take a motorbike as it was easier and faster. On our way, Isaac seemed uneasy and kept to himself for a while. ‘Maybe he is just having the jitters about going home, there is nothing to worry about!’ I comforted myself. I should have known that was my first red flag!
‘Where do we go from here? The motorist asked
‘To the Kapenguria Referral Hospital,’ Isaac hesitantly answered.
A cool chill ran down my spine as I started feeling that something was indeed amiss. I said nothing and we continued with the journey. Deep within me, I said a silent prayer and hoped for the best. We got to the hospital and what Isaac said shook me and I nearly collapsed out of disbelief.
‘Wow this place has really changed, I don’t remember which direction to go from here’ Isaac said looking at me sympathetically.
‘Calm down Sally, these things happen.’ I try to calm myself.
After seeing the frustration on my face the motorist suggested we ask a few people for directions since the boy had a rough idea about the direction and also could clearly describe his grandfather and maybe, just maybe some people would recognize him. Great! We are making progress! We ask around and nobody seems to know the man the boy has been describing. Before we lost hope I decided to ask one more person who turned out to be our savior of the day. I walked in one of the neighbouring houses and to my aid came two women. As it turned out one of them was a police officer who was off duty. She asked me questions after I had narrated to her the events that led us to that moment. After talking for more than 10 minutes she started interrogating the boy who by now was quite unsettled because of the realization that we were now talking to an officer and she was not taking it easy on him.
‘From what I can see, the boy is not being truthful so we will need to go to the police station to get your stories right!’ the officer says as she gets a hold of Isaac’s hand.
‘Sally please don’t let her take me!’ Isaac begins to scream and shout frantically.
I am confused and worried at the same time. Finally, my heart and my mind are in agreement, the police are the best people to help us. With a firm voice, I looked at Isaac and said ‘ We are going to the police station, Isaac!’. Upon arrival at the police station, the whole situation took another direction when Isaac boldly claimed to the officers at the desk that he neither knew me nor knew where I was taking him and that I had kept him at my house for two weeks. My heart was beating so fast I literally thought it would break out of its rib cage!
‘What do you mean you don’t know me?’ I asked him this time without hiding the anger or the frustrations.
After that we were both taken into different rooms for further interrogations to get to the bottom of the truth.
The fourth officer after asking all his questions and seeing how frustrated I was, finally looked at me and said, ‘ Am sorry about all this, we have to get to the truth and know how to proceed. We have had serious cases of child trafficking and wanted to rule this out as one of them.’
Wait, what? How did I come from just doing my job to reunite this child with his family to child trafficking? Thoughts continue flooding my mind and for a moment I felt helpless and discouraged. Oh and did I mention hungry, well you do know what they say, a hungry man, in this case, a hungry me is an angry me. By this time I had called almost everyone who I thought could help, given the police all the documentation they needed that validated me as staff at Tumaini and the work we do and said numerous prayers for direction. After waiting for four hours, the OCS came and gracefully told me what they were up to for the past four hours in tracking the boy’s family to no avail.
‘You have to go back with the boy to your center in Eldoret, until we can locate his family’ he said as he stood and started walking away.
I had no strength to say anything and a weak ‘thank you’ escaped my mouth as I waited for Isaac to be released so that we could start our journey back to Eldoret. It was already 5pm and I had a two hours break to beat the curfew at 7pm. When we had finally settled in the bus heading back home, Isaac looked at me and said ‘ Sally, I am hungry!’ At that point I remembered I had some snacks in my bag and as soon as he was done, he dozed off peacefully as though nothing had happened.
‘Children!’ I exclaimed as I allowed my thoughts to drift to something else, looking forward to just getting home!
Did I mention he bounced back to the streets?…
1st Author; Sally Kimani
2nd Author; Samwel Kimani