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Three Stories from the Streets
Made in the Streets
Brian Ochieng’s Story
My name is Brian Ochieng, and I am fourteen years old. I was born on 17 July 1993. We are four children in the family. The first-born is in his third year of secondary school in Undugu Society in the Majengo area; his name is Omondi. Then I am next. The third-born is a girl whose name is Rispa; she is in class 3 of primary school. The last-born is young; I have forgotten his name. My dad’s name is Mike; he died last week. Charles called me into his office and told me the news of his death and told me that plans were being made for me to attend his burial upcountry. My mum’s name is Jane, and she works in town as a waitress.
We used to live in Dandora. I went to school in Huruma Primary School; I was in class 4 then. In class I used to come to position 9 or 11 out of 22 students. My dad used to work in Kericho; he came home about two times a month. We never spent much time with him at home. There was only one time that I saw my dad after I had left to go to the streets. He saw me on his way home from work. He stopped and asked me why I never wanted to go back home. I was so mad at him; I told him I didn’t even miss being home. He never said a word back. I never saw him again, and now I have heard about his death.
One day, Mum was outside washing the clothes. She came inside the house and lit the lamp because it had gotten dark inside. As I was running around, I happened to break the glass of the lamp. It came to my mind that Mum was going to kill me or hurt me. I decided to run away from home, not knowing where I was going. I left for Mathare and got exhausted from walking so long. I saw some wooden stalls where they sell vegetables and I got under one and rested there. That was as far as I could go. I was too scared to go any farther. So I parked myself at the stall for the night. I slept hungry since I was new there. It was my first night on the streets; I was almost twelve years old.
The following day I heard people talking about looking for work in Eastleigh, so I followed them. As I was walking along, I met two young boys and they looked so friendly. They asked me my name and told me theirs—John and Ken. They told me they lived on the streets, and they were collecting plastics to sell later and get money to buy food. They told me if I wanted to, I could join them. Since I had no other plans, I decided to go together with them. I thought God brought me some angels to show me around.
They gave me a sack to put my plastics inside. Later we went to weigh them at a shop; they weighed John’s at 36 shillings, and for Ken’s it was 18 shillings, but for mine I only got 6 shillings (I had only collected 1 kilo). Ken and John encouraged me by reminding me it was just my first day, and as time went by, I would become good at collecting. John, who had a lot of money, went to buy chips [French fries],1 and then he shared his meal with us. They brought me to their base where they spent the night. It was just out in the open, under a veranda outside The Chips Café on Tenth Street. Sometimes, when it rained, we would sleep under some old trucks in a garage area.
They welcomed me to stay in their base; there I met other boys—Kama and Chalo. I covered myself with a blanket John had and he told the others to go and beg for their own sacks because he was sharing his with Kama and me. I felt so cold. I really regretted running away from home and wished that someone could just come for me. I was so afraid when I thought of going back home, so I just decided to stay.
The next morning, we all went to collect plastics. The plastics were easy to carry but they did not bring a lot of money. I had no hope since last time I got only a kilo. That new life was so strange to me. I didn’t like it at all. But when we went to weigh them, I had collected three kilos, and I got so happy! Then John and Ken showed me where we could watch a movie from morning to evening, all for 5 shillings. I used the remaining money to buy chapati [bread] for my meal. Then we went back to the street base.
The next day we got up early again to search for plastics. After work that day, they told me to try using glue. So I did. I really felt pain in the throat when inhaling. I felt so dizzy that I could not see the road clearly when crossing the road. I was almost knocked down by a matatu, but my friends pulled me to safety.
Irene talked with Brian’s mother. As it happened, she was in the matatu that hit Brian. She saw them take Brian away and felt so bad, so embarrassed, and didn’t know what to do. She just stayed in the matatu. She feels guilty.
On glue, I felt so high and loved that funny feeling. I really wished I could just do it from that first day on. But after I was using it for a long time, it did not do me any good. In fact, it brought me more health problems. I was feeling so much pain in the chest. I had used it for just over a year when one day I could not breathe. My friends rushed me to St. Teresa’s Hospital. The doctors told me that the only help they could give me was to advise me to stop sniffing glue; there was no medicine for my problem but that. I decided once and for all that I would never use it again. I promised myself and I have not, up to this moment.
One time I got really sick after being rained on so hard. I was taken to the Sisters’ Hospital in Huruma and was given some treatment. Then the boys took me to Boni from Made in the Streets and told him my problem. They wanted to see me well in a few seconds. He gave me some medicine and told me to come back and see him if I wasn’t better. I really did feel better, and I went back to his place and thanked him.
My best friend was John. We always shared things together, like money, clothes, and food. Whenever he collected some garbage from a café and went to throw it away and got some money, he would share. One day he got paid by a lady who also gave him some clothes; he gave me some. One time we went to the City Park, and he found 50 shillings on the street; he gave me 20 shillings and reminded me that we had planned to go to the Gikomba Market when we both got money. We went and each of us got a sweater to keep us warm during the nights. It was during July—the cold season.
At the base, I felt so bad when it rained on us. The Tenth Street base was an open space, so we all got wet when it rained. One night it was raining so hard, and we ran to Fourth Street base where there was shelter outside a pool table place. There we met other boys who were parked there. They told us their names—Chalo, Ababa, and his brother. Young boys are always kind; they never chased us but instead welcomed us, even though the space was small. We all squeezed together and spent the night there. Those boys always mop the place each morning in order to be allowed to spend their night there.
I continued collecting plastics and metal. But I got so tired from carrying metals on my back for long distances. It was especially hard for me now that I had developed chest problems. I looked for car tire springs; you could sell a kilo for 10 shillings. One day I made 60 shillings; I was so excited. Then a friend told me of a plan for saving. If you made good money, you could deposit some of the extra at a trusted kiosk. I heard about a man who sold an old mountain bike for 950 shillings, so I was planning to buy one. So every time I went to search for plastics and metal, I saved 50 shillings or more. I saved up to 800 shillings, but then I was taken into Made in the Streets, and I didn’t get to go to the shop and get my money. I hope it is still there.
One time Kama showed me how to beg on the streets. I kinda liked that work instead of searching for plastics. Begging was so easy and not tiring; some days I made like l20 shillings! Even on a bad day, I would still get at least 60 shillings. So begging was great, compared to when I searched all day for plastics and metals and only got paid 40 shillings, and for that my energy was all gone from carrying heavy stuff on my back. Kama also showed me how to beg for jombii [leftovers scraped from customers’ plates]. People at a café would put some jombii in a plastic bag and give it to us after we swept up the café.
The master of our base was Wambua. He was so different from other masters. Instead of harassing us all the time, he was on our side; he defended us whenever we were being beaten. There was a time when I was begging, and after I got good money, one of the older guys from the streets came to me. He demanded I bring him some cigarettes; but then he wanted more. When I told Wambua, he challenged that guy to a fight. The guy was a coward and ran away.
Once I was put in a Pangani police cell together with my friends Kajiado, Kirubi, and Kama. The three of them had run away from an orphanage called Good Samaritan. The lady who worked there as a cook showed the police where we were staying on the streets. It was around 8 pm; the police came from behind and arrested us and took us to the police station. We stayed in the police cell all night and the next day. Lucky us, one of the policemen was Kama’s friend. So just before we were about to be punished, that policeman took our case himself. Instead of being beaten, we were taken to pick up some maize which had fallen on the ground from a truck—the maize sacks had torn. We bent down and collected it all. Then the police gave us a meal that was delicious—sukuma [greens], cabbage, and beef stew. We ate till we were full. Then they released us. Before we left, they warned us that we should not ever attempt any robbery. They said even if we know the policeman, he would still shoot us dead right there. I really took the advice well. I lived on the streets for three years, and I never thought of stealing.
I got rained on so hard on a cold night and no one cared. Everyone was walking on the streets minding their own business. I was shown Made in the Streets by Ababa; he took me there and I met some of the teachers—Mbuvi, Philip, and Robin. They welcomed me, and we played games like basketball and many indoor games. We also had lessons from the Bible and they advised us to stop using glue.
A visitor named Erikah came with some guys from World Wide Youth Camp. They showed us a lot of fun in a one-week camp. We did artwork, and we painted and played games. They always went with us to a posh restaurant called Lova Café. We took a shower and changed into new clothes. I felt really special.
Larry Conway is also a nice teacher. He always came to visit us at the base, and sometimes he would buy each one of us half a loaf of bread and a packet of milk. He would tell us we could be eating at the Eastleigh Centre, well-balanced meals, every time we went there for the programs. He always invited us to come to the programs.
We kept coming to the Eastleigh day programs. Philip told us if we behaved well, we would go to the Kamulu boarding program. I really wished to go there because I was so afraid of the police. So finally one day, we were asked to report to the Centre and come with birth documents. My mum said she did not have any, but she would be happy if I was taken into the boarding program. But she was not pleased to see me. She never said a word to me; at least I was happy that she never reminded me of her broken lamp glass. I thanked Jackton who promised me that nothing bad would happen to me. He told me I should not be afraid of the past.
Philip took me for age assessment and found out I am fourteen years old. I also went for an HIV test, and it was negative. Mbuvi went out and bought bedding for us to take to Kamulu. We would be staying in a dormitory. I really felt so special. We got there and took a shower, and we were given new clothes and a good lunch. I am happy that God has helped me. Now I am in MITS changing my life. I know God will surely bless me.
Brian was baptized 8 Nov 2009. He has been a servant—for at least a year and a half, he has been coming early to the learning center and sets up all the chairs for church service, just because he wants to. He is in the catering skills course and enjoys working.
New update (July 2012)—Brian has become the caféteria manager for MITS. He also serves as a supervisor for one of the boys’ residence halls. He develops good relationships with visitors who come to help at MITS. In 2011 eleven of the students asked him to lead them in a study about Jesus and about baptism. The whole ministry is proud of what Brian has become and is accomplishing.
Moses Mwangi's Story
I am fourteen years old, and I was born on 14 July 1992. I am Kikuyu by tribe. I have five siblings; one brother, John Kang’ethe, works in Mombasa as a conductor on the coastal buses. Another is James Kioko; he is 16 years old; he has a different father, a Kamba by tribe. Another is Stephen Karanja; he is 15 and in a boarding school at Ngong Secondary School. I forgot to mention my sister Lucy Wambui, who is 20 years old and works in a salon, braiding hair. Then there’s my twin sister Eunice Wambui.
My father’s name is John Gichugi. He is a mechanic. I don’t have any idea about my mother’s whereabouts. My aunty told me the trouble started when my dad came home to Kiambu and found that the TV set and his cell phone were missing. When he asked my mother why she stole them, she said nothing. Dad beat her up until she confessed that she had sold them, but she was willing to give him the money to buy them back. My dad was so furious and just wanted to call it quits.
One day I happened to take my mother’s purse, which had some money, and went with it outside to play (I was about four years old). A man came by and he asked me to give him the purse, and I did. He went to a shop, bought me two candies, and kept the rest of the money to himself. I did not realize what had happened because I did not know how much money was in it.
My mother came running out and looking for me and asked me if I had taken her purse from the table, and I said nothing since I could not talk. I was slow for my age, so I could only say a few words. Therefore, I just nodded my head meaning that I did. She asked me where I put it and some of my friends told her that I gave it to a man and he left five minutes ago after buying me some candies.
She got so mad and pulled me in the house saying that the purse had a lot of money and the man was lucky to get himself a good lot of money because of my stupidity. She got a rope and she tied both my legs and hands and then hung me from the roof trusses, with my head facing down. She took a panga [machete] and beat me with its flat side and made my body spin ’round and ’round until I got dizzy. I screamed out so loud because that was the only thing I could do.
The neighbors came to the door and begged her to stop, but she told them she had every right to discipline me however she wanted. She told me never to repeat such a thing in my whole life and to remember what she did to me. She then left me hanging up there, and unlocked the door. She went on with the cooking, not minding what could happen to me up there. Fortunately, my dad came in and saw me up there; he quickly got me down and untied me and put me on a seat. He then turned to my mum who was busy stirring her food and he asked her what evil thing she was doing to a young child who was helpless. She tried to explain what I did to her, but my dad was too angry to listen to her. He instead told her that if anything ever happened to me, then she would regret it her whole life.
Two days later, my mum beat me up again. This time, she took a hot spoon and burned me on my legs. When I told my dad, he sent her away and told her never to come back. She took my twin sister with her. That was when my dad decided to send me to his sister to stay with her. My dad took me to his sister and asked her to take care of me; he told her he would be sending money to take care of me, and my aunty agreed. From that time, I slowly began to talk, until I was able to talk well. Unfortunately, my dad was not able to keep his promise; he only brought money when he thought of it. Therefore, my aunt was unable to take me to school. Her husband never liked the idea of my coming to stay with them in the first place. So he was always asking his wife to send me back to my dad, who lived just a few kilometers away. My dad came to see me once a week.
My aunty loved me so much. She always told me stories about her friendship with my mother. They were brought up together in the same village, and they went to school together until my dad came and asked for my mum in marriage. Even though she never took me to school, I never blamed her but rather my uncle. My aunt’s husband despised me for no good reason. He told me that he was not my father and I should go back to my dad. He didn’t like it when I played with his kids or ate with them. He thought of me as a burden to the family. He always looked for a mistake to accuse me of.
So one time he finally got me. We were playing together, his three kids and me. There were two older and one younger. I happened to hit one of his kids with a rock, and he ran back in the house crying. His dad came out so fast and demanded an explanation. But before I said a word, he hit me on the head with a chapati rolling pin. When I woke up, people were standing around me. My aunty had come back home, and her husband was trying to help me wake up. She was asking what happened and my uncle wasn’t answering. Later, I talked with my aunty about what had happened. She knew her husband didn’t like me, but there was nothing she could do. She told me to be very careful. I hated him for beating me up. So I decided to leave their home and go live in the streets. I was about 5 years old.
I went into Kiambu town; as I walked along, I saw a vegetable stall. I decided I would come back at night and sleep there. I did, but it was a cold and scary night. It was still better than staying with my uncle. I stayed at that stall for three weeks. I would beg food from kiosks and from people. There was a woman who had a house there, and she had kids my age. The first day, she gave me some food and told me I could come again. I lied to her and said my mother had left to go upcountry and she had never come back. She said she could be giving me food but that I needed to find a place to stay. I always went to her house for breakfast and supper.
On Christmas Day, I saw a family that was well off. I decided to visit them to get to eat a Christmas feast with them. But when I walked in the compound, the woman shouted at me. She said, “Who invited you?” I tried to show her I was just a beggar, but she chased me out. On Christmas Day, I starved. Everywhere I went, people chased me away.
That same week, I met a boy named John Kamau. He also lived on the streets, but not close to where I was staying. He knew I was new to the streets. He showed me how to get a gunny sack and how to collect bones and scrap metal. He showed me where to get them weighed for money. I liked his idea, and so that was our daily routine. One kilo of scrap metal went for 6 shillings [almost a nickel in American money]. A kilo of bones would bring 18 shillings. So in a day, I collected like 4 kilos of scrap metal and 3 kilos of bones. I spent the money to buy some food and gave the rest to Kamau who insisted he keep it for me. He used me by taking half of the money that I worked for. One day I tried to ask why he treated me that way; he said he deserved respect because he brought me from living at that old vegetable stall where I could have gotten eaten by a wild animal. So I just kept quiet.
One day I saw a lady, and she invited me to come live with her family. I refused because I remembered what my guka [grandfather] had told me long ago. He told me about kids being kidnapped, and he told me not to accept favors from strangers. He told me about a boy who almost got abducted by a man; this man was offering sweets to a boy. And that boy almost got in the car with the man; but a woman saw him talking and she ran up to him and saved him. My grandfather said people who take children like that are devil-worshipers. So I was very careful about talking to strangers.
Kamau told me I was very old-fashioned to live in the rural area. I asked him what would be a better place. And he told me he would take me to Nairobi city. He assured me that there we wouldn’t go hungry, even for a single meal. There was full life out there to be had, he was sure. I asked him how we would get there, since we were so broke that day. He told me to wait and see; he said he had a lot of plans. So we walked along the roadside.
Soon, we saw a car passing by and he waved to the person who was driving. The man was kind enough to stop the car and pull down the window to ask us what we wanted. Kamau was so clever; he lied to the man that we had come to visit our shosho [grandmother] since the schools were closed, but then as we were going back to the city, we met a man who grabbed the fare we had in our hands. Kamau told him that our shosho did not have any money left to give us and we really needed to go back since the schools were about to reopen. The man bought his lies and told us to get in the car. He warned us about traveling alone, since we were so young and could get lost. He asked whether we knew the place we were going to. Kamau gave him the name of a place called Eastleigh. So he took us there and dropped us at the stage [bus stop] for Route 4. He asked us if we would be safe there. We thanked him and Kamau told him our house was just a few meters from the stage, and the man went on his way.
From there, Kamau led me to the city centre on foot. Kamau just wanted to confuse the man who gave us the lift. We did not really have relatives there. We arrived at a base near the bus station called Juu Kuwa Juu (Up by Up). We had saved 80 shillings from our jobs in Kiambu, so we went to a food kiosk and ate a meal of ugali with cabbage and stew. That only cost 30 shillings per plate, so we spent the rest buying some clothes from nearby hawkers. I stayed at that base with Kamau about a month. He taught me how to beg very well. He showed me how to sit down on the street like a real beggar and to say, “Please sir, buy me some breakfast.” Some people threw money at me, like 5 or 10 shillings. The bad thing about begging is in the evening when I finished my work of begging, the older boys would come and grab all the money I had got. I would cry but nobody came to help me. Kamau was with me but he was also little, so he could not help me. He was faster than me, so when he saw the big boys coming he would run and leave me behind. It was tough on me, but I survived.
One day when the older boys were taking my money away and I was screaming, a guard from a nearby supermarket came and chased them away. He had a club. He even got my money from those boys. He brought it back to me and asked me to count it. I told him I didn’t know how to count. He told me he had seen how the older boys mistreated me, and he said I would be safe around him. He bought me a pair of black shoes, a pair of jeans, a T-shirt, and a blanket. And he taught me how to count, from one up to one hundred. We became good friends, and I thanked him a lot. So every time I begged, I took the money to him to keep for me. Whenever I wanted to buy food or something, I would go back to him to get money. My favorite food was ugali and sukuma wiki [cooked greens and a mush made from corn meal]. I was happy to get a new friend who protected me and taught me math.
One time as I was walking the streets in town, I met two boys. One was named Eddie and the other one was Ken Owino. I was almost as old as they were. I was seven years old. Ken looked even younger and he was acting like a child—he was crying loudly. I went up to them and asked if I could help. Eddie told me that Ken had followed him to town and was now crying to be taken back. I went with Eddie (Shiravo) and took Ken back to Bondeni in the Mathare slum. Then we wanted to go back to town. Ken cried again when he was going to be left. So we tricked him by giving him money to bring us chips [French fries], and then we left.
The city council started harassing street boys and hawkers, calling them “idlers.” They were arresting so many of them. My friends and I were able to run away before we were caught. We went to Eastleigh and stayed on Ninth Street. There I learned to beg for jombii [leftovers, food scraped from plates in cafés]. I finally tried that food after starving for some days. I saw there was dirt in the food, but I had no other options. I especially liked Ethiopian dishes.
I decided to live together with Eddie in a base there in Eastleigh. My first days in the base were so scary, and I didn’t like it. The older boys liked gambling for money, and whenever a strong boy was defeated he would refuse to part with his money, and then they would all start to fight. The fight would go on to be a big one, such as they would break soda bottles and cut each other with them. There would be blood all over the base; the ones who were hurt did not go to the hospital even if the cuts were big. They called themselves “survivors.” I used to sleep on a carton box, and I was lucky to have a blanket that my friend had bought for me. The other guys did not take it from me, and I did not feel cold at nights. We lived, five of us, in that base.
Later, I decided to make my own base, and some of the guys followed me. By this time, Ken followed us to join our group; and he behaved in a mature way. Daytimes, we would go to Mathare to watch videos, which cost us 5 shillings for three shows. One day I followed them to a rehabilitation centre called Made in the Streets. There was a program for young boys going on there twice a week. Then one time there was a boys’ intake for the boarding program in Kamulu. I liked making money more than anything else, so I was left out and missed the chance while I went to collect scrap metal. My friends Cugia, Bravin, and Nzioka were taken in.
I did not use any drug until I came to Eastleigh. Bravin taught me how to use glue. He said that I would not remember any of my worries and I would feel so high. So I took his bottle and sniffed the glue, but then I coughed so hard and threw it away. Later I started wanting more, so Nzioka took me to Mlango Kubwa where I bought a bottleful for 15 shillings. I sniffed it for a long time until it affected my throat, and my voice became hoarse. When I shouted, my voice would be gone for hours, and I would only be able to whisper. My tongue was too heavy to say even a single word, and I started to stammer. I sniffed glue for almost six years. I made sure I bought half a bottle daily. I was addicted and could not go for a day without glue.
So I started up my own business of selling glue. I would go to Gikomba Market and buy a five-liter container; this cost 300 shillings. I got ideas from the sellers on how they measured it for the street boys, so I was good. Whenever I was sober, I sold it for 1,000 shillings, thus making a profit of 700 shillings. But when I was high on glue, it was a total loss because I would give out more than usual or I would start dozing and the boys would measure for themselves for free. Once I took my 700 shilling profit and bought myself a bicycle. I went to where a man was repairing bicycles and paid for it. But when I came to collect it the next day, I found that the man had disappeared with my bike, and I never saw him again.
I also went on to sell bhang [marijuana]. To get money to start my business, I sold for Bravin. He paid me 40 shillings per day. In a day I sold about eight rolls of bhang. I sold each for 10 shillings. I would take the 80 shillings to Bravin. Days went by, and I became clever. I was looking to start my own business. I knew he bought one roll for 5 shillings and sold for 10. One day I sold one roll for 20 shillings to a man who looked like he had lots of money; he did not even bargain. In fact, he took 50 rolls of bhang and paid me 1000 shillings. I was supposed to give Bravin 500 shillings but then I only gave him 300 shillings; I remained with 700 shillings—all for me. And Bravin still paid me 40 shillings for selling! I lied to Bravin that the smell of 50 rolls of bhang made me high, and I just put the money down and someone picked it up and took it. Later, I took the money to a kiosk owner; he was a Meru by tribe and he was my good friend. He kept the money safe for me.
So I had my own business for selling glue and bhang. I was buying a roll of bhang for 5 shillings and selling for 10. I was making good money. I took my money with my five friends and went to Majengo area and rented a small mud house. It was 500 shillings per month. I went and bought two cooking pans and a cooking stove. We shared expenses. We all tried to work hard not to eat jombii but rather to eat nice clean food cooked by ourselves. We would go to the Gikomba Market and work for the fish sellers to carry the fish scales and trash out to the garbage area. That would get us paid each 30 shillings plus be given a fish as a reward. We would take the fish home and cook it and share it. We went on this way for some time.
One day, the shosho of Ababa (Titus) came to our house and took our cooking stove and went with it to her place. The next day, Wambua left the door open and our bed was stolen. Then we had no bed to sleep on and were just wondering what to do. Wambua took our cooking pans and went with them to weigh them at the scrap metal shop. He sold them for 200 shillings. When we found out and got mad at him, he just told us he was really broke and needed money. So we went to live in Tenth Street base, now that we had no furniture or cooking stuff and no money for the next rent. Ababa went and asked his shosho why she took our cooking stove; unfortunately she was drunk. She hit Ababa on his head with the liquor bottle and he bled so badly. There were some police on patrol and they saw it happen. They arrested his shosho and some rushed him to the hospital to get some stitches. Ababa’s shosho was released after some hours and given a last warning. The chief said she was not in her right mind and needed to go to the mental clinic.
One day as I was selling bhang, a plain clothes policeman came by and pretended to be a customer. He knew about my business and he arrested me and took all the rolls of bhang as evidence. Later, the judge went over my case and found me guilty. I was taken to the jail in Kericho. There were old men and young boys in separate parts of that jail. The guards there were so lazy. Instead of doing their work, they sent the prisoners. One morning the guards called me out and sent me to buy some milk from a nearby dairy farm. They knew it would be hard for me to escape because Kericho is in the rural area and the jail is far from town. They thought I was too young to know the way back home. I behaved so well and they kept on sending me daily. I went to buy milk for about a week and earned their trust. They did not know I was smarter than they were, and I only wanted them to think I could never escape. Early one morning as usual the guard gave me a 5 liter container and 600 shillings. I left and hurried to the bus stop; on my way I stopped at a house and pulled off a T-shirt and trousers from the clothesline. I changed and just left the prison uniform there. I stood at the bus stage and prayed for a car to come soon. A matatu came and I boarded it. Unfortunately the conductor was a man who had been to the cell two weeks before (on a case about a road accident). I was so afraid, and before he could say a word, I handed him half of the money I had and winked at him so he would know he was being kind to take me to Nairobi. He told me I was very clever. I kept the rest of the money to start up my life again.
After arriving at the Nairobi bus station, I took matatu #9 up to Eastleigh. I went to the Twelfth Street base and I took my 300 shillings and bought a big container of glue. I went on to the shop where I save my money and I withdrew some money to buy myself clothes. My life went on.
About two weeks later, I was sitting outside a hotel and there was a car parked there. Unfortunately someone had stolen the car’s side mirror. I was sitting there with my friend Sadam eating jombii. But when the owner of the car saw us there, he accused us of being involved. He shouted for help and the place was suddenly crowded with people. We really got some bad beatings. Some took the electric wire and whipped us on our bare chests. It was really painful. I thought I would die that same day. They left us lying there on the street. Our friends came and carried us back to the base.
Another day, we were just sitting at the base, and our friend named Ali picked a wallet from a man. He brought it to the base and opened it up in front of us. The wallet had 6,000 shillings. He went and bought each one of us a packet of chips. So Wambua thought to trick him into taking 6 tablets of piritons (a drug to make him sleep). But he didn’t take them; he knew it was to make him sleep. But that night when he was fast asleep and snoring, we searched his pockets. Unfortunately he had given out his money to someone else to keep for him. We were disappointed but we knew it must be someone in the base. So we kept on searching the others who were asleep. We finally came to Zakayo whose leg wasn’t well covered with his sack and we saw the socks he wore looked puffed. So we figured it must be Ali’s money. It was. We took it out and divided among us who were awake. Wambua was the master of our base and I was his closest friend. So he first took 2,000 and gave me 1,000; then we divided the rest among the others. We saved some for Zakayo, so he wouldn’t tell Ali who took it. Later each of us went for a driving class at the garage. A circular distance was 100 shillings; we spent almost all of it on driving. I spent the rest of mine on buying myself a special dish—half of a grilled chicken with chips.
Another day, I went with six guys to steal some spare car parts from inside the Air Force compound. We cut through the wire fence and entered the garage, and we took everything off an old car. That’s when we saw the patrol; they had been watching us the whole time. They fired some bullets in the air to scare us, and some ran after us with their dogs. The dogs surrounded us and we could not escape. Our punishment was to sweep the whole area where they had their gym. Then they gave us some scrap parts. Wambua took the old engine and ran away from us, as usual. I took the four doors of the car and left the other parts for the other boys. We all took them to our friend who had a garage. I sold the four doors for 500 shillings. Our friend was so nice; he gave us his phone number so we could call him whenever we were arrested, and he would come to plead for our release.
I always stole things because it was just in me. There was a day when we passed by a garage owned by an Asian. It was near a stream. We saw some scrap car parts, mostly springs. So we cut through the wire fence and took the springs. Wambua was so clever; he tied the springs around his waist and ran very fast, leaving us behind. The man shouted to his workers to run after us. Wambua fell into the river; it was full of water, and it swept him away with the springs tied on to him. I was about to get through the cut fence, when Sadam grabbed my trousers. So I was caught along with the other boys. The man was so angry with us for stealing his things. He told his workers to bring the petrol and he poured the whole container on us, as we were tied and told to lay down. He told them to bring some old tire tubes and a match box, so that he could burn us to death. We were really crying and pleading with him to have mercy on us, but he kicked us with his boots. Just then his wife came and found us all. She pulled her husband aside and asked him not to burn us, but to set us free. He listened to her and he did let us go. He warned us that if we ever went there again, then he really would set us on fire. But, it’s like our hearts were hard. Later Sadam and I went back there, took our car springs, and went to sell them.
Sometimes when you are a survivor, your conscience just kinda dies. It’s like you don’t feel really threatened or feel pain. All you ever want is money, money, money. One of our friends was older than us, almost 18 years old. He went to steal some car parts from the police station. We told him he was risking his life, but he thought he was daring and tough and an expert. His family had come for him several times and pleaded with him to go back home, but he never listened to them. So this time around, he was very unlucky because the police shot him dead on the spot. The family came to look for him two days later, and we told them the bad news. So the only thing they could do was go get the body and take it to be buried on his father’s land upcountry.
One day as we were walking along Pumwani Lane, we saw a very beautiful house. In that compound were three big dogs, which looked like bulldogs or German Shepherds and their seven cute little puppies. Every day we passed by that place to play with them. There were also two cars; one was a Toyota pick-up and the other was a Mercedes Benz. But every time we passed by, we saw no life in that house. So we decided to watch the whole night and see who the owner was. He never showed up. The dogs started to starve, and the puppies did not have strength to stand up.
We decided to get in and steal the dogs to sell. We got in and killed the big dogs by hitting them on their legs with big rocks then hitting them with a panga [machete]. A man passing by saw us killing a dog, and we told him the owner was paying us to kill them because they had gone mad. We only wanted the puppies, because if you take a big dog to sell, people will steal them from us and then tell police and others that those dogs belong to them and we were stealing them. They would frame us, and the police would believe them because it’s clear to everyone that German Shepherds are expensive to get and take care of. Thus they would know they weren’t ours. So we called big dogs like that “bad luck dogs.” We dealt with the puppies. Wambua got the big portion as always just because he was our master. He took three puppies and left us to share the rest. I took one and ran to sell it quick for 500 shillings.
We went back to the house to see if there was any person there. But still it was the same. So we got up the courage to get into the house. We broke the lock and got in; it was full of expensive furniture. We saw that the owner was really gone, so we thought first about the cars. We broke into the cars and removed all the valuable materials like the starters, wheels, everything we could get loose. We could not get the engines out. We sold those things to our friend at the garage. We asked him to lend us a hacksaw so that we could go to the house and cut the furniture into small pieces and sell. We gave our garage friend the TV just for free. Back at the house, we cut the stools, coffee table, sofa set, and things into small pieces and put them into our sacks. We sold them as firewood. We took everything in that house except a heavy file cabinet. We sold all the pans and utensils to the blacksmith as scrap metal. We sold his suits and shoes too.
As I said earlier, our consciences were dead, completely dead. We stayed away for a month, then we passed by that house again. It seemed as if that man had just come back from a trip. So we went to the door and talked to him. We lied and said that we had gone to report a robbery case that happened at his place a month ago. We told him exactly what had happened, except that we were just watching outside and there was nothing we could do because we are just small boys. We said the thugs were a big group. He thanked us for reporting the accident. But then he said, he was at least happy that the thugs did not find his money that had been hidden in the file cabinet.
The man said he was most sad about the cars, especially the Toyota which was new. So we told him we had come to ask for any remaining scrap car parts and also to show him where he could sell the remaining engines. He took us to be thoughtful and smart, but poor and young. He sent us to find a break-down vehicle. We had already planned this with the man working at the garage. He was expecting us anytime. So we made a plan on how the two cars would be pulled to his garage and he would be ready to buy the two engines. When the break-down pulled the cars to the garage, we introduced him to the garage man. We stepped outside for them to negotiate the prices. The garage man bought them for 15,000 cash. He gave us 8,000 shillings to share among us. We were four of us; Wambua took 2,900 and we went with 1,700 each. The man thanked us once again but spoke some curse words about the thugs who had stolen from him.
When I was away for a time, I came to hear that Wambua was taken to Made in the Streets boarding centre. I felt left out again. So I took over and became the master of the base. The others respected me just like they did Wambua. I made sure I went to sleep when everyone else was asleep, very late.
When I was in the streets, I liked almost everything, except being involved in a base fight. This happened very often among boys. I tried hard to keep away from fighting. I only fought when I was pushed too far. I liked it when it rained because any place that was flooded became our swimming pool. We liked flooded areas and playing in the water. I even got used to the cold nights.
Then I left to go and live in downtown again, with my two friends Sadam and Brian. We used to sit in our base that was just out in the open; we would beg for money from passers-by. We called our base “the base of six” at one time, but then others left and we were the three of us again. A beautiful woman used to pass by our base all the time, and we begged her for money. She liked us a lot and called us her children. She would ask us to come to her place and she gave us lunch. She was a Somali lady, and she always wore gold and diamonds around her neck, and in her ears and around her wrists. Whenever we went to her place, her house-girl prepared us nice meals like chicken and chapatis. We kept going there so often and we became close to her. She was open with whatever she did. When she took off her expensive jewels, she put them in her briefcase which she opened with a code.
Sadam’s older brother was a professional thief who was training his younger brother. He gave Sadam a master key to enter into the woman’s house. So Sadam came and told us his plan. The woman’s house-girl always left work at 2 pm (we knew the whole schedule). We were set to go and steal her expensive jewels, forgetting all her kindness to us. We pretended to knock at the door to confuse the neighbors who might be suspicious of us. They were used to seeing us together with the woman, but that time we were just Brian, Zachary, Sadam, and me. We opened up the house without any trouble, got in, and went straight for her briefcase. She valued her jewels because the briefcase was very unusual; it had three steps of opening. The first step was to open with a key, then put in the code, and again open it. We did not mind the first lock, because we had a key. But it took us a very long time, almost 30 minutes, to get the right code. We finally opened it and only took seven diamond jewels. We were afraid to take all of them. We thought she wouldn’t know that some were missing, and therefore we could go back for more later. We locked the briefcase again and left the house.
The neighbors saw us leaving, but our minds were just on how rich we were going to be. We rushed to a place in town and sold all the jewels for 21,000 shillings. That was quick money. We Knew that they were worth more, but it was a quick, clean deal. Otherwise, we might try to sell them and end up being framed. The woman noticed her missing jewels; when she investigated, she was told that we were there two days ago. We left our base and moved to a different base. We had not used any of the money until we were sure that everything was all right. A week later, we forgot that we were suspects and that the police were looking out for the “bad boys.” So when we got high on drugs, we went back to sit in our old “base of six.” And just a few minutes or so later, we saw a policeman with the woman, and we knew we were caught. She was so mad at us and cursed us, saying how ungrateful we were for taking her kindness for granted. The policeman called us bastards and little devils.
We were arrested. The judge swore we would never get out until we paid back the money and apologized. We were taken to the Shimo la Tewa prison in Mombasa. That prison is on an island. We were taken out there by boat, and we saw we could not escape. It was risky to swim in the sea because there are some dangerous animals like sharks. We were told we would stay there for a year. We ate good meals, but the work was too hard for us. There was a project of cleaning the sand they got from the sea. If you didn’t work hard, you got beaten. Life in that jail was never fair. The older guys grabbed our food and we could do nothing.
We were in there three weeks, and I had a talk with Sadam and Brian. I asked them to give out the money we had from selling the jewels. We were so clever because we had put the money inside our underwear’s seams and sewed it. You couldn’t see it. So I asked them to cooperate and they agreed. But we had to figure how to do this, since we had told them we had no money in the first place. I told them to leave it to me, that I would take care of everything. They all gave me their money. I waited for the big man at the prison, a judge I think. He told the guards to let me out. I went with him to his office. I went in and did not say anything, but I just gave him the cash—21,000 shillings. When he saw the money he smiled and asked me what I needed. I told him all we needed was to get off the island and be dropped in Mombasa town. From there, I told him, we will know what to do next. He asked me if we were going to repeat the same thing, but we swore to him never again to do such a bad thing.
On the following day, at 6 am, we were released and told to get in the boat. We finally reached the shore and were free again. The guards told us to go and never steal again. We ran so fast so they could not change their minds. I really thanked God for making me a free boy again. I had been in different jails, but this was the worst. I had heard stories of talking mermaids who pulled you into the sea. I never had a good sleep there. I had nightmares that the island could be swallowed in the sea and we would all drown and die. In Mombasa town, Sadam went his own way. We did not mind his leaving us because we all wanted to get back to Nairobi as fast as possible. We all split up, so we could ask for a free ride to Nairobi.
I tried talking to a bus driver. It was late in the evening. Being a survivor, one has to lie. I told him I had come with a friend of mine the previous day, but then I lost him, and I was left all alone and didn’t know anyone in Mombasa. The driver asked me many questions, but he finally let me get in the bus. All during that long journey, about 13 hours, I was just swearing never again to get involved in stealing. In the bus I begged for some food from passengers. Some kindly shared their food with me. When we reached the city early in the morning, I was so glad. I went to the Twelfth Street base, and I met the other boys. They asked me where we had been for so long. I told them the whole story. I told them that being in prison was like being in hell. I told them I was never going to steal again. Some laughed at me and asked me if I had ever gone to hell.
They thought I was joking, but I tell you I was very serious about my turning point. Whenever I passed by garages and saw iron bars or scrap metal, I would close my eyes so I would not get tempted. I decided that I wanted to change my life. So I started going back to the boys’ program at Made in the Streets. They were always talking about quitting drugs and how it was harmful and could even lead to death. I thought it over and looked back on years of buying and selling glue and bhang. I remembered how much money I made, and I thought that quitting would bring poverty into my life. It really was a tough decision to make. Then I met one of the street boys named Njoro; he was really affected by using glue. He couldn’t do anything for himself because his hands shook so much. He was miserable; he even needed someone to feed him or he would starve. And you know that in the base, everyone minds their own business. I decided to get off the streets after I saw that everything was meaningless. So I started going to Made in the Streets for the weekly boys’ program. There I was able to learn the Word of God and get food too.
At MITS, we were taught basics in math and English, and we were taught the Word of God more than anything else. We were told about God’s great love. We played games like basketball and football. I always prayed to be taken into the MITS boarding program, because most of my friends were already there. I was just left at the base with mostly new boys. Then it was as if God heard my prayers. There was a new intake of students. I sat down and told myself that if I missed this chance to go to the boarding centre, then it will be the third time, and I wouldn’t like it at all. After that I never missed the boys’ programs. Lucky me, I was included in the list of selected students. I was so very happy to hear that! The teachers told us to come the next day early in the morning.
I was there at the gate by sunrise. We were all taken together to Kenyatta Hospital for the age assessments since most of us did not have a clinic card (or any document). The X-ray showed I am fourteen years old. Then we were taken out for lunch at a nearby kiosk.
We were told to come the next day to leave for the boarding program in Kamulu. The next morning, I just got up and did what I always did—go to collect scrap metal with Patrick and James. In just a short time I made 30 shillings. Then we remembered and rushed to MITS. We were so afraid that they would not let us in. But they did. They sent us to take a shower and gave each one of us a T-shirt and trousers. They even gave us vaseline to apply on our faces. Then we watched a movie and ate supper together. We went to bed, waiting for the next day.
By then I was not using drugs. I had already quit after seeing Njoro’s case. I was already changing my life. The glue had already broken my voice; even now I can’t shout. As we were on the way to Kamulu, I thanked God many times for taking me from the valley of death. I realized my life was messy. But he rescued me. On reaching Kamulu, I knew it was real and I was not dreaming.
There were twelve boys and eight girls in my group. My experience was not that new to me since I had been there before, during Mbuvi’s wedding six years ago. There was improvement in the buildings and in other things. I had also come for the Made In The Streets 10th anniversary about two years ago.
I hope to pursue mechanics. I am happy to be with my friends, Cugia, Omondi, and Bernard. I enjoy all the subjects they teach; mostly I like the Bible and the SRA lessons. The SRA lessons help me learn how to read and write. The Bible classes help me learn the Word of God and have more knowledge. I like daily morning chapel, and I enjoy when we come together to sing choruses. It has really helped me to grow because I can now sing many songs without looking at the book.
I am very glad to be here because I am sheltered, and I feel safe. They offer education and equipping with the Word of God by going to church Sundays. In the streets I did not know anything to do with church. I am happy to have a family, and I eat well and have no regrets.
My greatest joy is that I no longer get beatings like those that I used to get when stealing from people while I lived in the streets. I was already tough because of what I went through, and I never thought I would stop stealing because all I thought about was making money. I preferred stealing to begging, because being a beggar was not fun; and besides, I could get rich just by stealing once. I only thought of making big money.
I would like to thank God, for I could not do it on my own. It was because of his grace and great love for me that MITS chose me. I had no place to go. I do not know what to offer to him as a thanksgiving, but all I do is to tell people what he has done to me as a sign of my praises to him, because he deserves it.
I would like to thank all the donors for their kind hearts and for giving to this ministry. May God bless them for helping us to have a better life. My sponsor’s name is Marita Barnett, and I have a photo of her kids. I would like them to come and visit us in Kenya.
I thank the Coulstons so much for their great love for the street kids. I thank Darlene for teaching me the SRA lessons and teaching me new things. Charles has taught me a lot about ethics in life. He taught me how to live right and shun the wrong. He once caught me stealing some passion fruit. The fruit was not ripe yet, and I was just cutting them and throwing them on the ground. But then he called me and asked me if I thought I was doing the right thing, and he sent me to go and confess what I just did to Darlene. At first, I thought of running away, but I just thought twice and went to talk to her, and she told me I did a good thing by going to her.
My advice to my fellow students is that they should obey the teachers and work hard so that they will obtain a bright future and that they should never think of running away, because there is no hope in the streets.
Moses was baptized on 30 Nov 2010. He really wanted to be baptized. He did say it was a hard decision. But afterwards, he told Darlene, “Now I need to go back to the streets and tell some of my old friends about Jesus.”
In 2011 Moses trained under one of the MITS team members in masonry. Now he works at MITS and serves under John Wambu, who is our sixty-one-year-old property maintenance manager and a member of the governing committee of MITS. We dream that Moses will take John’s place some day.
Caroline Wanjiru’s Story
My dad died when I was about five, and later my mum brought home a man that beat me. This man, after realizing that my mother was fine with the way he beat me, went on beating me up very harshly. I only got to go to school up to class 3. There wasn’t any food for me at home, so I just begged for food. I was in the streets during the days; when I was about twelve, I went to stay in the streets full time.
My best friend Esther and I ran away to start our lives on the street together. We went and begged for some food from a Somali café; they gave us some leftovers—macaroni, meat, rice, and banana, all mixed together. Street kids call this food jombii; it’s food scraped from customers’ plates. I didn’t like it, but it was free.
After that, we went down to Warui’s place in Mathare, and we were lucky we didn’t have to pay the rent to sleep there, because there were so many girls in his house that night. (The rent is to sleep with a guy.)
So I became a real street girl. Another girl, Wamaitha, taught me how to have glue all the time by asking the street boys to buy for me in exchange for sleeping with them. And I learned how to trick the boys. First you get the glue, then walk around some together. He huffs a lot and gets confused, and then you run away from him. I did this every time my bottle of glue dried up. But sometimes it was me that got confused from huffing and I would stagger, and then the boy I had previously tricked would force me to have sex. My friends did this too, and they sometimes got raped by many boys at once.
One time Warui’s girlfriend, Jedidiah, ran away from him. He was so angry and grabbed me and took me to his house and said I would have to replace her. It was getting dark and he had already beaten me several times; my lips were swollen like mandazis [doughnuts]. I was crying and pleading with him to let me go and swearing I knew nothing about Jedidiah.
He took a wooden stool and hit me on my knees so I couldn’t walk or run away; I still to this day have a big scar there. He went on tearing my blouse and my skirt off, and I was screaming so loud, calling people to come to my rescue. But people just came in and out of the house quietly since they could do nothing to help. He was the master of the ghetto.
At last God answered my calls and another famous man in the ghetto, called Kamau, “Snake,” came to my rescue. Warui had locked the door from the inside, but Snake broke the door down. When he got in, Warui was not afraid of him and told him to go away. Snake said he wouldn’t leave without me. I was so relieved to hear him say that. But then Warui told Snake to sit down and watch him having sex with me.
So they started fighting, and Warui pulled out a knife and wanted to stab my stomach, but he missed, and I hid myself behind Snake, and then the knife stabbed Snake’s hand and it started to bleed. But that didn’t stop him from fighting, and Snake pushed me in a neighbor’s house to be safe, and both of them gathered their gangs, and the fighting went on. It lasted about two hours and finally Snake told me to come out and that they had beaten Warui until he was unconscious and locked him in his house. Then he told me to be very careful where I went on the streets.
By then it was about 10:30 and I went to a place where they were still giving food to street children at their gates. I took my food and went to the base to sleep. In the streets so many things usually happen during the night, and that night Esther and I were chased by boys who were carrying a tin of feces. They threatened to throw it on us if we didn’t sleep with them. But we ran so fast to a place where the night watchmen allow us to lay down our sacks and sleep there, and they protect us from the boys.
One night we went to that place where the watchmen are, but there wasn’t one there. We were so many girls and we decided to crowd all together and sleep very close, so that whenever the boys came to harass us, we could chase them away by screaming. That night we had no gunny sacks to sleep on, but Muthoni had a sack for her baby and we put the baby in the middle of us to keep her warm. The rest of us just slept without sacks, as we were used to it.
We had our bottles of glue and were just huffing, and then we saw some boys come; they were clean and dressed smart. They were laughing at us and asking why us beautiful girls sleep outside in the cold. We just ignored them. But in the morning when I woke and was reaching for my glue bottle, I saw that one of those boys had slept with one of us girls. I pinched Esther and then we started laughing at them. The girl pretended to be shocked and shouted at him. We called him names and told him to go for prostitutes next time but not to us.
That morning we went to a shopkeeper who was our friend and asked for cakes that are too old to sell. Esther and I decided to keep some for Mzee Kondoo so that he would allow us to have some rest before the evening comes. He always lets street girls spend the day at his place. I was really lucky that Mzee never wanted me to sleep with him; he used to say I might be an HIV victim. He said that because I was really skinny and tall and thus looked funny and sick. He didn’t really like me and used to call me names. To get to stay there, I always brought food for him.
In the evening, we went back to the base and Wamaitha showed me another boy at the Wanga base; his name is Kamaunde. She told me to go and ask him to give me a bottle of glue and to add on five shillings to refill my bottle when it dries up. So I did, and he accepted the deal when I told him to come back for the service. A few days later he came back and quoted what I had said. I refused, but then he told me he was asking politely, and if I refused, he was going to take it by force and call some guys to rape me all together. I was very afraid of a group rape, so I gave in. I was angry with Wamaitha, though.
base life had now got into my blood. I could now go to boys and ask them for “bierre” whenever my bottle dried up and then pay them back by sleeping with them with no fear at all. I was now addicted to huffing glue, and I did not care about anything, let alone my body or my life. I was hopeless and homeless.
One night when we were sleeping at the girls’ base, some big boys came to Esther and me and threatened to rape us if we wouldn’t give it to them. It was about 2 am. One was called Chacha and the other Rashid. Esther told them they could touch her only if she had taken their money sometime. But then Chacha reminded her that he had already bought her a 20 shilling package of chips and a cake that cost 30 shillings, and so she needed to pay him back. Esther and I decided to trick them by telling them we had agreed and they could get in our sacks. So they did. Just then Esther said she had to go for a short call [toilet] and I said I would escort her and we would come back. Fortunately they agreed and let us go.
When we went out, we saw Advella, and we told her what had happened. She said she had also taken their money, and we should run away. So we did, but just when we started running, they saw us and came after us, so fast. We ran and ran and ran up to the MITS Center and begged the watchman Mutonga to let us in; but he refused and said there were fierce dogs inside the property. We left there so fast and ran to Mauryn and Irene’s place, and we stopped at the gate and yelled and shouted for them. But their watchman chased us away. Then we ran to the house of Advella’s grandmother. We told the watchman that some boys had caught Advella because she was not as fast as we were, and would he help us. Finally, someone who was kind! He agreed to go back with us and rescued Advella from those men.
One day at MITS I was talking to Darlene, and she asked where Esther was. I told her I had left Esther at Mzee Kondoo’s place because she could not walk and her legs were very swollen due to some boils like the ones that killed her sister. Esther was very scared. She asked me to bring Esther, and she got some first aid there.
Life went on, and I had almost given up. I didn’t go to MITS for a time, and then one of the teachers called Njue came to look for me at Mzee Kondoo’s. He wanted to talk about going to MITS boarding program, but first I must take him to my mum. So I took them to the base where I was sleeping at night; it was called Simon’s base. Finally I took them to find my mum; she’s a hawker, selling plastic bags. When we were parting that day, they gave me twenty shillings for dinner. But then I went and used ten shillings to buy glue and ten to buy some chips.
I am now living at the Kamulu Center, and we are all seven of us girls. We could have been eight, but one girl who was pregnant and HIV+ was taken to a home in Kisumu. I was taught some education classes and the Bible too. I really tried to change my behavior and to become a good girl. I was still rude but I really tried to change. It’s just that it was hard; Maggie and I fought.
Finally the staff gave me my last chance; if I didn’t change in two weeks, they would have to take me back to my mum. I just prayed and told God that I tried but couldn’t. I told him he would have to do it. And he did!
Caroline Wanjiru finished her basic studies with Made in the Streets and completed a two-year internship at Narcisse Hair Salon in the Sarit Shopping Center. She is now employed full-time at that salon and is a happy, confident young woman. She is a trusted employee and is very grateful to her boss, Nargis, for love and support.
Made in the Streets is a ministry devoted to rescuing children from the streets of Nairobi, Kenya. You can learn more about MITS on their website:.
1 Editorial asides are offset in square brackets throughout the article.