I met Bravo in 2006 at the Roundabout in Nairobi, the local name for the outdoor bus station. We were shooting Rescuing Emmanuel, our documentary about a 13-year-old Kenyan street boy and our naive but well-intended efforts to save him. Bravo offered his unconditional help with the filming and we began to shadow him.
He was surrounded by street children and knew each by name. He would stop and cradle infants, talk to their mothers and direct them to Maisha House, a local safe haven where they wouldn’t be harassed by the police.
I don’t know a great deal about Bravo’s biography. I do know he had a brother who died on the streets and that changed the arc of his life. In his words, ” It sent me to the streets.”
There, on a daily basis, he offers comfort and kindness where food, shelter and medical care are acutely needed.
There are many estimates of the number of street children around the world and they are probably all unreliable. The number used most often is about 100 million. This would be roughly two and a half times the population of South Africa. But let’s imagine the number is half of the estimate – that would still be fifty million children, an extraordinary number of children living and dying on the streets.
Through his manner, Bravo reminded us constantly to remember that these outcasts are children, after all, in spite of the fact that they smell bad, could care less about what you think of them, will steal your personal belongings and have become accustomed to doing exactly what they want to do whenever they want to do it.
Many of these children have left abusive households, have been exploited sexually or are orphaned by the AIDS crisis. Young women leave home for false promises of work or marriage and are essentially trafficked within the country to the city where they become part of a growing population on the streets. Girls also leave rural homes to escape early marriage or the constant demands of domestic labor within their families. Once in the city, without family, friends or education they are on their own, and must sell themselves to survive.
Often a parent will remarry and there will be no place in the home for the children from the first relationship. In circumstances like these, the children often prefer taking their chances on the streets.
Long before we ever showed up in Nairobi to film, Bravo had been registering street children for identification cards. Without a government ID, a street boy or girl doesn’t exist, can’t enroll in school and has a good chance of disappearing in a crowded Kenyan jail when they are inevitably picked up as part of a routine police roundup.
Bravo is a producer at heart, producing sports events of various kinds for street children in and around the city. Road races on donated bicycles and track and field events are a specialty of his. For a slideshow of one of these road races, click here. Often these events are connected to his efforts as a Scoutmaster. Only Bravo can look out over the grimy faces of street boys who can barely stand up from the glue they’re sniffing to push away hunger and cold and see in his mind’s eye a troop of Scouts in crisp clean uniforms and a crop of untested athletes. But over and over, I get pictures of that miracle occurring in one slum or another all over Kenya, courtesy of Bravo, a man of great faith, a role model for the children whose lives he values enough to save, one life at a time.