From street child to school achiever: Theirworld project turns Reuben’s life around

Reuben, 16, is helped by his Learning Support Assistant Kevin Omondi in class

Watch our video as we mark International Day for Street Children by visiting a programme in Kenya that helps street children with disabilities and special education needs.

When things got rough at home, Reuben Tiema ran away to live on the streets in the Kenyan market town of Luanda. He wandered with other children and sold scrap metal to survive. 

“Street life was bad because there was no place to sleep. There was no food and it was cold,” he said. 

But Reuben’s life has turned around. Now 16 and living with his grandmother, he is back in school and doing well thanks to a programme supported by Theirworld which helps street children with visible and invisible disabilities and special education needs. A specialist Learning Support Assistant (LSA) works with them in mainstream schools. 

Reuben, who has been helped at Emutsuru School by LSA Kevin Omondi, said: “It got me off the streets and in a better place. I’m happy to have teacher Kevin because he teaches me maths in class. I’m hoping to have a bright future by working hard at school.” 

More than 350,000 children in Kenya and millions around the world work and live on the streets. To mark International Day for Street Children today, Theirworld has produced a new video about the LEAP (Learning, Educating And Protecting) Together project at 12 schools in Vihiga County, near Lake Victoria. Run by Chance for Childhood and its in-country partner Kisumu Urban Apostolate Programmes (KUAP), it aims to help 200 children.   

Watch the video here

At Emutsuru School, about 25 children have benefitted from the LEAP II programme. Head teacher Vitalis Kulundu said: “They are doing well. When the lessons are being taught by the teachers, the learning assistants move around to help these learners to understand more.” 

Many “street-connected” children – who spend all or some of their time living and working on the streets – drop out of primary school or don’t get any education in Kenya. For those with disabilities and special education needs, the challenges include discrimination from their communities, teachers and even their own parents. 

Because of that, the programme is also providing positive parenting workshops for 120 parents – including promoting the right of education for a child with special needs. 


"My hope for Reuben is to achieve his dreams and goals"

Learning Support Assistant Kevin Omondi

“It is important for street-connected children to get education to secure their own future,” said Christine Etakwa, KUAP’s Programme Officer Children Services. “Children with special educational needs require extra support. And if they’re not being given that support, it becomes harder for them even to adjust in a school set-up.” 

Kevin Omondi became a Learning Support Assistant because he specifically wanted to help children who have difficulty learning. He said: “I have worked with Reuben for two months. Now he can communicate well and can deliver any report given from the school. He can read on his own well in school and at home. 

“My hope for Reuben is to be a responsible person in society and to achieve his dreams and goals.” 

"I can see the steady progress he's been making in his school work"

Josephine, Reuben's grandmother

As well as the LSAs, street children are backed by Violence Prevention Activists, who are community members championing the rights of children. 

One of them is Ernest P. Mukuna, who explained: “They are bullied in the streets and beaten. Others are used by traders to sell their wares. They are very much stigmatised. I ensure that the children who go back home from the street are taken care of properly. 

“It is very important to educate them. The project has really done a lot of good for the children and the parents.” 

"Children with special educational needs require extra support"

Christine Etakwa, KUAP’s Programme Officer Children Services

Reuben’s grandmother Josephine is delighted with his achievements. She said: “Reuben went to school from grade 1 and when he got to grade 7 he started to stray. I’m happy that he’s part of this programme and I can see the steady progress he’s been making in his school work.  

“I’ve got high hopes that Reuben works hard in school and becomes a teacher or a doctor.” 

The LEAP Together programme is supported by Theirworld thanks to the players of People’s Postcode Lottery. 

About the project

We partner with Chance for Childhood to identify and cater to special learning needs among children who live on the streets. The LEAP Together programme also helps communities create environments where young people with different needs feel safer.

Learn more