Tough Bond

There was a time when the motto “it takes a village to raise a child” was more than just a saying it was a way of life. The disintegration of communal life in preference for Western style individualism has had damaging effects in Kenya and Africa as a whole. It has led to an epidemic of youths leaving their broken villages for life in nearby towns and slums. To numb the pain of life on the streets, an alarming number of them have taken to sniffing glue.

Tough Bond, named after a popular brand of glue sold in Kenya, is a film that explores the harsh reality of street life that many experience on a daily basis. The film follows four displaced individuals from various aspects of the Kenyan landscape that are connected by their circumstances. There is Sinbad who resides in the region of Isiolo. He does a range of odd jobs, from collecting plastic bottles to sweeping the street, in order to pay for both his grandmother’s malaria medicine and his glue addiction. In the town of Meru, we find Veronica Akai and her husband Peter, a couple whose relationship turns out to be as fractured as the troubled home that Akai originally ran away from. The last individual is Anto who is from the Kiamaiko slums of Nairobi. Anto is part of a street gang who view themselves as a misunderstood brotherhood. While they claim to merely be a group of youth looking out for one another, they have no qualms about committing violent robberies when night falls.

The startling thing about each of the individuals in the film is not necessarily how they ended up on the streets, but how prevalent sniffing glue is to their daily routine. Like babies with pacifiers, many of the street kids go about their task clutching dirty bottles of glue between their lips. Tough Bond highlights how the addiction has even spread to the youngest of the street kids. In one scene we witness a group of young boys in a drug-induced haze laying on the side of the street; one of whom looks as if he is in need of serious medical attention. It is a heartbreaking image that is all too common for many of these street youth.

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Filmed over the course of three years, directors Austin Peck and Anneliese Vandenberg clearly want Tough Bond to be a call for action. They do a nice job of talking to various people whose actions, or lack thereof, have a direct impact on the youth. Everyone from Mohamed Karim, the owner of the company that produces Tough Bond adhesive, to Kalonzo Muszoka, the Vice President of Kenya, agree that the increasing number of street kids is a problem. However, they disagree on whose responsibility it is to remedy the situation. Karim claims that it is up to government to impose stricter regulations on producing and selling glue, while Muszoka blames globalization for killing the African social identity.

Even a local furniture shop owner, Murethi, seems conflicted on what should be done. One minute he is chastising his customers for buying cases of glue and then turning around and selling it to the youth. The next moment, Peck and Vandenberg’s camera show that Murethi may not be as righteous as he claims to be. Lucy Muthee, a Kenyan social worker, is the only person who seems to understand that it will take community involvement and government assistance working together in unison if true change is to be made.

Peck and Vandenberg show that the glue sniffing, and overall rough life that street kids endure, is a result of a greater systemic issue in Africa. Though there are brief moments when the film tries to incorporate too many stories, most notably the Yomo Village portion, the overall message remains loud and clear. Tough Bond is a heartbreaking commentary on the need for community in the modern world.