How one former street boy inspired a movement to change the world.
I was born in the Mathare slums in Nairobi though I am not sure on the exact date or place. I never knew my father and was orphaned at the young age of 7 after my mom was claimed by HIV/Aids. I was sent to live with my grandma in a small village in Western Kenya. My grandmother was my idol because she worked so hard to insure that we ate. Although she had no formal education, she understood the power that education could have in my life. I never felt like I was an orphan until she passed away in 2008. During a trip to Nairobi to visit my grandpa in the Mathare Slum, my grandpa was unable to pay the $6 bus fare back to the village where I was enrolled at the local primary school.
With no money to pay school fees to enroll in a school in Nairobi, I was forced to drop out of school. I moved in with my uncle who was, at the time, the leader of a gang that terrorized residents of Mathare. Being only 10 years old and heavily influenced by my uncle, I started to use hard drugs and engage in gang activities. I witnessed many of my friends get shot by the police. I remember one time that I almost got shot. I escaped death by a whisker after dodging a bullet aimed at me. It was dangerous but I was desperate. I started going to the streets as a safe alternative.
I spent the next 5 years surviving on the streets by washing and watching cars, pottering, and begging. I was still using drugs during my time on the streets. Drugs, such as glue, help act as a shield from the shame of being on the streets and a blanket during the cold nights. For five years I completely lost contact with my family. My colleagues in the streets were my only family. I did not have contact with my only sister for over ten years. I went out to try and find her last year and I succeeded to reunite with her.
I was rescued by an American couple who had come grocery shopping at the market in my base. I would not be here today had they not taken interest in me. They organized for me to enroll in a rehabilitation center in Kawangware, a slum on the opposite side of Nairobi where I joined other street youth and children who now became part of my family. They continued to invest in me for the next 10 years. They became the parents that I never had. They supported me to start my first business, which created jobs for 4 more former street youth. Though my experiences on the streets were difficult, they provided me with important life lessons that have shaped who I am today- I call this the opportunity of a lifetime that they provided!
This opportunity came with a calling. I could not sit back and watch my former colleagues still suffering on the streets. I heard their voices crying for help every time I visited them. I saw their image of despair and hopelessness and their desire to live a life of dignity. I involved them in the design of a program that they would like to see. I worked with youth from my former base as well as other street bases in Nairobi especially Kawangware. We didn’t want this to be just another rehabilitation program. Most of the youth had already gone through rehabilitation programs that provided them with their basic needs and yet after their release from the program they still did not have opportunities. Often times they became worse off than before joined programs. I decided to dedicate my life to help get other street youth off the street. In order to do this I founded a non-profit organization called Kito International, designed by street youth for street youth.