The first day I visited the slums of Nairobi, I was accompanied by Nicholas Kangethe Mbugua. A “Youth Facilitator” for Undugu, he served as our guide and translator. As we visited various Street Associations, he helped explain to the youth what Digital Storytelling was and what self-advocacy work such as this could offer to these young people. It wasn’t until later I learned that Kangethe himself had been a “chokorra,” a street boy.
Kangethe was born just outside of Nairobi in Kiambu. He was the oldest in a family of four and, as happens all too often here, his father divorced his mother and left her to care for her children alone. This meant that when Kangethe finished primary school (which is free in Kenya) his mother didn’t have the money to send him to High School (which is not free). With very little education, eventually Kangethe ended up homeless by the age of 19.
“I found myself in the streets. My street colleagues were smoking and taking drugs. English people say if you can’t beat them you have to join them. There was no way I could beat them so I had to join them.” He explained that eventually this life in drugs also lead to a life of crime. “I couldn’t manage to steal from someone when I was sober, only when I was high could I manage to do anything wrong. When you live that life, most of the time you are being taken to prison. When you get out, you have nothing to depend on, so you find yourself stealing again, and then you go back to prison.”
This cycle of recidivism was finally disrupted by a traumatic event. Kangethe was serving a sentence of 18 months for stealing a mobile phone. He was upset because his mother would not come to visit him in prison. Only upon his release did he learn that his mother had become very sick and died while he was in jail.
“My rehabilitation started from there. My mom didn’t have someone to call on. I am the oldest and I have to take care of the rest of my family, so I decided to quit that thuggish life.”
But Kangethe wasn’t sure how he was going to do this. Then one day, he encountered some project officers from Undugu who weekly visited the neighborhood where Kangethe lived. “I was interested in hearing what they had to say. Their message somehow touched me.” They told him what they tell every young street person they meet. Stop doing drugs. Find a legal way to make money. Find a group where you can pool your resources.
Kangethe joined a Street Association in his slum and began to earn money through washing cars. By saving just 10 shillings a day (about 12 cents) he was able to rent a place to stay with some of his fellow association members. Eventually, the group elected him their chairman.
It was around this time that Undugu started an innovative new program for engaging their street associations. In 2006, Undugu was visited by an organization from South Africa that had employed former street youth as part of their regular staff. Undugu was so moved and impressed by this that they wondered why they couldn’t do the same thing.
So Undugu called the leaders of all the associations together and asked them to choose four leaders from their ranks who would work as Youth Facilitators. These young people would become employees of Undugu and serve as liasons between the street youth and the staff at Undugu. Kangethe was one of the four nominated by his peers. “They saw I was serious in what I was doing. I had a chance to rehabilitate others.”
When I asked him whether he liked his job, he explained. “I can talk to the youths on how they can quit that life and be responsible, because living in the streets ends in dying and difficulties.” He is now in the position to deliver the same message that was once told to him. Stop using drugs. Earn an honest wage. Stick together.
The inclusion of youth facilitators into the Undugu framework is one reflection of USKs attempt to teach self-advocacy to the youth in Nairobi. Kangethe’s life is a testament to the effectiveness of such a strategy.
Posted By Barbara Dziedzic
Posted Aug 8th, 2009