I am excited by the many wonderful things happening in Mukuru, my mind is brimming with hundreds of ideas ready to unleash as the Lord enables me. Having been raised in Mukuru Kayaba slums, I usually recall with nostalgia the hardships, childhood innocence, triumphs and the valuable lessons and friendships which will stay with me forever. The other day a friend told me ‘once you begin writing, you don’t stop writing’. People will never know how blessed they are until they know who they are in Christ and ultimately find their purpose. I have found my purpose, and I’m using it as a channel to give back to my community.
“And Nathanael said unto him, CAN THERE ANY GOOD THING COME OUT OF NAZARETH? Philip saith unto him, COME and SEE.” John 1:46
Good things have always come from the despised and unrecognized places. We all know that Jesus our Lord and Saviour didn’t come the way the world was expecting. Nazareth, the place he was born, could not produce much worth, let alone the Promised one.
There is a general idea (especially from foreign NGO workers and ‘idealistic westerners’) that African slum dwellers are helpless and in need of saving, a perception that has miscast an entire population. The reality is majority of the slum dwellers just like other people elsewhere are working hard to improve their lot. Yet for all their hard work, their stories are normally consigned to the background. Attention is primarily devoted to the poverty and dysfunction in slums, little is written about the positive, basic humanity and the daily grind of slum dwellers.
I went out in search of people to write about, with the purpose of highlighting an altogether different picture of talented individuals and everyday slum dwellers doing the bit. Mukuru is a hotbed of talent. The youth in particular are brimming with enormous potential and ability that is yet to be tapped. These talents if properly harnessed can turn out to be a blessing not only for the individual(s) but benefit and transform the community at large.
Here’s a look at some of the talents and everyday people from Mukuru doing their bit …
Adam Masava- Changing lives of slum children one brush stroke at a time
Born and raised in Mukuru, Adam is a widely travelled visual artist and has exhibited his works in disparate places from the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya to the Czech Republic. He is also a humanitarian who is working tirelessly to alter the lives of people from the slums. He is the founder of an art studio in South B, where fine artists from the slums and surrounding areas can work from. The studio has become a work station of sorts; offering free art classes to children from ages 5-14, mentoring and horning skills of youths interested in pursuing a career in fine art and creating job opportunities for fine artists living within and around Mukuru. He also does workshops in schools where he conducts training on art related activities.
Adam paints on two main types of surfaces; old cartons and used roofing sheets.
‘I used to buy the iron sheets mainly after there was a fire in the slum and then I would recycle the scrap metal. Buying also allows the person whose house has burnt down to get some money. These days, I also look for people who want to renovate their houses and buy the iron sheet which I can use for my work. You have to burn the iron sheet so that it’s lighter and hence easier to shape. Normally, I try to allow the material to maintain its natural form by applying shellac on it so that it does not continue to rust,’ adds Adam.[i]
Adam was part of the organizing committee of the Mukuru Finest talent show – an event full of pomp and colour held on the 24 – 25th Nov a gathering of talents from across the vast Mukuru slums to perform music, dances, poetry, comedy, sports among others and also emphasize the role of education, solidarity and engagement among residents.
‘We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give’, – Sir Winston Churchill
Adam operates by the dictum ‘the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others and his vision Change in Mukuru begins with Mukuru residents’ is an apt statement in his endeavour to give back to the community.
Priscilla – Turning point beauty parlor salon
Hairdressers such as Priscilla are a fixture of the thriving micro enterprises that are found across slums in Kenya, reflecting both the enterprising nature of the people and demand from hair-conscious women (braided hair is as much fashion as convenience).
Priscilla has a unique gift for styling and braiding women’s hair. Knowing how to braid is something she learned as a child growing up in Mukuru, it is something that comes naturally, kind of like learning how to eat or walk. It is a common skill among many African women who have been braiding their hair for several centuries.
Hair care is a vital source of jobs for women (especially girls who have dropped out of school due to early pregnancy or could not join High School due to lack of school fees), who make up a large slice of the informal economy in slums.
Priscilla is giving back to the community by establishing a small training course for styling and hair dressing for young women/mothers. The good part of this training is that you work with her as she gets customers. The more the clients, the more recruitment she does for training. Most of the young women who leave her place end up establishing their own salons. Priscilla told me that she is happy when she sees the success of those who used to work under her. She dreams of having her hair dressing training college, at the moment she has 3 employees.
Cecilia is another hairdresser with a Salon just a stone throw away from Priscilla. Her salon is a basic structure with a dryer, mirrors, plastic chairs, and a narrow table cluttered with combs, phone chargers, and hair extensions.
She has two workers, and also gives back to the community by offering basic training to young women
Nyamai – Underground Barbers
Barbershops – you notice them everywhere you go across slums in Africa, the walls are plastered with posters of exquisite hairstyles, each with its own unique character and fingerprint of an entrepreneurial owner. Locally known as Kinyozi they offer more than just a place to freshen one’s look. They’re a gathering place for the community, a place where locals can catch up on the latest news, soccer game recaps and such.
Meet Nyamai owner of Underground Barbers. Nyamai and I have grown up together in Mukuru. He has 17 years of experience as a barber under his belt and has been shaving people’s hair since he was a kid. He started off working for one of the numerous barbershops in Mukuru. After a while he managed to buy his own equipment and starting his own place and currently has one full time employee.
His Barbershop offers a variety of haircuts to choose from, coupled with reasonable prices and quality services that keeps clients coming back for more. He also offers mentor-ship and training to others interested in working as a barber. He hopes to open more branches within the slum and expand to other estates in Nairobi.
Looking for a genuine electronic technician to repair your gadgets? Bocha an electronic technician locally referred to ‘fundi wa radio’, has the residents of Mukuru sorted. With more than 15 years’ experience, he repairs phones, radios, TVs, computers and such. No matter the damage, type or age, it may take a few hours, days or weeks you can count on his expertise to make it good.
His shop is open daily save for the occasion he has to go to somebody’s house to repair a gadget or go out to source for parts.
Joseph – fix and flip
Joseph buys and collects used or damaged electronic gadgets which he then fixes and resells at a profit. The work not only affords him a good income but he also has a full-time employee.
Tongo Wellness Venture
Meet Tongo a fitness expert cashing in on a wave of Kenyans focussing on their physical fitness and enrolling in gyms. I reminisce how Tongo always played the role of coach back when we used to play football as kids in the early 90’s.
“It is important to be able to fit and feel accepted in the gym and this begins with how you are treated the first day you step into a gym” says Tongo. He helps and directs clients so that they can access the right equipment for their training and guides them to set realistic goals and perform exercises correctly and efficiently, in order to maximize results.
Tongo has a registered company ‘Tongo wellness venture’ and is also very much involved in community activities, always ready to mentor youth interested in the fitness business.
Shoe Shine Boy
Shoe shine boy aka Stephen Makoha is a musician who has travelled far and wide performing shows across Kenya, Africa and parts of Europe. Backed by his band the TuneDem band, Shoeshine performs a mixture of roots, gospel Reggae and Dancehall. He cites Jamaican DJs like Capleton and Sizzla as his musical influences and has performed together with artists like Chavelle Franklyn and Lt. Stitchie. Besides music, he volunteers on an art project at Kamiti Prison where he works with inmates.
He has a passion for the community and he dreams of starting a music school in Mukuru.
Abraham Dawo – Up and Coming, Young and gifted football star
Reminiscing my childhood back in the early 90’s, when football was part and parcel of growing up in the slums. We played barefoot because we couldn’t afford football shoes and made balls using waste papers and strings. Such was our ingenuity, every kid was a star. Majority of us discontinued football as we pursued other life options and meanwhile witnessed the disappearance of playing fields which were gradually built on or converted to some other use.
Meet Abraham Dawo a forward not only blessed with skill and athleticism but also focused, disciplined and humble. Abraham grew up in a similar footballing environment to us in addition to getting inspiration from his elder brother Patrick Oboya a former Harambee Stars forward. Abraham has steadfastly pursued his football career and played for a local club the South B united where he was a regular feature during local tournaments (He still plays for his home team when available). His exploits for the team, where he emerged the top scorer in the 2017 Koth Biro tournament saw him snapped up by National super league side Kenya Police where he is currently plying his trade as a striker.
Abraham clearly has a bright future ahead of him and hopefully he will get to ply his trade in the prestigious European leagues.
Benson Gicharu – Born to be a boxer
Bantamweight boxer Benson Gicharu list of accomplishments includes representing the country in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. He has also represented Kenya at the World Championships twice in 2009 and 2013 where he was ranked top eight and at the Africa Games in 2011 and 2015.
After an illustrious two-decade career in the ring, Benson Gicharu is hanging his gloves and will dedicate his time and energy coaching and mentoring young talented boxers. He launched his boxing team club at the Mukuru Finest event and earlier did a testimonial fight while barefoot against Maurice Ochieng.
‘It was really hurting playing on that surface to make it even worse barefooted. I simply wanted to send a message to our youths, that no matter what life’s throws against you, you have to endure that pain and not only grow through it but grow in it.
Concerning the boxing club training career, this what he said: “Many youth are involved in crime and abuse of drugs. They are armed and dangerous but I want to see if we can try to disarm them through mentor-ship programs.”
Gicharu also happens to be a gifted fine artist, a passion of his since childhood. He currently serves in the Kenya Police Service as a Police Officer.
“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile’’ – Albert Einstein
“I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.” Psalms 139:14
“A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.” Proverbs 18:16