From styling hair to shaping lives

Juvinaries Kyalo was a high-flying city hairdresser when he felt the need to change the lives of street boys. NELLY OBADHA talked to him about the change from hairdressing to ‘streetnizing’.

Juvinaries Kyalo is a proud ‘father’ of 35 former street children, who live with him in his rented house in Kiambu County. He calls his family the Streetnizers Ministry, and started it 13 years ago on June 16, the day the African Child is celebrated.

“Before I took up this initiative, I was a renowned stylist in Nairobi,” the 40-year-old says. “I had the opportunity to work with many prominent people and at some of the top salons in Nairobi, including Urembo and Topform Salon at Bodywise.”

Juvinaries married Monicah Wahura in 2003, while still working as a hairstylist. In 2004, they had a baby who, unfortunately, passed away. This was a trying and painful time for the young family, and the bereft father started to look for something that could fill the gap left by my loss.

“One day, I tuned in to the breakfast show of a certain radio station, and there was a discussion on three street boys. I made a pledge to give the boys free haircuts for a year.

“As a way of introduction, the boys were brought to a restaurant where we had lunch. Many questions crossed my mind as I looked at the youngsters. The main one was: What impact will shaving their hair and letting them go back to the streets have in their life?” Juvinaries recalls.

“This is when I discovered that my life’s purpose is to impact my generation through supporting the boy child.”

He got a house for the three boys as he made plans on how to help them lead better lives. He was able to support his new charges from his pocket, as well as through the support of some of his clients.

At one point, he had to live with them in his house. They did not have children at the time, and it took his wife a while to get used to the idea of having three boys in her home. However, Monicah soon warmed up to the idea, and not only supported his initiative, but started to contribute to it.

Between 2006 and 2007, Juninaries was mentored at Shangilia Mtoto wa Africa, an organisation that houses and mentors former street children. By this time, he had got 15 boys off the street.

“In 2008, I officially registered the Streetnizers Community Centre as a community-based organisation. There are 35 boys housed at the centre, and more than 100 others who have been rehabilitated and left. We not only take them off the street, but ensure they are empowered and able to live a positive and fulfilling life.”

Streetnizers has several programmes that help these boys who are looked down upon and even ostracised by society.

One programme involves working with the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) to conserve the environment.

“We have been able to plant our own forest of 2,000 trees and carry out environmental clean-ups as we engage the neighbouring community and schools,” Juvinaries says proudly.

There is a boy scouts programme headed by 21-year-old Swaleh Hamisi Mwaropia, himself a beneficiary of the centre. Before Streetnizers, Swaleh was living on the streets of Mombasa, where he was abusing drugs and engaged in petty crime. The scouting programme organises visits to hospitals and prisons, as well as camping trips and life skill training.

At the Talanta Academy, young people polish talents such as deejaying and dancing. They are then trained on how to use their talents to make a living.

Lastly, there is an annual circumcision programme whereby boys from the community are initiated and offered mentorship during their two-week stay at the centre. The mentors who work with Streetnizers include celebrities such as Nameless and his wife Wahu, Jimmy Gait, Kambua and Mohammed Ali.

The local community has also helped by accepting these young men and helping them get over the use of drugs that is quite rampant among the youth. Many of these boys wish to go back to school, and many have done just that, then gone on to pursue various careers. In addition, some have been reunited with their biological families.

CHALLENGES

However, beside these success stories, there are challenges that come with running such a centre. The first is financial constraints.

“We need money to meet the basic needs of these boys. Getting people to provide consistent support is not easy as the society is mostly sceptical about street children being able to change;” says Juvinaries, who also has three biological children; Mellisah Mwikali, Alex Kitwa and Ann Mbaika.

Then there is the task of tackling the boys’ attitude. As Juvinaries admits: “Getting the boys from the street is a tough task, but getting the street mentality out of them is even tougher.”

“Many street boys do not trust the people around them, due to the persecution they have undergone. It is usually a very long journey that needs a lot of patience and support from, churches, corporates and people of goodwill. There are many who have been brought to the centre but ended up back in the streets because they are unable to cope, but we are working to reduce this number.”

Going from what Juvinaries has been able to achieve in ten years, things can only get better.

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