In an increasingly depressing country, where one can foretell with precision that the next headline will be some billion-shilling scandal, it is refreshing to be reminded that there are Kenyans with inspiring stories who are the extreme opposite of the rot we publicize every day.
For these ones, there will never be a screaming headline, or a trending personal hashtag. Yet like Wangari Maathai’s humming bird, they are doing their little bit to change the world.
My humming bird story this week is of little known Kelvin Mwikya. I met Kelvin sometime after he had left prison.
Kelvin, orphaned in his teens in the dry dusty Kitui hills, had been wrongfully jailed for robbery after his surviving relatives made false accusations against him so that they could inherit the little land his father had left. Kelvin served several years in remand and eventual prison.
Send toilet paper
The stories he tells of Kenya’s prison are horrifying. While in prison, Kelvin became a Christian and determined that when he got out, he would contribute in his own little way to make the life of prisoners a little better.
Upon completion of his sentence, his first project was collecting funds to send toilet paper to prisons. When I met him and enquired why he had chosen toilet paper, he informed me that in prison, the only available paper were the freely distributed Gideon Bibles which is what prisoners used as toilet paper. He just couldn’t deal with that kind of assault on a book he now treasured.
After several years of a solo operation, Kelvin eventually started the Philemon Foundation, named after Paul’s prisoner friend in the New Testament.
This foundation took on the difficult job of establishing and running a half-way house in Dagoretti, the first one of its kind in Kenya.
Kelvin also started several prison-based ministries including a school in Industrial Area Prison and Bible studies in several prisons. He also partnered with, among others, the Christian Lawyers Fellowship to offer legal aid in deserving cases.
One of Kelvin’s greatest challenges was finding partners for this work; most Kenyans consider those that are or have been to prison outcasts and would hardly be willing to donate money for prison or ex-prisoners support.
Fortunately, some few churches stood by him and enabled him to continue the work and he eventually put up a rehabilitation home in Ngandaani, Makueni County. The rehabilitation home hosts several young offenders on supervisory probation.
Many of these youngsters went to prison in their teens and have now reconnected with school and are doing amazingly well, knowing they have a home in Ngandaani to return to until they can be reconnected with family.
Rejoining family after prison is tough for many ex-offenders, many families reject people leaving prison, forcing the Foundation to undertake exhausting reconciliation processes to enable ex-prisoners to be accepted back in family and society.
With some faithful partners, Kelvin is finishing a vocational training centre in which the ex-prisoners can learn trades that would enable them fit better in society. Who would have imagined that this poor orphan boy, who was unjustly thrown into the dungeons would offer hope to so many?
What strikes one as you interact with Kelvin and his wife Patricia, with whom he runs the project, is his absolute devotion to those who the world tends to reject.
But when you listen to the stories of what sent some ex-prisoners to jail, you want to be as far away from them as possible! Not so Kelvin. It is clear that he understands and deeply cares for these societal rejects and they in turn reciprocate.
In the many years I have interacted with Kelvin, I have met many ex-prisoners who went through this half way house rehabilitation programme and have reconnected with society, adding tremendous value to themselves and others.
Kelvin has lobbied hard for changes in the prison system to be more humane, but since Uncle Moody, not much prison reform has occurred. But in their little way Kelvin, Patricia and Philemon are making the world a little easier for “the least of these.”
- The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya