It is early afternoon at Isaiah Kagiri’s home at Maili Nne Village in Nyahururu.
The home is a den of laughter. Mr Kagiri, a charmingly cheeky storyteller, narrates his ‘real rough ride’ through drug addiction.
His audience is special. It is a crowd of recovering addicts pulled by the witty story teller. Once in a while, they burst uncontrollably at every peculiar incident of Kagiri’s dingy dark old days.
They all share splitting experiences, trudging same professional routes. They are all teachers and recovering addicts who have battled the worst form of addiction.
“I have been to hell and back. Two failed marriages, I have taught in 22 schools in 15 years. I have been a deputy head teacher for a record of four hours before I disappeared and got myself a job at a chang’aa den,” Kagiri summed up amidst laughter from the group of recovering addicts.
Kagiri’s story resonates with teachers struggling with addiction. It traces back to December 1992 when he was first introduced to drugs.
“The first drug I started using was bhang. I was introduced by a mentor while undergoing initiation. What followed was a ride to hell, battling with endless addiction throughout high school and university. I spent 20 years as an addict before finally reforming and started piecing things up,” he said.
His is a story of a troubled young man who despite the desire to get out of drug addiction and reform, found himself slipping back to the worst even after attending prayer sessions.
“Addiction was so bad that I finally resorted to attending prayers, hoping for miracles that the thirst for alcohol could just disappear. But even before the anointing oil could dry up, I could find myself in a chang’aa den trading my sweater for a drink,” he says.
One episode in 2003 remains fresh in his mind. Kagiri had got a job in a private school to teach geography and business studies. He had vowed not to look back and focus to keep his job after several dismissals from other schools. And for several months, he managed to keep his head up until the school administration named him acting deputy head teacher.
“That was the worst mistake because I had just been paid. I stayed in school for only four hours after the announcement before calling my friends to a nearby chang’aa den so we could celebrate. I never went back even after several summons. Instead, I got myself a job at the chang’aa den,” he says.
In 2011, Kagiri experienced a mental breakdown and partially lost his mind. He recovered and thought of seeking help in a rehabilitation centre but not until after the police intervened.
“I was arrested, bungled into a vehicle and ferried to a rehabilitation centre where I was locked up for 90 days. The outcome was nothing but great. My wife and family had collaborated with the police to finally try out a lasting solution,” Kagiri says.
Following an interdiction from TSC, he chose to volunteer by visiting students and teachers battling addiction. This helped him avoid relapse.
His advocacy, other recovering addicts said, has played a key role in their rehabilitation and recovery journeys.
Every Sunday, Kagiri’s homestead becomes a voluntary mini rehab, giving recovering addicts a platform to come together and share stories on their journeys. “It is a tough journey. We can only recover with help. Sharing our journeys helps with speedy recoveries while keeping us in check in case of relapse,” John Njuguna said.
For Njuguna, the battle with addiction led to being interdicted several times from the Teachers Service Commision (TSC) before he was finally dismissed in 2007.
“I am sober and on the journey to rebuilding my life. I am currently the head teacher of a private secondary school in Nyandarua,” Mr Njuguna said.
Currently, out of the 48 teachers enrolled in the group, 32 of them are currently dry and recovering well.
Anthony Chege tells of an extreme case of battle with addiction that landed him in hospital after an attempted suicide.
“I have sober for 562 days and counting. My addiction was worse, I tried pulling out but could not, and I left teaching in several schools because of fear that I could not deliver as expected. Things turned for the worse when I developed paranoia. I could not even stay alone in the house or even do anything without drinking to wade off unknown fear,” Mr Chege said.
Before he finally decided to visit a rehabilitation centre, Mr Chege tried to commit suicide, and ended up in hospital. This ordeal did not stop him from researching on ways of committing suicide.
“I had swallowed some pesticide after several failed attempts to reform. When I was in hospital, I kept researching on the internet on the easiest way to die,” he said.
Just like Njuguna, Chege too was at the verge of giving up when Kagiri visited him and told him of his story.
“I had read about his story in a newspaper and when he visited my home, I instantly knew I was saved. Kagiri took me to a rehabilitation centre. We are testimonies that extreme drug addicts can reform,” Mr Chege, who teaches at Nyahururu Boys said.
And while teachers have dominated the group, Mr Kagiri said non-teachers have enrolled.
“It is a growing group, I have former classmates with whom we grew up together and others whose families have just approached me to go and talk to them,” Kagiri says.
When Saturday Standard visited Kagiri in his home, his childhood friend Charles Mwangi was among those in the recovery journey.
“Currently, I have restored my business. I now own some plots and supply meat to several butcheries in Nyahururu town after a successful rehabilitation and recovery. Kagiri helped me,” Mr Mwangi said.
The newest addict is barely two weeks. Daniel Kamau, a businessman in Nairobi, is slowly climbing the ladder of sobriety after selling everything to quench his addiction.
“With all the support here, I know my wife will even come back home,” he said.
In 2016, Kagiri was feted as the Teacher of the Year in Laikipia County. In 2017, he was recognised by TSC for his efforts to sensitise teachers, students and parents on alcoholism and drug abuse.
The Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) has also feted him. He has written a book, Saying it Aloud, that has become a hot cake in schools and rehabilitation centres.