I first met Albert Kipchumba, then Kapsoya OCS, three years ago during one of the security meetings he organised to address addiction to illicit brew. By that time, I had sunk in the deepest pit of addiction. Nothing on me told of the prominent position I once held in Kapsoya Ward where I had served many years as the councillor, which is now to an MCA.
I was dirty from head to toe. I lost weight and my lungs ached. I was very sick. My wife had left me, I think for the 10th time then. Whenever she left, she stayed with her parents for up to a year, leaving me to take care of our six children on my own. When she came back, I would feign sobriety for a few days and plunge back into addiction, making her life even more miserable. I was a nightmare to my children who found it hard to study surrounded by the violence I caused.
I started drinking in 1996 when I was in Class Six and never stopped until only recently. It started with the alcohol that my parents brewed. When I got my first job in a construction company, I barely did anything constructive with my salary. Out of the Sh18,000 I earned, I gave my wife only Sh3,000 to plan everything with it and I spent the rest on alcohol. Still, I would go back to my wife and demand that she gives me what was left of the Sh3,000 I gave her. My children barely had enough to eat.
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It took me months to be friends with Kipchumba. At first, I only attended his meetings accompanied with fellow drunks to cause havoc. He sought to know me and after digging into my background and learning that I had been a councillor, he swore to bring me back to shape. My conversion was gradual. Many times, I ignored his advice. He fitted me in his tight schedule and talked to me for hours. Then everything he told me started making sense. That no one forced me to take alcohol and that I could stop if I wanted to. I really wanted to stop the irresponsible drinking. He challenged me to go out with my friends but only to order for soft drinks while the rest drank alcohol. I tried this for a few days. It was difficult in the beginning but the police officer encouraged me to push myself harder. It’s been three years now since I last tasted alcohol. It has been a complete turn-around for me and my wife of 40 years. I am no longer the useless man I was three years ago and it is normal to find me in security meetings, warning young people of the dangers of alcohol addiction. I owe my new life to Kipchumba.
Dr Willy Mutunga took me back to school
My first job when I finished high school was a driver at Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR). I had performed well in my KCSE but with no money to go to university or a middle level college, I paid for driving lessons instead. I promised myself to save as much as I could to get a proper college qualification. It was while working at KNCHR that I first met Dr Willy Mutunga, sometime in 1996. He was a very friendly person, especially to junior staff at the commission. He asked everyone how they were doing and always offered to help whenever one shared some difficult stuff they were going through. That time, the commission was a very small organisation with just about eight employees who worked on volunteer terms. Most of us earned just about Sh15,000 a month. Dr Willy Mutunga sat in the board of management of the commission.
I remember him asking me how I felt about going back to school to get a competitive edge in my future roles at the organisation. He informed me that the commission managed a staff development kitty and that he thought I was the right person to get support from the kitty. He said that I was diligent and very hardworking at my job and that I had proved myself worthy of the support. I jumped at the idea at once. I had always hoped I would go back to school. It just never occurred to me that the opportunity would present itself that fast. Dr Mutunga first took me to college to study basic computer for my own literacy. Then with support from the staff development kitty at KNCHR, I enrolled for a one-year diploma in community development which I passed well and got a promotion to an assistant programme officer at the commission. My new job came with a salary raise to Sh70,000. Once more, Dr Mutunga encouraged me to get a degree. I enrolled in the 2010 class of development studies at Mount Kenya University. On graduation, I was promoted to the position of programme officer with Sh140, 000 salary. Even though I’ve since accepted a new job elsewhere, as an operations manager at Kitui Villa, I am still friends with Dr Mutunga who literally raised me from dust.
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The friend that walked me out of depression
I was in a very dark place between 2015 and 2017. My marriage failed, I lost my job in the hospitality industry and I had just had a miscarriage. I had borne several other miscarriages from the time I was married at 18. This time however, it was issue after issue and I contemplated suicide countless times. It was a time I slid into the worst form of depression as I watched the world crumble at my feet. I locked myself away from everyone, including my two brothers who I had taken in after our parents passed on.
In this trying moment, only one friend, Stephanie Hiuko stood by me. I met Stephanie through another friend eight years ago and we have been very good friends. Somehow, our spirits were aligned to each other so well that I didn’t have to tell her what I was going through. She checked on us every day and ensure that my brothers had something to eat while I lay in my day all day, detached from the world. She prayed for me, took my papers and did job applications for me since I had lost interest in job searching. She even tried to talk me into moving in with her where she would take care of me and my brothers.
I started healing after a three-day retreat she took me to in Athi River. It was after the retreat that I started going to church and decided to give life a second chance. She also got me to my feet when she helped me to get a job. I am convinced that she is an angel that God sent to hold my hand when I was undergoing the worst experiences in life. My message to her is that had I to choose a friend again, it would be her. We met in the weirdest of the circumstances and I never knew that we would be friends, let alone my greatest source of strength and peace. I love her very much.
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The foreigner that took me under her wing
Jacktone Ambole, community volunteer
I had a difficult childhood. Being an orphan I stayed out of school for a long time until I met Ketie Nye, an American who was visiting our school in Vihiga. She was visiting, courtesy of a NGO, Amesbury for Africa, to identify needy children. She thought I could use all the help I could get and whenever she visited, she would buy me school uniform and shoes and leave having paid part of my school fess. She maintained contact and also supported me through high school. When I completed high school, she connected me to some sponsors who then paid for my degree in community health and development at Moi University.
Even before I graduated from university, she wrote to notify me of a vacancy at Camp Linkoln in New Hampshire. The family-run camp needed a youth counsellor who would tell African stories to the youth on camp. Nye facilitated all my travel arrangements including my passport, visa and everything I need for my stay in the US. That was in 2015. It was a one-year contract and stay in the US which changed my perspective on life. While in the US, I learnt that Americans do very simple things to make money and that they never waste time looking for employment. On coming back, to Kenya, I shelved my papers and instead, invested in farming. I rear poultry, rabbits and also do horticulture. I also founded a community based organisation in Vihiga through which I rally for funds to support the elderly and neglected people in the county. At the moment, the organisation is keeping 37 students from needy backgrounds in secondary schools and colleges. I also actively rally for jigger eradication in the community and run campaigns to increase health awareness. It is my way of saying thank you to Nye who raised me from poverty.