Bishara Hamo underwent forced Female Genital Mutilation as a child, and will live with the scars all her life....
My parents divorced when I was still a child, then my mother abandoned me. That's how I became a gangster
Your life has been a mix of misfortunes. How did it all start?
Before things started to fall apart, we were a happy family living in Luanda, Western Kenya. However, my parents went through a nasty divorce and I was caught in the middle. I was four years old at the time and could not understand what was going on.
What happened after the divorce?
My mother became very stressed and changed a lot. She chased me out of the house like a dog and told me she never wanted to see me again. This really pained me because my own mother denied me in front of my relatives. There were many questions lingering in my mind about why a mother would hate her child that much.
Where did you go after she kicked you out?
I tried to get to my father but he also did not want me. I was left all alone with no place to call home. I used to sleep in the village market until my grandmother decided to take me in. Unfortunately, this was for a short time because some of my relatives threatened to withdraw their support if she continued taking care of me.
Where did you go when you left your grandmother’s house?
I left the village and came to Nairobi to live with one of my uncles. However, he was very harsh to me. He would beat me, claiming that I was a freeloader. He complained that I was the reason he was not progressing in life because I had become a burden to him. Eventually he threw me out of his house and told me never to return.
Did you find another place to stay?
The streets became my only solace. At one point, I gave up on life and wished that I could die because I had no one to turn to. Growing up in the streets hardened me and I became bitter with life. I spent most of my time alone as other street children did not like me. They would make fun of me and sometimes beat me up. At one point I felt like ending my life because even the street children never wanted me. I felt like I was cursed.
What challenges did you face in the streets?
There were many. Life in the streets was not rosy, especially during rainy seasons. When it rained, we were forced to sleep while standing to avoid getting soaked in floodwater. There were days I would get really sick. To make it worse, when you are new in the streets, the other street kids usually gang up against you and chase you out of their territory.
How did street life impact you?
Being a street urchin was harrowing. I made some friends and within no time, joined a gang of robbers. We would commandeer matatus and dump the passengers in a forest.
Weren’t you afraid of getting caught or killed?
No, I was not afraid. I felt that I had nothing to lose since my parents had abandoned me when I was a child. I was ready to die if the worst happened to me. I did that for seven years and finally decided to call it quits.
Why did you quit?
Things became tough and gang members would be killed in each operation. That scared me. Besides, I was wanted by police. I lived in fear because everyone was baying for my blood.
How did you mend your life after quitting the gang?
It was not easy to start afresh because of the stigma. But with the help of my pastor and friends, I was able to move on. I worked in mjengo and saved some money. In 2016, I applied for my first motorcycle loan which I have already finished repaying. I am now an employer and proud of the man I have turned out to be. Through the organisation Kibera Creative Arts, I have been mentored to improve my life.
Did your mother ever look for you?
She never cared about me and I knew this from the beginning, so I was not expecting her to look for me. She made a decision to abandon me willingly. There were many nights I craved for parental love, but she was not there. Nowadays she tries to reach out to me, but I turn her away because I am not ready to face her. What she did to me is unforgettable.
What lessons have you learned from your tragic experience?
I have come to appreciate myself and focus on my life. I hope that one day I will be able to forgive my parents. The hardships taught me that no love is greater than the love of God.