I heard the children scream, “Uuwi, daddy usituue!” (father please don’t kill us!). This was too much for me and I gathered my energy to save them....
Kimathi was part of a gang that terrorized residents for years, but he is now a changed man working for a better future
Tell us a bit about your background
I was born and raised in Lunga Lunga slum as the last born in a family of four siblings. Growing up in the slum was not a walk in the park and it became tougher when my father died. I was seven years old at the time. He was the sole breadwinner of the family and his death forced my mother to become a casual labourer, doing menial jobs in order to feed us.
What was your experience after losing a father at such a tender age?
It was tough, especially because of the struggles my mother went through. We had to survive on a single meal a day from the three meals we had been used to.
I remember having to repeat class seven so that I could let my sister finish her secondary school studies before I re-joined since my mother could not afford paying for the two of us in high school. Our house was a small room measuring 10 meters by 10 meters and that is where the five of us would spend our days.
How did you cope?
Lucky for me, I joined Wajukuu Kids Club project, an initiative which was teaching children how to draw. We were taught to use art to express our feelings. My art teacher became like a father to me because he taught me how to go about issues and how to tackle them without fear.
How did your mother cope with the heavy burden on her shoulders?
She persevered but eventually she passed on. It was 2010 and I was in form two when my mother lost her life and we were left orphans. I felt like the world had come to an end. I had so much in my mind which affected my studies although my elder brother and sister joined forces to support me until I was done with school. I scored a C+ in my KCSE.
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Where did you go after completing high school?
Our extended family wanted us to go back upcountry in Meru but were not ready to relocate. We agreed as siblings that rather than relocate to an unfamiliar place where life would hit us hard, we would instead stay and try our luck.
Did you have a support system, seeing as both your parents were dead?
Not really. We had our childhood friends and neighbours, but with time I realized that I had to choose new friends because the ones I had were engaging in drug peddling and criminal activities. Three of them were shot dead by police during a robbery. Eventually I got a new circle and learnt that in the slums, you have to choose your friends wisely.
Did things change for the better?
Yes, I went back to Wajukuu Art Centre, but this time as a trainer. I have been teaching children the importance of art and how to draw. In return I have also received a chance to draw and interact more with the locals and that’s how I have been engaging in manual jobs for survival. I also sell my drawings to clients.
What lessons have you learnt from your tragic experiences?
First, I have come to realize that majority of slum-dwellers do not go astray because they wish to, but rather because of the environment they live in. When they get a helping hand then can change. Secondly, I have learnt that youth engage in drugs because of idleness and if they would be in a position to engage in talent-related work, then cases of crime would drop by a great margin.