KEVIN OCHIENG Keeping slum youth out of the streets

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 Kibera slums, just like many other informal settlements are often marred in poverty. The large number of unemployed youth who can’t afford basic education increases yearly, with many ending up in the streets. They often get into criminal activities for survival. Despite this gloomy picture, there is hope through an organisation, Goldmine Foundation, which is rescuing some youths from the streets and helping them develop their talents and passions. 

Today, over 500 Kibera youths alongside their counterparts from Mathare, Mukuru Kwa Njenga and other informal settlements of Nairobi sing a new song, thanks to Kevin Ochieng and his wife Brenda. These two unsung heroes are the brains behind Goldmine Foundation. Kevin understands the plight of the youths in the streets too well having been in the same predicament one time. He tossed away a life of drug abuse and crime to give hope to others.

Kevin is smart physically and mentally. The author of the book, Change is a possibility, tells the youth that one can rise from obscurity to significance like he did. He holds a certificate in theology, a higher diploma in urban mission and a diploma in community development. Kevin’s transformation is unbelievable especially when you take into account that he was brought up by a single mother and became a deviant very early in his life.

“I grew up yearning for a role model and a father figure. Like many other youths in Kibera, I identified a man whom I looked up to and who we all loved to hang around with. However, he took advantage of me and sodomised me when I was 12 years old.  I was traumatised and didn’t know what to do or whom to tell. When this reality became too much to deal with, I started running away from it.

My friends, whom I admired very much, did drugs and within no time, I followed suit. The drugs helped me escape the trauma I was going through.  With drugs came a life of crime and I ended up stealing from my relatives to finance my new lifestyle. No one seemed to understand me and my family was frustrated with me. They eventually gave up on me due to my deviant behaviour, unaware why I behaved the way I did,” Kevin explains.

The turning point…

Due to his unacceptable behavior, Kevin was suspended from school severally and eventually expelled from Uhuru High School, Nairobi, for a year in 1996 while in forth form. He took his absence from school to abuse drugs and engage in crime full throttle. Probably aware that such a life bore no fruits, he decided at one time to use his singing talent to compose a song that persuaded St. John’s High school in Nairobi to take him in. That was how he was able to complete his secondary education in 1998.

Despite this, Kevin lacked proper guidance and eventually returned to his lifestyle of drugs and crime. On December 22, 1998, together with his gang, they committed a robbery in Nairobi’s Fedha Estate. Unfortunately, a mob caught up with them and threatened to lynch them. Kevin escaped by a whisker when a man stepped out of the crowd and pleaded with the mob to spare Kevin’s life.

“The man, a stranger to me, defended me and the mob spared my life preferring to hand me to the authorities. Miraculously, the police released me for lack of clear evidence of the crime I had committed. I believe God sent an angel in the form of a man to rescue me. Most of my friends caught in crime were lynched without any negotiations. After my release from police custody, I went home convinced that God had preserved my life for a purpose. This became my turning point,” he explains, adding that he renewed his faith in God and started reading the bible keenly.

Although he joined the growing statistics of jobless youth in Kibera, unlike many, he had hope. Kevin began re-examining himself and decided to nurture his musical talent. Additionally, he began counseling some youths most of who were school drop outs for lack of school fees and had plunged into a life of drugs, crime and other vices.

From their positive response, Kevin realised that he had a talent for counseling and started nurturing it as well. He realised the young people he dealt with had untapped talents and gifts that were worth developing. “It dawned on me that I could teach and sing. Thus I began using these gifts and stretched my hand to help others. By nurturing the talents of others, I was providing them with a platform to transform their lives. Further, I felt the need to be a voice of reason to them,” he says.

An idea is formed…

“I conceptualized the idea of an organisation that would bring these youths from the streets and help nurture their talents and gifts. This would give them a platform to learn to be independent and useful members of the society. The idea of Goldmine Foundation sprung up and I started developing the concept in 2005,” he says.

Kevin got a job in 2007 but was afraid it would have meant foregoing the dream of starting the foundation. He worked for a little while but his heart was in doing something for the youth of Kibera and he resigned from the job in 2008 to concentrate on conceptualizing his dream. He also went back to school to pursue a course in theology and specifically urban missions in preparation for the ministry he was about to embark on.

  ‘Why the name Goldmine, I ask?’  “When I reviewed my life, it felt like a ground full of resources that hadn’t been discovered yet. Like an underground mine, it would need digging to get the gold. Thus Goldmine foundation was launched with the aim of developing potential, gifts, talents, abilities and skills of young people in the informal settlements. The objective was that this would create a platform for them to excel in life because not all of them could secure an office job,” Kevin explains.

He shared his vision with his wife and she was very supportive and became part of the process. In 2010 they began working on the project even though they didn’t have startup capital or an office. They wrote to and shared their vision with a hundred friends and requested them to donate Ksh 1,000 each to help raise startup capital. But they soon realised that without the project’s portfolio and evidence of what they had done, it was difficult to get money from individuals.

Birth of Goldmine Foundation… 

Kevin’s friend, Gideon Ochieng, a director of the Centre for Transformation based at Olympic Estate in Kibera provided them with office space, a computer and a table. Another friend from their church requested the couple to host a visitor from Switzerland in their house and when Kevin and his wife shared their vision with the visitor he offered to support the project. Kevin hosted some two other visitors and they too were interested in being part of the project.

The couple also shared the idea with the jobless youths in Kibera including those Kevin had interacted with and counselled. The project kicked off with a one-week seminar in April 2010 and about 100 youths attended. The visitors from Switzerland assisted in funding and also as resource persons. Kevin and three local volunteers did the facilitation.

The seminar tackled drug and substance abuse, the importance of having a vision in life, sexuality, entrepreneurship and sports. The youths showed interest in the need to develop their talents. Goldmine grouped the youths according to their gifts and talents and embarked on specific programmes to develop those talents. Once the youths understood what the project was all about, the numbers grew. Currently there are over five hundred of them participating in the project.

Nurturing local sportsmen …

Goldmines employed a coach to develop football talent among the youth. The idea was not just about playing professional football but also reaching out to the youth as individuals and ministering to them. Today, this effort has produced a professional football team – Kibera Goldmines Foundation team, which has 50 players. Some of the players have been enlisted in other more established professional football teams where they play football for a living. Three team members play for the Kenya National under 17 while another member plays for Tusker FC and two are heading to Sweden for trials.

The Goldmines Football team is registered in the Nairobi league and has played its way to the district level, emerging in position two in 2012. This year, they are playing the country league and hope to clinch number one position and move nationwide and get to the premier league.

“In addition, we organise annual football tournaments with other teams within the community. We use the matches as a platform to reach out to the community and educate them about various issues that affect them. After the awarding of certificates and trophies to the winners, the foundation takes the opportunity to address the community on selected themes such as peace,” Kevin explains.

In 2012, the foundation conducted a peace initiative project that entailed several activities including a community clean-up day, peace tournament, and community outreach through theatre and dance. They also provide bible study forums once a week to minister spiritually to the youth as well as mentorship forums twice a month with mentors and professionals to tackle subjects such as leadership, attitude and emotional intelligence.

 Developing musical talents…

It was apparent that many young people were gifted in music and wanted to develop the talent and record their songs but couldn’t afford professional recording. Since the foundation didn’t have money to start a recording studio, it helped the youth acquire a portfolio.

“Although we wrote several proposals to investors to help set up a studio, raising funds proved a challenge. Setting up a studio meant that we move out of the borrowed office space to a more spacious accommodation,” Kevin explains.

 In 2010 the foundation rented space in a flat in Kibera and set up the studio. A friend of Goldmines from Switzerland, who participated in the first youth seminar, connected the foundation to Rapid Share, a major website company in Europe. “The company helped to upgrade the studio and currently we do both track and live recording. The studio helps record about one hundred songs a month. Some of our artists, who would have otherwise been on the streets, are featuring on television with their songs,” says Kevin with great pride.

The project has not been without its challenges. The other residents in the apartment block where the studio was located complained of noise because the studio was not properly sound proofed. They were also unnerved by so many slum youth hanging around their homes. There was also an attempted robbery of the equipment and so relocating became inevitable. The studios are now located in more secure rental accommodation in Southlands Estate, Lang’ata. A chicken project has been initiated in the premises to make the studio an income-generating project.

Vocational training for the youth…

Most of the youth in Kibera have little or no education and the foundation started offering vocational training to cater for this category of youth and help move them in self-employment. The foundation has also focused on nurturing the youth in dance and drama over the last two years.

The foundation is seeking partnerships with vocational training institutions and colleges to help train youth who want to venture in trades such as carpentry, mechanics, catering and hairdressing. “We have contracted some professionals in the community to help in vocational training. The foundation has also identified a church training institution in Kibera to train the youth in some of these trades and upon graduation, connect them to people and institutions to help them set up their own small businesses,” says Kevin.

The foundation also assists the youth to get into entrepreneurship through attachments in various companies and individual entrepreneurs. This provides them with on-the-job training, which becomes useful when they embark on their own businesses. Through a programme of the foundation dubbed spread the love, an appeal is sent out to members of the public donate at least Ksh 200 to help a child go through vocational training. This programme has helped many youths.

The change factor programme…

This is a programme of the foundation facilitated by volunteer professionals to guide the youth on achieving their goals. Sessions are held in the Kibera centre every Tuesday of the month. Due to the popularity of the programme a parallel one is held in the city centre at the Seventh Memorial Park (former American embassy that was bombed in 1998) every last Thursday of the month to cater for youth who do not reside in Kibera.

A model of this progamme has been introduced in some primary and secondary schools, as well as colleges and universities to help the youth develop clear goals so that they can become useful members of society when they leave school.

 The foundation plans to eventually relocate to more spacious accommodation where they can offer all their services under one roof. So far, it has been a really rewarding journey for Kevin to see his dream turn into reality and help so many young people.

Published in April 2013

 

 

 

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