When Fredrick Peter Omondi’s mother passed on in 2009, she went with all his hopes, dreams and aspirations. His sole reason for going to school was to rescue his mum from the jaws of poverty. They did not have much. In fact, even when his mum was alive, Fredrick had to live in a children’s home in Nyeri because at least there he could get the basic needs they could not afford.
With his mother gone, he did not have much else to lose. He dropped out of school and did a few menial jobs. Life became unbearable and he made up his mind to go back to Bondo, his rural home.
He asked his stepfather (in Bondo) to send him fare. Omosh, as his friends know him, has never known his biological father. His stepfather told him to use whatever little money he had for fare to Kisumu, and then from there he would send him more money to get to Bondo.
But Fredrick had always heard of Nairobi from his friends at the children’s home and longed to see this famed city. He knew that once he left for Bondo, he would be gone for good and the chance to see Nairobi would never arise again. Thus, he made a detour and took a Nairobi-bound bus instead.
Once in Nairobi, the city awed him.
“It looked like a totally different world,” he says. Having satisfied his curiosity, he called his stepfather to send him the rest of the money as promised. He did not send it, and that was the first of many nights Fredrick would spend on the verandah of a shop at the Machakos Country Bus station.
He spent the next two months in this state. It was during this time that Fredrick came face to face with the plight of street families. He says that the cold bites the most at 4am. He knows hunger by its two names.
“Most of us eat because it is time for breakfast, lunch or dinner. In the streets, you eat because you are hungry and you have to,” he shares.
He survived by carrying luggage for the travellers. One day as he was resting along Accra Road, he saw the founder of his former children’s home in Nyeri – Mr. Paul Maina – passing by. He was happy just as he was embarrassed because until then, he had never seen a familiar face.
“When I saw Mr. Maina, I was scared to approach him because I was so dirty. I feared he would not recognise me,” he says.
Still he trailed Mr. Maina and watched him get into a Nyeri-bound matatu, take the front seat and start reading a newspaper. As he approached the matatu, other passengers regarded him as they would any other street child – with consternation and agitation. He almost turned back but was edged on by the thought that this man could be his only ticket out of the streets.
To his relief, Mr. Maina recognised him immediately, got out of the matatu and hugged him tightly. So relieved was Fredrick that he simply clung on and wept, then narrated his ordeal.
“He gave me some money and asked me to look for a decent house to stay in. He promised to provide rent for the next two months. He also urged me to look for a job,” Fredrick explains.
He and Mr. Maina met frequently thereafter, and any time they met, he left him some money to sustain him till their next meeting.
At 29, Fredrick now works for a matatu company. In 2016, he urged his friends to start an initiative to help the street families. He knew firsthand the desperation and the hunger they felt and wanted to help.
“Someone helped me and made me the man I am today, I wanted to help too. In the streets, Fridays were our worst days. We would watch couples pass by, going for dates and parties. I would feel bad because as they walked by happy, I needed just Ksh50 for my next meal,” he offers.
Thus, every Friday, he and his friends would pool some money, buy milk and bread and distribute them to street families at Jeevanjee Gardens.
One Friday as they were giving out food as was their norm, a gang of street children attacked them.
“They claimed we were taking pictures of them and using them to make money from their plight, which was not the case because the money we used to buy foodstuff was from our pockets,” he explains.
This was a huge blow to Fredrick as the gang beat and even stole some of the ladies’ handbags. He felt dejected and the group disintegrated. Some members blamed him and even went as far as suspecting him of collusion with the street children. When he reported the matter to the police, he was asked to register the organisation if he wished to continue. With the formal registration, it would be easier to provide his group with a policeman or two for security in future.
Fredrick followed through with the registration, but this experience made him change tact. Working with street families was volatile, so he decided instead to visit children’s homes. After all, he had lived in a children’s home too and related well with their needs, perhaps more deeply than he did with the street families.
Also, most street children ended up in children’s homes. Fredrick did not change the name of the initiative and ever since, Friends of Street Families organisation visits different children’s homes the last Saturday of every month
He took a break in 2017 to focus on his high school studies, which he had yet to complete, but resumed the activities of the group in 2018. The main challenge he faces is getting everyone to contribute to the monthly visit to the children’s homes; at some point the donor fatigue sets in.
“It is human nature to expect something back when you give, but all we do is give, give and give, and I understand it can get tiring. However little we collect, we have to take it to them anyway,” he says.
He adds that when it comes to visiting children’s homes, it goes well beyond the material things; just being present for those kids matters.
“Those children will eat even if we do not go to the children’s home, but they will not know there are people who care for them if we do not visit them. When I was at the children’s home, all our meals were provided for, but we really looked forward to when the guests came to see us. We would clean and prepare songs and dances. It was great knowing that these people had set time apart to come and see us,” he says.
While before they used to just hand over the foodstuff, these days they even cook, play and talk to the kids.
“I remember needing somebody to talk to and seek guidance from without being judged when I was in the children’s home and not having one,” he recalls.
So him and his partners ensure that the kids they go to see find a confidant in them. He reserves a lot of respect for the man who rescued him from the streets and gave him a new lease of life.
“There is this one time when I was still hunting for a job, I was informed of an opening at a particular hotel. I didn’t even have clothes and did not know what to wear. That morning, Mr. Maina brought me his own pair of trousers and shirt. He told me he did not know whether they would fit but I managed to wear them still,” he recalls.
Much as he never got the job, this gesture remained etched in his memory. Mr. Maina’s continued support showed that he did not need to have much to touch a life and make a change. Therefore, he wants charity to be part of his life.
“Before I started doing charity, I would struggle getting money for rent and other needs. But once I started, I can’t really explain, but somehow things just always fall into place even if they looked hopeless. Doing good brings its own kind of blessings,” says the optimistic Fredrick.
He hopes to complete university some day and for his organisation to have branches in other towns but until then, he lives by this philosophy; “Charity is a cycle, you do not have to reap directly from it. If I help you out today, tomorrow you help someone else, the other day the person you helped might be the one who saves me when I am stuck. That would not have happened had I not helped you in the first place,” he concludes.