Born and raised in Kibera, FLORENCE ANDENYI talks about how she remained focused in life and has proven that nobody is condemned to their circumstances. Florence is now elevating the youth from slum life.
I first met Florence Andenyi when I watched her perform her Kiswahili gospel song, Kimbilio Langu Ni Yesu (God is my refuge), in one of the churches in Nairobi. Her melodious voice and elegance captured my attention.
I had a hard time seeing the link between this beautiful lady and the poverty and ill health she had endured. I tracked her down for an interview, which she requested to be carried out in her house in Kibera slum.
On the day of the interview we meandered through a long, narrow path in between houses that was barely spacious enough to walk through. Traders placed their groceries and foodstuff for sale on stools lined up facing each other all the way to the end of the path.
Florence enjoyed every minute of my surprise at encountering life in Kibera slum. Her family’s house is a major contrast to the way it appears outside.
It is immaculately furnished and there is expensive electronic equipment that tells a different story from the life outside. Florence, her six siblings and their parents have lived in Kibera slums all their lives.
“I have no apologies to make for coming from a very humble and poor family. As early as I can remember, life was always a struggle for us. We lived in a single roomed house, slept on the floor and went to bed hungry on bad days.
At adolescence, my parents couldn’t afford to buy me sanitary pads and I learnt to improvise in very unhygienic ways. Mine is not any different from the story of many young girls in the slums,” says Florence.
“Dad, who was then a tailor operating outside our single-roomed house, was the sole breadwinner. He broke his back fending for us. On many days he didn’t have a paying client. Lack of school fees and necessary stationery greatly disrupted my education and that of my siblings.
After completing primary school education, I had no hope of joining high school. It really wasn’t a big concern and it still isn’t a cause to worry for many children in the slums. Thankfully, dad got a job as an office messenger later on and our lives changed for the better,” Florence continues to narrate her early life.
“Mum ensured I tagged along with her whenever she went to church. I therefore understood about God and became a born-again-Christian at an early age. On realising that I had a singing talent, my Sunday school teachers encouraged me to lead the praise and worship sessions and even coach other children to sing,” Florence recalls how her moral and spiritual grounding began.
“My peers mocked me for being naïve. Some of them had a way around financial challenges by relying on boyfriends for money in exchange of sexual favours. Sometimes, they sneaked into their boyfriends’ houses to watch pornographic videos and engage in sex and they persistently asked me to join them.
When I declined, they made every effort to show me that I was losing out. Mum, a strict disciplinarian, wouldn’t let me to go out. She only sent me to the shops when she was unavailable or unwell. At the time, I felt left out by my peers but looking back, I now realise mum was looking out for me,” says Florence.
“Majority of my peers got pregnant at an early age, only to be deserted by their boyfriends. Some dropped out of school after indulging in crime or drug abuse, while others are now jobless single mothers with no life-skills or desperate and married to drunkards and criminals,” she explains.
While serving in the praise and worship team in her church, Florence compiled many gospel songs. Although her parents couldn’t afford to finance the recording of the songs, which made her very frustrated, she continued nurturing her singing passion throughout her secondary school education.
In 2010, Florence compiled her first single but couldn’t produce it due to financial challenges. Frustrated, after witnessing some of her less talented friends sing their way to national media while her music didn’t seem to go beyond church doors, Florence gave up singing and attending church for two years.
She explains, “I felt God was insensitive to my prayers after serving Him from childhood and yet I wasn’t developing into the musician I dreamt of being. In October 2011 my brother went down with typhoid due to poor sanitation.
Pained by his suffering I prayed and fasted for his recovery after he underwent surgery to correct the intestines that had been eaten away by the disease.
Sadly, he passed on and was buried only four days before he was scheduled to sit the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) at Lang’ata High School. Distressed that our prayers didn’t work and worse, that my brother had died of a treatable disease, I sunk further into depression and found more reason not to serve God.”
In August 2012 Florence travelled to Mombasa to pick a donation of Ksh 20,000 from a sympathetic friend to record her music. On the morning she planned to return to Nairobi, she suffered severe chest, stomach pains and breathing difficulties.
She was rushed to the Aga Khan Hospital, Mombasa, where she was diagnosed with severe ulcers and admitted for two weeks. She ended up using the Ksh 20,000 for her medical treatment.
She returned home emaciated and her condition deteriorated further in spite of the prescription. The rumour mills were awash that she had AIDS and was on the verge of death.
Unable to eat or even get out of bed, she lost a lot of weight giving credibility to the rumours that she was infected with AIDS. Her family was at pains to prove otherwise. Many of her friends including her boyfriend deserted her.
A second and third opinion from various hospitals confirmed the earlier ulcers diagnosis. Inspite of different prescriptions her condition didn’t improve one bit.
She resorted to taking traditional medicine prescribed by a herbalist from her rural home in Emuhaya in Western Kenya. When she realised that her health wasn’t getting better a month after taking the herbal medication, she discontinued and left her fate in God’s hands.
Florence mother, who was the family’s spiritual pillar, also seemed to have lost hope after the death of her son. She was afraid of losing Florence too.
Feeling that they were all financially and emotionally drained, the family turned to God in prayer and fasting.
“By December 2012, scary dreams and nightmares tormented me in my sleep. I felt death was staring in my face and lost all hope.
A friend convinced me to seek God and in January 2013, I retreated to Katoloni Prayer Centre in Machakos for a prayer and fasting period of five days. Miraculously, a month later, my health began improving,” she explains, adding that she returned to the prayer centre to pray for a job among other things.
After three months she had regained her health completely and thankfully, she also got a job. Florence dedicated her life to ministering in different churches through gospel music.
Her breakthrough in music came when she responded to a music auditioning advertisement in the media, attended the interviews and told her story of sickness and healing in her song Kimbilio Langu ni Yesu, glorifying God for what He had done for her through the sickness and beyond.
The song was captured in YouTube and a Kenyan living in Canada was touched by her story and compelled to help her.
The well wisher offered to help her record the song and further offered to help her get out the Kibera slums to be an inspiration to other young girls that they are not condemned to life in the slums.
The song was recorded and a video of it taken and in January 2013, she released her first song. Today, she has two singles, Kimbilio and Asante, which are very popular on radio and television. She performs in churches and other forums locally and in neighbouring countries on invitation.
With some of the proceeds from her music, Florence helps nurture talent in young girls in the slums. In addition, she plans to set up a recording studio to help aspiring musicians record their songs. Together with one of her friends, guitarist, Florence is rehabilitating young people caught up in drugs and crime.
“We offer them counseling and teach them skills such as singing and playing the guitar,” she says.
When her finances allow, she visits schools and distributes sanitary pads to girls, a venture she seeks sponsors to help realise. In future, she plans to establish an education centre to equip young girls who drop out of school with skills such as tailoring and hairdressing.
“For now, I will remain in Kibera slum and help the youth as much as I can. I want them to learn that with hard work, discipline and patience they can be uplifted from slum life. My roots in Kibera are purposed so that I can help others,” she concludes.