At 21, Johnson Ngige has been to hell and back. He has been thrown out of home, watched a mother die, begged in the streets, dropped out of school, but in all this has seen the mighty hand of God. He narrated his amazing experience to MWAURA MUIGANA.

“Kabiria village in Kawangware area in the outskirts of Nairobi evokes pleasant childhood memories of a home where we lived in abundance. My younger sister and I had everything we desired. Our mother, a-stay-at-home mum, was focused on her family’s wellbeing. Our home was a haven of peace and love until one evening in 1997 when I was about seven years old and our mother was three months away from adding another member to our family – our youngest sister.

My father walked home that evening wearing a heavy face and didn’t offer to us the usual pleasantries he always did each time he arrived home. Instead, he ordered my mother to pack her bags and leave with her two children. I thought this was a joke, as I had not experienced any fights between mum and dad that would make him chase us away. Perhaps sensing danger, mum hurriedly packed a few belongings and took us to her mother’s place in Kamae village in Kahawa West. Our grandmother’s home was a rented semi-permanent mabati structure, a far cry from the home we just left.

This sudden change was too drastic for my young mind to fathom. Our lives literally changed overnight. From well provided for children, we now had to work to support ourselves. My sister and I accompanied mum and grandmother to a nearby coffee estate to pick coffee as casual labourers. And when mum gave birth to our sister there wasn’t enough room for all of us in our grandmother’s house.

Death comes knocking…

Mum rented a single room near our grandmother’s house, where she and my sisters slept on the bed and I inside a gunny bag placed under the bed. Two weeks after giving birth, mum resumed the coffee picking casual work, as this was the only way of putting food on the table.  I believe chemicals used in the coffee plantation started to affect our mother’s health, but she couldn’t quit because she had a responsibility of sustaining her family.

In 2000, she developed severe stomach ulcers and was admitted at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi. Mum had by this time enrolled me at Kiwanja Primary School in Kahawa West, so I couldn’t get time to do casual labour to support the family. In her absence we relied on grandmother and handouts from neighbours. As soon as mum was discharged from hospital, she went back to pick coffee and before long her health deteriorated so much that within no time she was completely bedridden. My grandmother and I took it in turns to care for her, feeding and cleaning her, as she could not get out of bed.

I still recall that dark evening of a day in August 30, 2001, when mum called my sister and I to her bedside and with a very sad look on her face told us she was dying. As we cried and begged her not to die, she assured us that we would be safe in God’s hands. I couldn’t sleep that night, thinking of how life would be without mum. I prayed asking God not to let her die. As I fed her with porridge the following morning, she repeated the same words that she was dying but I ignored her as I continued to push porridge down her throat. Then I noticed her breathing had changed and was somehow laboured. Before I could ask her whether she was okay, she let out a deep sigh and then her body went limp. I rushed to my grandmother’s house screaming and she came running after me, only to confirm my worst fears – our mother was no more. She was dead.

Details of events immediately after my mother’s death are held in sad memories I always try to suppress. My world and that of my sisters came to an abrupt end. She was buried at Mbo-i-Kamiti land in Kiambu where grandmother owned some shares. We moved back to our grandmother’s house, as we could no longer live on our own. I found great consolation in the house of God after my mother’s death.

Wading through storms…

My mother’s death plunged us deeper into poverty. My sister and I alternated school with casual labour to earn some money to keep the family going, as grandmother’s earnings couldn’t feed all of us. We never had enough food and often went to school hungry. No meal in our home was ever guaranteed.

With the help of a neighbour, I was provided with a scholarship to attend Ivy’s School, a private school in Maziwa Estate in Nairobi, where I joined class five. This was God-sent as the school provided me with everything including meals and transport. The next five years in the school gave me hope. I wanted to do well in school, as I knew a good education would help me get a job. My greatest desire was to uplift my siblings and grandmother.

I scored 380 points out of a possible 500 in KCPE in 2005, with the opportunity of joining a national school but I didn’t have money. Luckily for me, Ivy’s School was launching a secondary section and I was offered sponsorship in the pioneer class. The opportunity was elating. In order to help my siblings and my grandmother, I did casual work for different families at the Kenyatta University lecturer’s quarters where I earned Ksh 50 per visit. This money, together with food donations from well-wishers kept supplemented what my grandmother earned.

They say misfortunes don’t come singly. Soon came the death of my aunt, a single mother, and this added her three young children to my grandmother’s growing responsibility. We were now a family of seven and the only adult was our grandmother whom we all looked up to for everything – love, care, support and upkeep. We often hurdled in the house, cold and hungry but our grandmother would lighten our situation by sharing jokes with us. God was always with us, as when things got desperate Good Samaritans often came through for us with food donations and our pastor and church members always tried to help wherever they could.

When it rains it pours…

In 2007, while I was in form two, our school closed down when the sponsors withdrew. The school administration was especially sorry for me but couldn’t do much. I was saddened to drop out of school, yet very appreciative of the support the school had provided to me. Unsure of what to do next, I took a step of faith, prayed and fasted for two weeks while imploring God to show me the way.

I approached the local chief and explained my plight. I was granted permission to source for help from the public. I went out to seek for alms in the streets, shops, hotels and private homes. Some people branded me a conman, but I wasn’t cowed. I was determined to continue with school. I would spend the day begging and return home in the evening to study.

A neighbour referred me to the Rainbow Project, a Catholic church-based organisation, which assisted needy children. They sponsored my education at Kahawa Garisson Secondary School on Thika Road, where I picked up from where I had left in my previous school. Unfortunately, the Rainbow Project closed down after paying my fees for only one term and this dashed my hopes of completing secondary school. Once again I was back on the streets begging. I didn’t like what I was doing but I was desperate for an education. I borrowed reading materials from my peers in the estate and studied on my own for one term, while praying for God’s intervention.

And God indeed intervened. I met one of my former teachers at Kiwanja Primary School and told him about my struggles. He sponsored my education at St. Augustine Boys Boarding School in Thika’s Makongeni Estate. The headmaster was kind enough to allow me time off in the evenings after classes to engage in casual work to earn some money to support my family. I hawked packed detergents, wallpaper and other wares on the streets during school holidays to earn some money. I completed high school in 2009, achieving a grade C minus.

Now my next dream was to get a job and save for college. My pastor at Fishers Faith Evangelistic Ministries in Kahawa West assisted me to get a job with one of his friends where I earned Ksh 700 a day. I saw great potential in wholesale business in the Kahawa West area and I recommended my boss to look into it. In May 2010, he started a wholesale business and he put me in charge of it and also remunerated me well. I was able to provide for my grandmother and siblings and cousins and also put aside savings for my college fees.

A ray of hope…

In August 2010, friends teamed up with my church to organise a funds drive to boost my savings so that I could join college. I joined Utalii College for a one-year course in Food and Beverages and Sales. For survival, I hawked clothes and other wares from Gikomba open-air market to college students and passersby outside the college along the Thika highway. I successfully graduated in December 2011. I have since been looking for a job in the food industry without success.

While waiting for an opportunity to come up, I decided to use my singing talents to earn an income, as hawking was over for me. I am a talented singer and often sang in church backed by my grandmother on the drums. I sang in Sunday school when I was young and graduated to the Praise and Worship team in our church as I grew up. I have nurtured my talent through opportunities to sing in different platforms in our church and at school.

To hone my skills, a pastor at New Hope Evangelistic Ministries in Kahawa West allowed me to perform in her church during functions. The reception encouraged and inspired me to record my gospel compositions. The pastor financed my first album – ‘This Year’ – which depicts 2010 as the year of my breakthrough. A Studio in Kahawa West did the audio recoding for my first album free of charge. I later recorded another album – ‘Mpango Wa Yesu’ (God’s plan). I market my music in CD and VCD formats and also perform in churches, schools, and wedding ceremonies and from these activities I get some income.

I also studied photography and perfected the art to the point of launching commercial activities from it. I have recently opened a photo studio at Gitamaiyu Shopping Centre in Kiambu. I provide several services including video shooting and editing, photography and photo coverage for weddings, birthdays and other functions, as well as making posters and banners. I have faith that the studio will expand and generate job opportunities for the youth in the town.

I also lead a dance group from my church that brings young people together to help nurture their talents.  The dance group backs me during performances and this earns them some money. Last year we participated in the popular youth music talent search show – Sakata – on Citizen TV. We sailed through to Season Two and are also lucky to be in Season Three this year.

Through J.G. Foundation, which I founded in 2010, we have supported the Spirit of Mercy Children’s Home in Kamae in Kahawa West. Through this foundation, I organise 24-hour charity concerts and instead of charging an entrance fee, people donate foodstuffs, clothing and other gifts for the children. During the August 2012 school holidays, we organised a successful Garden Charity concert.

We are now planning ‘The birth Concert’ to be staged on December 24, 2012 in remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ. Proceeds from this concert will be donated to the children’s home.  My passion is to start a children’s home with an attached primary and secondary school. I have already identified a five-acre plot in Juja near Thika town for the project. In addition, plans are underway to establish an elderly people’s home in recognition of what my grandmother has done for my siblings, cousins and I. I would not like to see any child go through what we have gone through or any granny being burdened like my grandmother.

I take care of my family and appreciate that none of them is out of school for lack of fees. My elder sister is in college while the younger one is in class seven. My cousins are in class five, eight and form four respectively. We still live with our grandmother in the mabati house, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. With God’s help, we will surely move to a permanent home very soon.”

Published in November 2012