Promoting a reading culture in Mathare – VICTOR NJOROGE

Mathare slum is close to Victor’s heart because that is where he grew up. He found it interesting to live there despite the many hardships he faced. He was an

  • PublishedMay 8, 2019

Mathare slum is close to Victor’s heart because that is where he grew up. He found it interesting to live there despite the many hardships he faced. He was an only child and unfortunately lost both parents when he was very young. His grandmother raised him.

“I was later adopted by a Norwegian family who catered for my education. I got connected to the family when I was part of Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) where I played football. The association had great connections with Norway and many Norwegians knew about our backgrounds. One day a Norwegian lady heard about me and referred me to the Holvik family, who took me as their child. They even gave me their name “Holvik” and that’s why I go by the name, Victor Holvik. I have been to Norway but as they say, east or west, home is best,” he says with a grin.

He attended Mathare Primary School and thereafter went to Senior Chief Koinange High School in Kiambu. He says that when he was growing up, he always thought he’d become a footballer. However, there weren’t many people he could look up to as most of the people he grew up around were thugs. Luckily, while in high school, he got to meet the likes of Norman Mudibo who inspired him to chase after his dreams relentlessly.

“I developed an interest in art and TV whilst in high school. Later, MYSA started a photography and film training school and I attended the classes while simultaneously pursuing a diploma course at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC),” he narrates, adding that he still pursued football as a hobby.

Under MYSA, he got to work with Slum TV, a small grassroot TV station. Victor made films, which were screened around Mathare area. The experience also helped him grow in filmmaking and he liked that they were able to create positive stories that showed Mathare in a positive light. He also got to meet other cameramen and this opened doors of opportunities for the then budding filmmaker.

“Francis Ndira, a good friend from Korogocho who also used to play football, mentored me a lot especially on film. He was in the first class that Supersport took in when they came to Kenya. I told him that if he got a chance, he should let me know right away. One day he called me and asked if I could step in for a cameraman who had missed his flight from South Africa to Kenya. He was to come and shoot the Kenya Premier League. I jumped at this opportunity and grabbed it with both hands,” he says.

He was fortunate that Francis had confidence in him and was sure that he would be able to do a great job as a cameraman for a live match. After the match, Victor approached Supersport’s director in Kenya and asked him if he could continue learning and that’s how they kept calling him for more jobs. That was back in 2012 and he has been shooting live broadcasts since then. Creativity and passion are what kept him going throughout the years as a freelance videographer.

“Playing football back in Mathare when I was young really helped when I transitioned into filming live football matches. It also helps that many of the players in the Kenya Premier League are people I played with in Mathare. I am glad that this job gives me the opportunity to shoot other sports especially international matches. As such, I get to travel to different places. Right now, I am shooting for Media Pro, a Spain-based company which is quite exciting,” Victor, who lives by the mantra ‘you are as good as your last job’, says.

On the flip side, Victor comments that videography can be a challenge especially when some people don’t appreciate the work that goes into creating a film or a video. “Some people will want to pay you less and disregard the effort and the equipment needed to make a quality video,” he reiterates, adding that people need to take videography seriously because it is a job like any other and it is what puts food on his table.

Do not despise humble beginnings…

Victor is definitely living the life he had envisioned whilst growing up in Mathare. It is not lost on him the far he has come. “I wanted to go to Starehe Boys High School because I believed in education and its ability to transform my life for the better. But that was a long shot because I studied in a primary school that lacked the facilities for a conducive learning environment,” he says.

He did not secure a slot in the prestigious school. Now that he has made it, so to speak, he does not want the same fate to befall children in Mathare. This triggered him to set up a library in the heart of Mathare where he could promote a reading culture and also create a safe space where kids could do their homework before going home.

Towards the end of 2015, Victor approached a friend by the name Douglas who knew a thing or two about libraries. They got a small room and bought a few books in Eastleigh and got some old books from each of their houses and they opened the library. They called it Slum Library Initiative (SLIn). Within the first month, they had five kids who would come to study there and since then the number has grown as they now have 700 registered kids.

Victor stresses that there are not enough books in schools and most kids in Mathare grow up in households with financial issues and the parents prioritise food over books. This, he explains, can affect the child and he might not be able to do the homework that has been assigned to them. He also adds that some children don’t even have proper school uniform or shoes so sometimes he goes back into his pockets to provide these so that the students can have a comfortable time at school. The library, therefore, steps in to ensure that the children in Mathare have access to a variety of books.

“I buy books for the kids because I believe it’s a worthy cause. The books also give them exposure. I want them to know that there’s life beyond Mathare. However, nowadays books have become costly which is a challenge. Another challenge is that we don’t have donors so we run the library from our own pockets as well as depend on well-wishers like Shujaa magazine that often give us their magazines for the kids to read. We also get volunteer teachers through Move Up. The volunteers are mainly students who have completed form four and help out with free tuition for the kids during the holiday,” he explains, adding that he sometimes partners with celebrities who do book drives to get people to donate books that they don’t use.

Other challenges like time come into play. He and Douglas rarely get time to run the library due to their tight work schedules. They both decided that it was best to let the community run it and they just oversee things and ensure that things run smoothly. Victor hopes that he will someday get to open more than 200 libraries in Kenya to even remote areas like Lodwar.

“But for now, our immediate plan is to expand the library which can only hold 70 children at a time,” Victor says, revealing that some teachers often go to the library to use their books to set exams. Victor sells branded hoodies and puts aside the profit for the expansion of the library.

In order to measure the success of the library in the community, Victor conducted a survey in schools in Mathare. They were encouraged when they discovered that there was a major improvement in performance. Inspired, Victor introduced extracurricular activities for children registered in the library. The kids thus get to do drama, football as well as photography lessons.

“I give back to society because I know how it feels to lack. I have also adopted three kids and I usually pay for their education because I appreciate what the Holviks’ did for me. I would urge people to try and help out more. You don’t have to be rich in order to help out; you can give from the little that you have,” he offers.

In his free time, Victor loves to spend time with his grandmother. “No matter where life takes me, I still see myself as a humble and favoured ghetto child,” he says as we wind up.

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