Samuel Oduor is fondly referred to as Torez by friends and close family members, thanks to his obsession with football and specifically Spanish football sensation Fernando Torres.
“I lost my parents when I was nine years old. My aunt who lived in Korogocho slums took me in. Life wasn’t easy as my aunt would do menial jobs in order to fend for her two children and I. Sometimes the jobs were hard to come by and during such times, I would go to Dandora dumpsite to look for food,” recounts Oduor.
The need to earn a living gnawed at young Oduor, forcing him to venture into entrepreneurship at the age of 10. Whilst searching for something to quench his hunger, he would be lucky to come across plastics and jewellery such as watches, which he sold.
The money afforded him a few ‘luxuries’ including drugs which he started using when he was 13 years old. This was quite the norm in the slums. In order to maintain this lifestyle Oduor embarked on stealing women’s handbags and even though it pricked his conscience, ‘a man got to do what a man’s got to do’, he reasoned.
“At the time, I was attending Ruaraka Primary School. I managed to complete primary school albeit with hardships. He was lucky to join Secondary school,” Oduor says retrospectively.
He was still engaging in thievery as well as doing drugs but there comes a time in a person’s life when they have to make a turnaround if they are to achieve their dreams. For Oduor, that happened when he was 16 years old. Tired of the life he was leading, he sought help at Boma Rescue Centre, which offers life skills and mentorship.
He then joined St John Catholic Church in Korogocho, which offered him a semblance of guidance.
“When I wasn’t at my aunt’s house, I would be at my grandmother’s who stayed within the same area and I remember her teaching me how to be prayerful and kind. She would give out whatever she had to others even when she had nothing and this really touched me,” he recollects.
Life would suddenly offer him the much needed lifeline when he was just about to clear high school. World Vision, a humanitarian organisation, offered to give the youth in his locale vocational training so as to keep them from crime and drugs, which had hit an all-time high in the slum. The organisation had partnered with his church and that is how he came to know about the initiative.
“By then, I had developed an interest in media and so when I told them I wanted to do a communications course, they asked me to look for a college once the KCSE results were out and they would cater for the fees. I was still taking drugs and with the opportunity, I knew I had to clean up my act,” says Oduor.
It didn’t take long before he found a college and so it was that he got admitted at Kenafric College to pursue a diploma in Mass Communication with a specialisation in TV and Radio Production.
“To cater for other costs including transport and food, I dabbled as a tout. I successfully finished the course in 2006. The school gave me a small handheld camcorder to start me off in my career. I did a news story which landed me a job with the Nation Media Group as a correspondent. I also got to host a show on QTV. World Vision also contracts me to cover compelling stories on people,” he says, adding that he later on married and is currently a father to three beautiful children.
Paying it forward…
With the big break, Oduor moved out of the slum and was able to settle his family in a decent estate. But the slum is part and parcel of him and whenever he went back either on work assignments or to catch up with his childhood friends, he would be touched by the plight of the children. This sharply reminded him of the life he had lived and he empathised with them. He felt compelled to do something to help make their life bearable.
“That’s when I started an initiative called Mng’aro Mtaani in 2010, which got registered in 2015. We have five projects under Mng’aro Mtaani namely: Clothing for Peace, Mid-Term Tournaments, Linda Madem, Masafara Edition and another for old people that we are yet to give a name. We basically take care of the vulnerable in society,” says Oduor.
The first project, Clothing for Peace, helps unite Kenyans in the sense that people from one area will donate clothes to people in faraway places connoting interconnectedness. Mid-Term Tournaments project targets teens especially during mid-term breaks and school holidays to help them keep busy. Oduor uses these opportunities to mentor them.
Under Linda Madem, the initiative distributes sanitary pads to ladies in the slums while Masafara Edition aims at dressing street kids in Nairobi and its environs. The fifth project is for the aged where they give them flour and blankets.
“Over time we have received a lot of clothes from donors that we decided to start responding to disasters. During the Solai Dam Tragedy in 2018, we donated two pick-ups full of clothes to those affected,” says Oduor.
Mng’aro Mtaani currently has 12 members but it is mostly run by three active members. So far they have helped over 10,000 people and have been to 22 slums such as Kibra, Kayole, Dandora and Korogocho among others. He has also helped in other counties including Makueni, Kitui, Baringo and Kisii. Their target is to reach 500,000 people by 2030.
“I usually liaise with chiefs, social workers, youth groups and church leaders who help me identify those in need and also assist in handing out the clothes,” he adds.
How does he coordinate all these activities? “You need to be trustworthy so that people can give you what they have knowing that you will take it to those deserving. It is indeed a calling and I am passionate about helping the vulnerable in the society,” he says emphatically.
He usually gets donations through Facebook. He then sorts them out and cleans them. “Some people have also donated to us books which prompted me to set up a library in Kawangware last year,” he shares.
He at times gets financial help from well-wishers, which enables him to keep going. “Of course, we welcome more support. We would also wish to have washing machines to clean the clothes and help make the process much easier. Having a reliable means of transport will also help in transporting the clothes from the donors to the recipients,” he remarks.
For such a game-changer, he must surely have gotten an accolade or two. “I received the Volunteer Organization of The Year Award (VOYA) in December 2018, which was handed to me by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection. They also gave me 20 blankets, which I gave to the old people in my programme,” says Oduor.
“My next project is on sustainability. I am working on empowerment projects for needy people so that they can be able to sustain themselves,” says Oduor as we conclude the interview.