New York Memories – by Felix Oduor, KI Manager

Growing up in Kibera – considered the largest and most impoverished slum in Africa – one of the main sources of entertainment and relaxation during weekends was watching movies and music videos in the many of its video shops. These video shops brought the western world, especially America closer to us. Therefore, even though I rarely traveled outside Kibera, I felt as informed and exposed to the world as any other privileged child. Most of the movies on show were American and Asian. My favourite Hollywood actors were Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Dolph Lundgren. I also liked Chinese martial arts movies and would imagine myself being able to fight off hundreds of people singularly just like Jacky Chan did in his movies.

One of the constant images in some of the American movies was the Statue of Liberty. The music videos espoused a good and easy life reminiscent of the biblical Canaan – flowing with milk and honey. American society and lifestyle seemed to me as the epitome of the ideal life – a melting pot of different cultures and races where everyone was treated humanely and given a fare chance at achieving their dreams and aspirations. After high school, through my involvement in youth community work and thanks to the United Nations, I got the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world to attend various conferences. However, I still had the yearning to travel to America and experience in person her culture and lifestyle just like I had been watching in movies and music videos.

In September last year, KI gave me an opportunity to travel to New York to attend our annual KI golf outing. I was excited and could not wait. Finally I was going to the USA and particularly a state where I would be able to visit Liberty Island and see the Statue of Liberty in person. My first shock came when applying for a visa. The process made me feel like was applying to go to heaven. More shock awaited me when I went for my visa interview at the US embassy in Nairobi. From where I was sitting as I waited for my turn to be called to one of the counters to be interviewed, I could hear one of the officials on the other side of the counter.  A youthful Kenyan man was pleading with a visa officer who had just told him that she wasn’t convinced that the young man would come back to Kenya after the visit. The officer sounded quite haughty. The young man left crying.  A lady sited next to me whispered to me that she was hoping that she wouldn’t be interviewed by the haughty lady. I just nodded and smiled as another visa applicant left another counter crying. Fortunately, my application was approved and I packed my bags.

One of the things I enjoyed was being able to move around New York alone with the aid of a map. Every night or early morning I would be given the directions to the venue of my next meeting and the time that I needed to be there by my boss, KI Founder Tim Challen. He was born in Switzerland and I am sure he was born with a watch on his wrist – he hates being late. If I was to link up with Tim in the course of the day for onward engagements together, we would meet at the information center at Central Station at an agreed time. One day I got lost in the subway. I wasn’t able to do a connection to my destination. Since I was running late I would have instantly asked for directions but for an experience the previous day. I had been walking in midtown Manhattan when I saw Trump tower at fifth avenue between East 56th street and East 57th street.  I had to take a photo of the building, in fact I had to take a photo of me with the building in the background – the building was synonymous with the TV series ‘The Apprentice’ which I had diligently followed during its first seasons. I tried taking several ‘selfies’ but wasn’t able to properly capture the name ‘Trump tower’ in the background. So I decided to ask a passerby to help me. The first three passersby vigorously shook their heads and scurried away even before I uttered a word to them. Maybe they thought I was asking for some change. Thankfully, the fourth agreed but from then on, I became reluctant about asking for help – perceived more as nuisance than a person needing assistance. In the subway, I was finally able to find my way to the right platform thanks to superb signage.

The most memorable time for me was when Tim and I volunteered to help out in a soup kitchen in the city, organized by our friend Brion, who is the President of KI USA. He has been volunteering there for a number of years and was familiar with some of the regulars. Most of those who had volunteered to help out were white. We were oriented on how we were to go about helping serve food and given aprons. We were told to be gentle and wear a smile while serving. When we stepped into the dining hall we were met by tens of eyes looking at us sparkling with desire – homeless people or persons living in difficult conditions. I could sense in them a supreme temptation to tell us to hurry up. I instantly became self conscious and uncomfortable. Almost all of them were black and a few Hispanics. They were seated around tables chatting and waiting to be served. Some were just quiet and blankly stared at us.For a moment I thought of telling Tim that I wasn’t comfortable but I pushed the thought out of my mind, swallowed hard and went on with it. My role would be to move around with a jug of hot coffee replenishing for those who wanted more or hadn’t gotten any. I was supposed to go to every table asking “Anyone wants more coffee please?”

I did several rounds serving coffee. Some of them would feel irritated that I kept going to their table. Some of them would simply look at me with a glare, their cheeks flushing. I would make a mental note not to go back to those tables. I noticed that some of the homeless persons preferred to be served by white volunteers and would beckon at them constantly. The uncomfortable feeling kept gnawing me and I decided to go help out washing dishes in the kitchen. I haven’t been able to come to terms as to why the soup kitchen visit stood out for me. Maybe it was because there were no Schwarzerneggers and Stallones– the US superheroes I was used to seeing on TV.

Overall, the visit to New York was informative, enjoyable and eye opening. I learnt that not everything is what it seems, and that the heroes are more likely to be in a soup kitchen than in Hollywood. The USA is full of contrasts, the land of extreme ambitions but also despair and divisions – not that much different from Kenya, just a completely different context. I made many friends, and kept some fantastic memories.

And by the way, I did go back to Kenya – my home.

LIVING LIFE LIKE THERE IS NO TOMORROW – by Judy Waithira, KI Administration Officer

Many times, younger generations fall into the temptation of engaging in life’s excesses with the excuse that tomorrow is uncertain – so why not live at that moment for that moment? There are those who live from paycheck to paycheck, who have no care whatsoever for the possibility that tomorrow might not be so bright. The very job that is the source of your fortune could be the source of misfortune once lost. How to survive after redundancy? How to deal with emergencies? How to survive during harsh economic times? How to ensure the needs of your children are put into consideration and planned for? The list is endless….

Living life like there’s no tomorrow poses major risks. We should also think of what lies beyond our immediate needs and save money for the future. This does not mean that we should not have fun, enjoy life, spend our money etc. It means that one is being mindful of the future and of his generation. It pains me to see some men with expectant wives who are fully aware that in some months a baby might be born yet they make no effort to save up for future hospital bills; or think of costs of clothes for the expected newborn; and all other expenses that come with the addition of a family member; while the wife is hospitalized. And what happens when one of the family members becomes sick or whenever there is an emergency in the family? What tends to happens is you look for ‘good’ friends to lend you money, and then you can end up in a circle of debt and all kinds of related problems. What if the expectant father just sacrificed one night of fun? What if he sacrificed just one road trip? What if he made a deliberate effort to sacrifice some excesses? Would they not have some savings to pay the hospital bill or to invest and earn more? Would they not be in a better position to survive in an economic crisis? I say buy a piece of land; invest in the stock exchange; or put your cash in a fixed deposit account and accumulate interest.

Not only fathers are reluctant in doing this, but I have observed the same problem in the community in which we live and work. Many youth KI work with have this mentality that they cannot save since they might die at any time, and the bank will end up spending their money. Firstly, they need to learn how to project themselves beyond their immediate means and environment. These day-to-day limitations harm their future, it kills any aspirations, and they think of life as being too simple, without consequences – they can just rely on ‘magic’ solutions. The truth is that others have to pick up the pieces – someone has to bail them out of their short term dead-ends.

If you rely too much on others, you stop taking care of yourself and live in dependency. And if you do die (life expectancy in Kibera, where I grew up, is 50 years of age), what do you leave behind for your family? I know of so many stories where the family had to borrow money for a funeral; children had to leave school and even find informal employment because of ‘living life like there is no tomorrow’. Is that your legacy? Is that what you want to be reminded for? Is that your excuse? I live today and do not care about tomorrow – others can pick up the pieces.

Someone said, do not push till tomorrow something that you can do today! I say love life like there is a tomorrow, be hopeful and work hard – opportunities will come! Save like there is a tomorrow – invest in your future and for your loved ones. Start now, start small and grow your empire!

Cry my beloved village – by Felix Otieno, KI Manager

Recently I posted a verse from a famous Jamaican reggae musician on one of the many Kibera community facebook pages (Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi, Kenya). The page’s membership is mainly from the Silanga and Soweto East villages, two of the thirteen villages that make up Kibera. The two villages are currently notorious for gun crime. In fact, the police rank those two areas as some of the worst crime hot spots in Nairobi. I had been irked by the numerous killings of young men, some of them innocent members of the community caught up in the battle between law enforcement and young criminals.  There is high tension in those two communities and bullets are often flying around – too many lives lost.

This is what I wrote, having paraphrased the verse to fit into the Silanga and Soweto East context, ‘…Too much guns in town, they running Soweto and Silanga like a cowboy town…so why kill your brother, it makes no sense.  In the ghetto, too much pressure.  Let’s come together, work hard help ghetto youth climb up the ladder.’ My intention was to provoke a discussion among the group members that would eventually lead to them suggesting solutions or and possible interventions to help remedy the situation.

Many comments were made but two stood out for me: a member of the group commented that youth should decide to change, leave their criminal ways and become good citizens before they can be engaged; another suggested that the leaders start with the good ones first – the ‘good ones’ here referring to  the young men and women who are not yet involved in crime – before thinking of those already in crime. His argument was that those getting into crime are being recruited from the ‘good ones’ who want to earn a living. This way, they (the ‘good ones’) will have no reason to join crime as they will have alternative and non-detrimental sources of livelihood. This is in contrast to the current situation where the young men involved in crime live lavish and flashy lifestyles able to afford everything while the ‘good ones’ languish in unemployment, idleness, hopelessness and disillusionment. They are then susceptible to negative peer influence and eventually end up being recruited into the criminal gangs.

In my daily interaction with members of the community and community leaders; and in my quest to unravel the reasons for the sudden surge in deadly crime and insecurity in the two villages several issues have become of note. First is access to firearms. Youth as young as 13 years old have access to guns and ammunition. This easy and unhindered access to guns gives them the courage to get involved in crime. Often, it is only one or two members of a gang with guns.

The member with a gun is normally the leader, feared and revered in equal measure. Other members refer to him as their father. It is every member’s aspiration to own a gun since this will earn him this kind of reverence and respect from other gang members. They even go to the extent of pooling money after a ‘mission’ to buy each other guns in turns. In many instances after a sizable number of group members have guns they split up. Each member with a gun forms his own gang and becomes its leader. These gangs operate in cahoots, sharing ‘intelligence’ and supporting each other during ‘missions.’ The source of these guns has remained a mystery with unfounded rumours that the gangs could be operating in covert partnership with some rogue elements within law enforcement agencies – conspiracies abound, leading to even more distrust in the said communities.

Second is availability and access to cheap but lethal drugs. Some of these drugs can be bought over the counter in the many unregulated pharmacies and chemist shops. Others like marijuana are so available that it is no longer considered effective and fashionable to use. Many of the youth involved in crime are addicts who must have their daily fix. More often than not, they have to get high before going on ‘missions’. Being on a high numbs them and gives them a stimulated sense of courage. Also, since they are addicted they must –t hrough whichever means – get money to buy their daily fix. It is a vicious circle!

Another contributing factor is the current poor state of the only community public space – Undugu Silanga Sports Field – in the area. This field was upgraded by KI in phases and was in a good state. It had become a nerve center for most if not all communal activities: it was a training facility for local youth football teams. Young men would be kept busy in late afternoons after school, venue for community meetings, crusades, meeting venue for women groups, football tournaments and many sensitization and capacity building trainings for the local community –organized by local Community Based Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations. The field was turned into a dumping site during the just ended general Kibera upgrading project. The field is in a state of total disuse. All the above community activities no longer happen. The youth are idle; in fact the lower section of the field is slowly turning into a marijuana smoking area.

Tension between local youth and police is high. The local community is generally afraid of the police too. No one wants to be seen to be involved with either side. A fortnight ago I was in Soweto East at around 9.00 pm. Being the place where I grew up, it’s always a norm for me to stop by and catch up with friends. On this particular day I was standing by the roadside chatting with two young men. There were two other groups of young men on either side of the road. I had seen them and I knew most of them, to my knowledge none of them were of a criminal nature. A few minutes into chatting with my two friends, I saw a contingent of armed police in uniform approaching. They must have been on one of their many regular patrols.

The two groups of young men suddenly joined me and my two friends. I thought they just wanted to be part of the conversation I was having with my two friends so I greeted each of them and inquired how they were. Even before I was done greeting all of them I noticed that the contingent of police was now closer and keenly looking at us. They slowly passed and went on their way. Immediately, the two groups went back to their original positions after one of them thanked me for helping them not get arrested. They were afraid the police might think they were up to no good and might get into serious trouble.

I have never been to Brazil but I have heard stories about the favelas in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. I do not want my two villages and Kibera as a whole to be like them. The young men and women in my village have tremendous potential. KI is already playing a role to give them opportunities and platforms to realize their potential, to explore and exploit their talents and abilities – to achieve their aspirations in life. To make them realize that crime is not the way, we just need to keep working hard to enlarge the platforms. In addition, we need to bring trust back into the community so that problem-solving is done through positive dialogue and not with bullets.

So Close Yet So Far… By Felix Otieno, KI Office Manager

In the year 2006 I got an opportunity to travel to Vancouver Canada to attend the third World Urban Forum (WUF 3). I had participated in the successful planning and organization of the world urban cafes in my village – Soweto East Kibera as part of build up activities, this paved the way for me to attend the main event in Canada. It was a feet worth celebrating. Back then, even owning a passport leave alone travelling abroad would make one a village ‘’celebrity.’’  So I went to WUF 3 to represent grassroots youth from slums and informal settlements. I was particularly focused on representing the voice of young men and women in my community.

During one of the sessions, I passionately contributed to a debate discussing various challenges facing youth in urban areas. I talked about my challenges growing up in an extremely deprived environment like Kibera, the largest slum in sub-Saharan Africa. What stood out for me was the reaction of the audience after the session. Almost all of them especially those representing first world countries came to me to thank me for my bold contributions. However, I realized that they were mostly unconvinced that I was actually from Kibera. They thought I was an imposter using Kibera to attract attention. How could a Kiberan speak so fluently and coherently express his ideas and opinions? I was surprised by the prejudice.

This experience taught me one thing; nothing good is expected to come out of a slum like Kibera. On the other hand the suffering and deprivation that young men and women living in slums and informal settlements experience erode their self- confidence and esteem. Often, because of the stigma associated with it, they are afraid to identify with their environments – slums and informal settlements. These slums are characterized by: lack of social amenities; lack of clean water; open and overflowing drainage; overcrowding; high levels of insecurity; lack of proper solid waste disposal and management leading to heaps of garbage all over. Kibera in particular is notorious for its ‘flying toilets’, whereby residents prefer to do their needs in a plastic bag and fling them onto rooftops rather venture out to the nearest public toilets at night. These all combine to give youth leaving in these kinds of environments a feeling of worthlessness, hopelessness and disillusionment – ‘third class’ citizens living in a ‘third world’.

Therefore, slum upgrading initiatives like the Kibera Soweto East zone ‘’A’’ project is a commendable commencement towards not only upgrading the physical environments but also the self-confidence and esteem of young men and women residing in these slums. For now, the project would seem like a drop in the ocean as attested to by statics. Over 60% of Nairobi’s over 3.5 million residents live in slums. There are over 160 slums in Nairobi covering 500 hectares of land. Kenya’s annual informal settlement growth rate is 5% and one of the highest in the world. According to UNHABITAT this rate could double in the next 30 years.  60 % of Kenya’s work force live in slums.

Often, due to perceived government bureaucracy and corruption, residents of slums and informal settlements lack confidence in government initiated and led slum upgrading projects. In fact they have no confidence in any government led initiative or project. They believe that genuine residents who are supposed to benefit would not – simply put, they believe honesty does not bring rewards,  The Soweto East slum upgrading project was initiated around the year 2005. It was started by a lot of community organization and institutionalization of a link between residents and the government.  This was meant to entrench community consultation, participation and involvement.

11 years down the line, members of Soweto East are still waiting to occupy the new high rise buildings. Some of these residents are currently dwelling in a ‘’decanting site’’ to the south west of Kibera. The rest squeezed themselves in other parts of the slum as they await completion of construction works. The processes that have taken place in the course of this project gives residents hope that this time round the government is determined to do it right. They were enumerated and given unique identification cards, they were trained and encouraged to save in a cooperative society. Lately, they filled application forms and have been undergoing a physical vetting process to determine authenticity of the applicants. However, there have been numerous challenges and complaints from residents, despite the efforts and challenges faced by the authorities. There are rumors that wealthy outsiders could be included in the list of beneficiaries at the expense of local residents. They are afraid that a few corrupt government and community leaders could collude to exclude them. The problem lies in that some residents still find it difficult to trust the government and some of the community leaders.

Therefore, for the residents, this project seems so close yet so far away but with a promise. Youth of Soweto East can’t wait to move into the new houses. They long to live in a clean, organized and safe environment with social amenities, one that will not be a cause for discrimination and stigmatization.

CRIME DOES NOT PAY – by KI guest writer Joshua O.

My name is Joshua, born and raised in Silanga, Kibera slum of Nairobi Kenya. I was a good and active soccer player up to the beginning of  year 2000. At the age of 14, and while still in primary school, out of peer pressure, I joined a gang and committed my first crime. I was in grade 7. We waylaid and robbed a man of his personal belongings. Since I was the one who took the man’s expensive phone from his pocket, I was given a bigger share after the phone was sold. From then on I was motivated, I believed that crime paid and provided quick money.

I could not proceed to secondary school after completing primary school level due to lack of school fees, as my family was struggling even to afford a meal a day – school fees were not a priority. I only had two options: play soccer with friends or stay idle. A group of friends and I started roaming the neighborhood robbing and mugging people, this gave us quick and easy money, and we started dressing up in the latest fashions, expensive shoes and clothes.

In the year 2004, we became a big gang of criminals committing various crimes within Kibera and surrounding estates. With each successful criminal act, we become bolder and more daring, bought guns. My colleagues in the gang told me that my skills were extremely sharp. I always escaped unscathed even though a lot of my friends in the gang were either arrested or shot dead. Hence, I felt that I was invincible and untouchable.  I never thought I would ever quit, the thought never even crossed my mind, this was a good job. I was living a dream life.

Our lives had changed, we moved out of Kibera to posh and expensive estates.  We recruited beautiful young ladies from the slums who had entered into prostitution and gave them ‘simple’ instructions; dress well; identify and seduce men who were potentially rich and with money; accompany them back to their houses or to secluded places and inform our gang. We would then show up and rob the victims, and later on give the girls a percentage of the loot.

Life became ‘sweet’ with beautiful young ladies and more money. Our money was spent on drinking, purchasing drugs and providing for the ladies. We used bhang whenever we went on a ‘mission’.  This was to make us cope with panic and give us courage, so we made sure to smoke at least 3 roles of bang.

It was on 28th November 2005 and as usual we were on mission.  We went to rob a supermarket in Nairobi. We were very confident we would succeed. In fact we were overconfident – after all we had successfully been on tougher ‘missions’ but had now run out of luck. The police showed up just as we started the mission. We engaged the police in a fierce shoot out but even though none of us were shot, a colleague and I were arrested. All the other gang members escaped.

We were taken to court and charged with robbery, with violence and murder. We were sentenced to death. None of our friends or former colleagues showed up in court. I was very sad and disappointed. We were taken to Kamiti maximum prison and later transferred to Naivasha Maximum Prison.

On my first day in Kamiti Maximum Prison, reality hit me hard.  The cells were small rooms each with more than 10 inmates. There was no access to fresh water and well-cooked food. Most of the inmates were sick with communicable diseases. I was very confused, I became friends with an inmate who helped him adapt to prison life. After a few months, my friend was released. In prison there were various trainings offered to inmates such as carpentry, metal works and masonry. However, only prisoners with minor offences were allowed for the trainings. I was a major offender so I wasn’t allowed. I never gave up hope.

After around one year, I had gotten used to prison life – which depends so much on money. Other prisoners and I devised ways on how to smuggle different items into prison for sale to other inmates. With the help of prison warders, we smuggled cell phones, bhang and other items. I found myself with a lot of money while in prison.

Six years later, I was set free after my appeal was accepted due to lack of evidence. He came back to Kibera in January 2012 but I was now a different person. I had learnt my lessons and wanted to be a living testimony and example to youth in the slums – I did not want any of them to follow the path I had followed. I wanted to turn my life around and be a role model.

One thing made me so sad. During the height of my criminal activities, our gang had more than 16 members. Now all of them were dead apart from one who had become insane. I was told that most of them were shot dead by police while others were either burnt or stoned to death by angry villagers. I realized that going to jail had saved my life, I was sure that if I had not been imprisoned I would be dead just like my friends were. I am now a motivational speaker. I talk to young people in Silanga, telling them that crime does not pay. I have also been training and occasionally join other village youth for soccer matches at the Undugu Silanga sports field upgraded by Kilimanjaro Initiative. I am working hard to rebuild my life, six years is a long time but I hope that things will work out for me.

My message to all young people in slums is ‘’appreciate the little that you have and use it to better you life.’’

Be a Charlie… by Tim Challen, KI president

Michael Moore, the American film maker, once said “You can’t debate satire. Either you get it, or you don’t.”

The masked men who forced their way into the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris this morning and shot dead journalists of the satirical weekly newspaper, clearly didn’t know the meaning of the word. Instead, they only looked down the barrel of their guns, peering through their troubled and twisted interpretation of the Quran. ‘Allahu Akbar – the prophet is avenged’, the murderers shouted as they escaped down the streets of the French capital, referring to the newspaper’s numerous printed cartoons that ‘poked’ fun at ‘their’ religion.

A few hours later, on French evening news Amar Lasfar, president of the Union of Islamic Organization in  France, declared that we need to make sure we immunize young Muslims at-risk of falling into terrorism. Although the masked men have yet to be caught, there is a presumption that they were homegrown young men who fell for the the fundamentalist perceptions of ISIS and Al-Qaidah, learning their dark skills on the battle fields of Syria and Iraq.

I grew up amid French culture and as a child watched many times Cabu, one of the cartoonists killed, draw caricatures on a children’s television program. Many of his peers believed he had lowered his artistic and intellectual levels by drawing on a ‘kiddies’ show, and he answered that we were his perfect audience as he inspired us to draw – it worked on me.

Drawing is the greatest form of expression. Your mark is unique, no images are precisely the same, free-moving ink can be so honest  and tells a story no matter your age or skill. Taken to a form of satire, it is a humor-filled mirror that distorts politically correct images into gross representations that above all teach us the meaning of self-deprecation.

Yes, self-deprecation, a currently undervalued word that runs against dangerous trends within our societies, where inflated yet shallow interpretations of information mislead us to be overly serious and vain. In an age of ‘fake reality’, where we spin content into an image of our personal liking we are gradually losing the capacity to laugh at ourselves. Those cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were not anti-Islamic, anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, racists and bigots. No, they simply provoked us to re-evaluate, in a humorous fashion, our own meanings and assisted us from falling into generalized and shallow ideals.

And the murderers, still at large (as I write this blog),  apparently not immunized? Why did they not see the point of satire? Was it because of a dis-advantaged up-bringing in a French suburb and falling into the hands of extremists? Are they French, Islamic or immigrants? Are they ISIS or Al Qaida? Who cares! They are humans and there is no excuse for their acts. Let us stay clear of amalgamations and generalizations. They are simply terrorists who preferred to act like cowards, and with AK47s attacked men armed only with pencils.

I have been shot, hurt and left for dead – insulted and abused by others during an act of crime in Nairobi in 2003. And when I finally got up, 9 months later, pouring blood was replaced by a bitter sense of insecurity – did I go out for revenge? Anger has filled me several times over, I have felt misunderstood and at times abandoned – but did I seek destruction or looked for a higher status? No – only the weak and insecure do – such as our terrorists in Paris, those who search for vengeful fixes to their sense of despair and false victimization.

I have looked for the meaning of my life, and have yet to be sure of an answer. However, I am certain of life’s satire, and that is what keeps me smiling and ultimately positive in a life that bears considerable suffering and trompe-l’oeil. To all the young men out there who hold grudges, no matter what don’t take yourself too seriously. Be a Charlie… be brave, be smart and always ask yourself probing questions – and let us prove that Michael Moore is wrong…

RESOLUTION – by Tim Challen, President of KI

“Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man” – Benjamin Franklin.

Since the Babylonians, we have been using the dawn of a new year to make certain resolutions within our lives. The start of an annual calendar provides us with an opportunity to make promises to ourselves – to rest our errors in the past and start afresh, in a more ‘evolved’ fashion. With a certain vigor, we walk out on the 1st, with a bag full of pledges.

I will be the first to admit that the majority of my resolutions do not go beyond the 15th, for one is quickly caught up by habits and living in circles which are not so easy to break. Would it be easy, Franklin would have used a word more gentle than ‘war’.

There are two ways to look at the hardships of a resolution. From an ‘external’ perspective, life itself can be pretty damn hard – throwing at you unforeseen sufferings determined by bad luck and for which you lack experience. And on a more ‘internal’ level, you are confronted to self-inflicted situations determined by your own ill-advised choices.

I have been a victim to the first of these perspectives and there is not much you can do apart from learn and move on. As for the second, I have been rather foolish. How many times have I drunk myself ‘silly’? or was obnoxious enough to upset people? Quite a few times…

I now understand that the first step towards a successful resolution is to look into the mirror and to be honest with yourself, stripping away and re-evaluating the constructed ego that covers your skin. There is no point in basking in sunshine if only to demonstrate a fake resolution.

Secondly, moderation or abstinence are key. If you believe you have sufficient control and discipline over your ‘vices’, then a measured and healthy approach cannot hurt. If you know that a single drop will turn into an ocean of ‘no tomorrow’, walk aside and step away!

On the issue of substance abuse, and I sadly speak with authority, the short high a quick fix or bottle may give you is also accompanied by a prolonged ‘low’. Depression is a nasty shadow to which one may grow accustomed. Sometimes you don’t even realize the beast is by your side until you have considerably traveled, and with bits of your subconscious left along the way.

Thirdly, if you have a problem… speak about it! Broadcasts are not necessary, but a trustworthy friend or relative who will listen and not judge is without a doubt a human manifestation of the great pyramids of Giza – a connector with the greater universe, where your problem(s) is/are ultimately reflected in much smaller form and whereby you have a realization that situations are not so gigantic and can be overcome.

And vice versa, should you feel a close one of yours is in need of help, don’t hesitate to lend your ear and show compassion. Unfortunately, especially in Western Society, individualism is gaining ground and we either forget to perceive others; or we are too busy running around for own good. Stop! Watch, listen and communicate.

In conclusion, and echoing the wise words of Mr. Franklin, make sure to fight that war, whatever its scope; be attentive to yourself and those around you; and be that better person, conquering all mountains. No need to dwell on the past, learn your lessons, show determination and positively reflect onto your future.

Happy New Year!

THE ONLY PLACE OF SOLACE – by Steve Kasoa, KI Staff Member

When you see Wycliffe training at the Trinity Boxing Club gym in Kibera slum, he does not seem any different from other club members. But after inquiring more about him, I realized that behind that ever smiling face is a heart-wrenching story of suffering and abject poverty.

At only 8 years old, one would wonder why Wycliffe is so interested in boxing. He is always on time and does not miss a single training session. He is very very consistent. As part of my assignment as the officer in charge of this project – Trinity Boxing Club was recently revived by KI – I arrange to meet all the parents of the junior club members to ascertain if the training and mentorship sessions at the club are having any positive impact on their children. And the only way to meet the parents is to visit the homes of the club members. When it was Wycliffe’s turn to take me home, he seemed quite hesitant. After a little convincing, he finally agreed to take me to his home. Right next to the Soweto East Resource Center in Kbera, we went through narrow dirty meandering alleys to his home.

We were welcomed by a familiar sight in the slum, an almost collapsing structure made of sticks, mud and corrugated iron sheets. Inside the house we were welcomed by Wycliffe’s aunt. She was very happy to see us and wanted to know more on how Wycliffe was doing and progressing with his training at the gym. Jack, the club coach who had accompanied me, explained to her that Wycliffe is obedient, calm, hard-working and one of his best trainees.

What Wycliffe’s aunt then told us almost brought us to tears. Wycliffe was born in Kibera and his mother died soon after giving birth. His father took him to stay with his aunt and she agreed because she thought it would be a challenge for Wycliffe’s father to raise a newborn on his own. They then agreed that the father would still support and provide for the baby. Little did she know that that was the last she would see of him – he has never been back to check on Wycliffe. She has tried in vain to trace him, without success.

The aunt is a single mother of 5 children – three boys and two girls. Among them is Steve, my namesake, who I realized trains with Wycliffe at the Trinity Boxing Club gym. However, unlike Wycliffe, Steve also attends school. Despite not having a stable job, the aunt is the sole breadwinner of the family. She relies on casual jobs such as washing clothes, carpets, utensils and cleaning houses in neighboring estates, earning approx. 200 Kenyan Shillings (2.35 USD) per day. However, sometimes she goes for days without getting a job.

As the aunt narrates all this to us, I glance around the home. At last now my eyes have accustomed to the darkness inside. The small room is divided into two by a bed sheet hanging on a rope. On one side is the ‘bedroom’ where an old mattress is shared between the aunt, her children and Wycliffe; on the other side, is a rusty stove, a table, a shaky stool and a few utensils. This was the epitome of abject poverty. The only good thing for this family are smiles and the laughter, genuine smiles and laughter and I think that is what keeps them going daily.

After we leave, I reflect back and ponder on what Wycliffe goes through on a daily basis. Earlier when I was talking to him before visiting his home, I realized that he was uncomfortable when I had asked him about school. He just stared at me. Little did I know that he has never stepped foot in a classroom. During training sessions, he tells his training mates that he trains so hard so that he can be able to fight the neighborhood kids who chide him and laugh at him because he does not go to school.

Later, I asked Wycliffe how he spends his day. He told me that he spends the day at home and when Steve comes from school they go together to the gym. He longs for and hopes that one day he will be able to go to school. In the meantime, the gym is the only place that he looks forward to going to every day.