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.