Jonte Kimani

Jonte Kimani


From: Kambi Moto, Huruma, Nairobi

Interview date & place: 19 April 2016, Nairobi

Interviewed by: Joseph Kimani & Eva Muchiri

Original language: Swahili

My name is John Thuo Kimani, but here at home many know me as Jonte. I was born here in Kambi Moto.

I have been able to gain skills I wouldn’t have gained if I wasn’t part of this movement. I have been able to be one of the members of the community. Right now, at my age, I have been able to gain respect, which isn’t easy, especially for a youth in the village. It has changed my life tremendously, because now I have been able to go back to school and study. I really consider this a great achievement in my life, which wouldn’t have been possible in the past. I put this down to leading a peaceful life, which saves me the struggles most youth go through. Also, I have been able to take part in the upgrading projects in Kambi Moto, which have brought me a source of income.

I would say the life I lived in the past isn’t the life I live now; and the life I live now isn’t the life which many of the youths live. So, while living right here at Kambi Moto, I am able to go about my day to day activities which allows me to make a living, and live in peace. When I am here, I am able to achieve a lot.

How did you first get involved with Muungano? What were things like back then?

I have been in Kambi Moto since I was born. My mother was among those people who united with other villagers to start Muungano. When I was just a child, I would hear my mother say that she had to attend a meeting, but at that time I didn’t understand what the meeting was about, and so I never bothered much about it. At that time, children who were born in the ghetto did not bother much with developments going on in the community. All they cared about was looking for food if there wasn’t any at home. So I didn’t bother much about what went on in the slum. Also, at that time, children from the ghetto went through a certain phase, and very many of them turned out totally differently to what their parents hoped.

Back then, once children from the ghetto reached a certain age, they became badly behaved and began to join small criminal gangs. When our parents left the home and took a particular route to their destinations, we would take another in order to avoid them; then later we would come back home and quarrel with them. I would hear my mother say she was off to a meeting, but at that time I didn’t care much about it. All I cared about was going to school and doing my work. As we grew, we became old enough, and so my mother left Nairobi and went back to our rural home, leaving my brother and me behind. My brother was still young and wasn’t in a position to take care of me as a parent, and so we both sought to live our life the best way we knew how. My mother asked me to go back home with her, but I declined; on the departure day, I hid, and so she had to leave without me. Being left behind meant I had to fend for myself. At that time I was only 13 years old: it was difficult to fend for myself, because I hadn’t yet got my own ID, which meant I couldn’t be employed. A lot was going on then, because I also had to go to school. So, I stayed in Nairobi, began my business, and on the side I joined the gangs in the slum.

So I was mainly occupied in illegal conduct in the gangs. Gradually, me and my friend started leaving the gang. Others along the way got arrested: I remember an incident when one of us was arrested and detained for two years. This made me reflect on my life: I asked why I always managed to get away. I decided to leave the gang, because that way of life seemed to be harder. I went back home, and found my brother had picked up [with the community] where my mother had left off. He kept on attending the meetings, as I wondered whether the meetings served any purpose. He encouraged me to attend, too, but I refused and stayed behind. But one time, with my friends, we went to one of the meetings, just to see what was going on; and from there we discovered some things. We got to know that people were planning to demolish and construct new structures, and we went ahead to ask all about that, wanting to know more. Soon, we got involved in demolishing the houses and making the foundations. We still didn’t fully understand what was going on, but slowly we got more involved in the activities going on, and, step by step, we came to understand what Muungano was about.

For my friends and I, it wasn’t easy [to start saving]. First, we lacked the money, so we had to work for it. Secondly, we didn’t know what saving involved. We just got involved in construction, then as we started, we could see familiar people also engaged in constructing their own homes, and we wondered where they got the money from to carry out their own construction. We also kept hearing of ongoing meetings, which we didn’t fully understand either – we thought the meetings involved the chief’s baraza [where the area chief summons community members] at which youths would be chased away, so whenever we heard of some meetings, we ran away. But we were still involved in the construction process, and so soon we were called upon to join in the meetings. We went, listened to what was being said, and we also contributed. In the process, as we aired our different views, we got to hear about savings and enumeration, and this got our attention. We wanted to know what it all involved, so soon we started finding out more about this.

In all this, the good thing was the fact that we had great parents. They welcomed us despite our past, and taught us about savings and enumeration. In a nutshell, they taught us all about Muungano, and explained to us what it entailed. As we got to understand all about it, we decided to try it out. We continued carrying out the construction work, as we united with the rest [of the slum members] in one common journey. We continued attending the meetings, and got to understand what Muungano involved (some of us signed up for it, but some declined). As we progressed, whatever I would earn through my construction work, I would save up. I was still young, and as I saved, I felt really proud of myself – I could have used the money in some other activities, but I didn’t, I thought it was best to save instead. I was with my brother as well, and as I saw how he saved, I emulated him. I made friends along the way, right there in the slum: some were my mother’s age, some my brother’s age, who earned some money from the construction. With time, they started entrusting me with some duties, which I performed, and in return they paid me for my services. Soon, they started giving me daily work to do, and so from Monday to Saturday I always had something to do that enabled me to get some money, which I saved. I saved in Muungano as I attended the workshops and seminars, gaining experience in the process. Soon, I was on the same level as the rest of the members, and I realized there are indeed some things that can make one progress. It is at this point I joined Muungano and started saving.

I faced many challenges [when joining Muungano]. Age was a big challenge: when you look at [Peter] Chege, he has kids who are almost my age, but socializing with him was a bit of a challenge. For people like him, once they got some money they would invest it on their families, but I would only think of using it to have fun. Sometimes, I would earn 100 shillings and think of saving about 20; and I would thereafter think how that money wasn’t even worth buying a pair of shoes.

Secondly, there was this challenge of being accepted. If you had a bad reputation in the past, once you joined, people would only think of how you would bring about theft within the movement. So being accepted was a big challenge. We just carried out our construction work, and once we were done, we would leave the site and come back the next day, hoping to fit in into the community with the rest of the members. Lastly, one of the main challenges we faced was lack of funds. Our parents earned more than we did, and so they considered us unable to manage our finances as well as unable to contribute to the growth of the community. Generally, they considered us unfit to join them in the same cause.

How did you first get involved with Muungano’s youth federation, and in mentoring?

Mwamko wa Vijana was the youth federation. It helped us to unite. As the youths, we were to come together and brainstorm on ideas while uniting the community, and that is where that name came about – Mwamko wa Vijana – when the youths discovered that they had the resources, and the potential, and also the right to get involved in what went on within the community. The youths rose to the occasion and took their proper positions within the community.

They started taking part in sporting activities and cleaning exercises within the community. All these activities needed some land, and so the youths had to take part in negotiating for the land. And so before Muungano took part in negotiating for the land with the government, the youths started negotiating with Muungano to allocate them some land to carry out their activities. It is at this time the [youth] federation was born and took shape, bringing the youths into sports and income generating projects, and we also had the chance to learn from experts and other organizations.

It all began when we became involved in some of the projects here in Kambi Moto. At that time, we realized that many youths were going astray because of ignorance and the lack of strong mentor figures in their lives to point them in the right direction. So I thought of bringing a group of youth together, with whom I could team up in tackling all this. So we teamed up, together with Muungano, and came up with some sports programs. Through this, as the youths, we were able to share our thoughts, reflect on time wasted instead of investing in ourselves, and ask ourselves what more we could do to better our lives.

The older people in the movement had given us the opportunity to meet and brainstorm together, and we wanted to come up with ideas that would help us. In time, groups of youths formed in Kambi Moto, aiming to carry out different activities with the help of Muungano and other organizations. Later, we asked if there were other [nearby] groups doing similar activities, and we were told that there were, and that we could visit and get to know them.

We brainstormed on how to improve our lives, and we saw how we possessed the potential to do this because we had the necessary skills and resources. As we carried on, we found other villages’ youth groups were carrying out similar activities, so we teamed up and started exchanging ideas, as we visited each other from time to time. We decided to establish one common voice with which we could communicate our views to the government and the community. So that’s where the [youth] federation was born: it was a voice of the voiceless and the youths.

The men and women in the village discovered I had an inner drive within me. Normally, there was a division between the youths and the elders in the village. Usually, I would attend the meetings and afterwards, I would approach some of the men and the women present in the meetings to inquire on what was going on. So I was in a good position to bring the youths on board: my main role was to bring together the youths and elders – men and women. I was thereafter referred to as a mentor: I was to lead by example and bring all groups together; to unite the youths with the rest of community and with other partners who would offer special opportunities to them. So, from then till now, I have been mentoring within the federation.

One of the groups I have is called is called Huruma Young Innovators. Back then, they were hard to deal with – they were 12–13 years old, the age where youths start going astray – but I started mentoring them and they began changing for the better. Most community members didn’t approve of them, so I took to mentoring them in order to unite them with the community, and after that they began projects within the community. Huruma Young Innovators now has around twelve youths undertaking great projects, like poultry farming. At present they are right here at Kambi Moto and have taken part in constructing [Kambi Moto upgrading] site 4. Now they are much friendlier, unlike before.

The second group is young women; it is known as H Town Elegant Ladies. It’s mainly made up of girls and young mothers who could have lost hope in life after having children at a young age, and also young women who have just finished school and might not know what to do next. So I mobilized them, all together: there were those who had been violated, and we brought them all together and held discussions. At first, it was hard to bring them all together – it took two or three months – but once we did, we started discussing the challenges they faced, how we could help those who had been violated, and how they could change their lives. The group has achieved a lot: some have started businesses, others have enrolled in courses through partnerships, some have acquired their driving license and have become drivers, others have done catering, and one of them was even supposed to bake us a cake just recently, though it never happened. So the people within the group have changed their lives and this has really helped them achieve a lot. They have a dream of owning their own homes, and are planning to visit Gakuyo Real Estate to understand what is needed to buy a piece of land, or how they can acquire land and start building. Generally, that is the vision they have.

The third group is the one the young women have started; it is made up of young children. Now, we mentor 40 children – I am not alone, I have teamed up with the young women. Once they got trained on some of the issues, like gender-based violence and sexual threats, we saw it fit for them to mobilize the children. Now, we have divided them into two clusters: those of age 11 and below, and those of 12 years and above, who are taught. So this third group is mainly children that are growing up, and who will soon become youths and therefore we must mentor them, step by step. They take life skills classes and participate in sports like cricket, rugby, and football. Once they take life skills classes they are then ‘adopted’ by the older ones in the other groups, who teach them different things, like saving; and later they can be incorporated into the federation.

What have been the strategies that really worked?

As I said, the first strategies that we used were sporting activities. These brought the youths together.(I believe when you place a ball, here, even a two-year-old child can come along and play with it, and so when you bring a ball, children will gather to play with it. So sporting activities proved to be an element that brings [young] people together, so this was one of our strategies. We used sports, drama, or any other activity they enjoyed, and these activities gave us the chance to interact and discuss things, especially afterwards. Through this, we were able to come up with one common voice setting out what we were able to do. And so up to now sports has remained the main strategy we use to bring [youth] together.

As we progressed, we were also able to learn about saving from Muungano. We knew there was a lot of power in saving. The youths would save and bring it all together, however little it was, and this fostered unity amongst them. Soon, the youth begun asking questions, wanting to know to where their money was being channelled. They discovered they had rights over their savings as well as the power to make decisions concerning their savings. Then, from their savings, they started coming up with different ideas for advancing themselves, like buying land or a cart for doing business.

What didn’t work? What did you learn?

It was easy to bring [young] people together through football, but challenges would arise once you mentioned the need to save. Some would argue that that they didn’t have a job and so didn’t have a stable source of income which would allow them to save. Others thought that their money would get lost in projects that wouldn’t benefit them directly. And others didn’t see the need to unite in saving because they would later inherit assets from their parents or grandparents. Many of the youths found it a challenge to contribute twenty shillings – it was a little amount which would take time to mature to a substantial amount that could even build a house. They wanted to carry out other activities that would give them a much greater amount of money, and so bringing them together proved to be a great challenge.

Secondly, it was a challenge to bring them together for the usual meetings, because if they weren’t given money afterwards, they wouldn’t turn up the next meeting. They wanted the easy way through things. Still, today, most youths want to have it easy. If you give them 200sh they will quickly take it for themselves, but if you have nothing to give them, they won’t attend the meetings. This was one of the challenges, and it continues to be a challenge in the community.

One of the lessons I have learnt is that patience pays, and once you are patient you are bound to thrive. There are people that have really been patient for a long time and in the long run it has paid off. For me, I have been patient in what I do. Take, for example the work I do: I don’t get paid for it, but in turn it is rewarding. Now, my life has now changed and I feel that indeed I have learnt a lot. Also, there are other youths that have also gained a lot through me. This has made me discover my ability to bring people together for the purpose of changing lives. Up to now this motivates me, and I am not about to quit this anytime soon. I will keep bringing people together to generate more ideas that will benefit society and the coming generations. I have discovered that we have the potential and the resources: if we can just say that we possess the potential, then we can change our lives.

How have things changed over time?

My mother left me behind, and later I joined a gang where some of my friends lost their lives. Later, when I left the gang, I discovered my potential and I resolved to fend for myself and change my life. As my life changed, I discovered that I could help others. I started discussing with youths and young children, and I saw they were ready to listen and the ideas we shared together proved to be helpful. This motivated me a lot.

The men and the women in the community saw my inner drive and gave me a chance to lead. This gave me the freedom to interact with the community and at the same time to hold discussions with children and youths – which started to bring about change. I helped the youths change and contribute in the development of the community. All this motivated me to carry on. I realized these youths and children were growing up, and that if we stopped mentoring them they would probably adopt undesirable lifestyles, and so this helps me soldier on. The love I received from the children, the youths, and the wider community gave me the appetite to progress.

As we sat down with the community after construction, some community projects came up. Some included the poultry projects from the youths, and the carwash business which I have been involved in for the last 9 years. When I was given a chance to work there, I discovered that the money and resources were available and so there was no need to look elsewhere. I was able to earn my daily bread, and it gave me the chance to meet with the youths from time to time and carry out different activities with them. If I had a different job that required me to be in an office as from 8 to 4, I wouldn’t have had the chance to interact with the youths, and so I wouldn’t have mentored them. Whenever I walk around Kambi Moto and meet with the children and youths, we get to interact through our talks and this motivates me. I endeavour to meet people who have knowledge on different issues or are able to help the youth. Right now, I work with two organizations that are present here in Kambi Moto – they are working with the youths and children and their work is proving to be beneficial. This is motivates me, because I get to witness them getting a chance to gain skills and get jobs.

We started right here at Kambi Moto, and we got the chance to visit one another in our various settlements like Kibera and Mathare. We got to see what other youths were doing and at the same time they also learnt a thing or two from us. This also motivated us to unite as one community, because we were going through the same challenges. We spoke with one voice and started the youth federation. From there, we got a chance to visit other regions, like Naivasha where we found that they were engaged in the same activities like us but lacked a forum to interact and brainstorm together with people from other regions. From there, we interacted with [young] people in Nakuru, Kisumu, Mombasa, and Thika where our ideas were well received by some of the youths there, changing their lives in the process.

We have had the opportunity to visit other regions outside Kenya. Muungano gave me the chance to learn all about enumeration, and after that I went to Malawi to meet youths and motivate them about what they could do within their community. They were happy to meet young people involved in Muungano who were carrying out tasks like mapping, numbering, and planning. They asked me about how I started out, and I told them my history: how I started, how I got to where I am, and where I learnt what I know – I wasn’t able to go through school, but I gained my knowledge through Muungano – and I urged them to unite with their communities. We also had the opportunity in South Africa to meet some youths from Cape Town, together with other youths from different places in the world like India and Uganda; we sat with them and brainstormed together; shared about the activities we were involved in as youths within the community. So, in the long run, you will see that our activities and efforts, which began at the grassroots level, later developed and reached out to other regions. So far, that is where we have got to; we will take our messages far and wide.

Information is power

We consider information is a powerful tool. Before, I didn’t know much and I had an inner drive to want to know more. I attended seminars and classes, not with an aim of making money but to gain information and, in the process, I discovered that there was a lot I didn’t know. This made me look for information in all kinds of places; I would look for organizations that dealt with youths; and for information that would benefit the community.

We have this resource centre, which is well equipped: there are books within the resource centre which the youths, children, and wider community can access to gain information, even on saving. Secondly, I have been planning to return to school, where I will be able to gain knowledge and pass it on to the children. Thirdly, I have been able to sit down with the community members, where we could brainstorm on construction, the community’s welfare, and other projects; so as I sit in these meetings, arranged by Muungano, I am able to gain some information that can benefit me.

The [Muungano] rituals to me are like an oath which, once I take up, they enable me to move forward. For example, Muungano says ‘we have the right to own land’: this makes us want to know who owns which land, and once we know who owns the land we can sit and discuss the issues together; this motivates us and gives us the power to decide where we want to live. I come to understand that if I am not in a position to get the particular land I might want, then I can go and get some different land elsewhere for which I must pay, thereby encouraging me to save for it. I might not be able to get the full amount straight away, but if I follow the necessary steps I will save what I need. We save every day, and organize meetings often as community members to keep track of our savings and understand our progress. Through our rituals, Muungano progresses day by day; we pass on rituals that the young children can take up as they grow up, so that Muungano will last forever.

A story about mentoring

I mentored one boy who won a secondary school scholarship. He was about to drop out, but when he got the scholarship through our mentorship program, he was able to succeed. He finished high school and went to university, and now he works at Faulu Bank and still lives here in Kambi Moto.

Another is a group of youths who competed in seasons 1, 2, and 3 of the Sakata dance competition, which was shown on Citizen TV for 3 or 4 years. The group is called Limbo. I mentored them and they told me they wanted to take a part in the competition. The community supported them and they got a high placing. Now, whenever I want to see them I have to ask for their time, but they are always welcome here whenever they come by. Now, they perform at the professional level and can earn a living from what they do.

Another group is of some young women I am mentoring. There are three young women: one has become an expert on saving and book keeping, and now she motivates other groups; another mentors children, and now we have partnered her with another organization to do mentorship in schools. This interests her and in the long run gives her a job.

Where are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?

As a youth and a mentor, I would like to see if the present youth will be able to achieve more than what the women and the men in the past achieved. Right now, as we speak, I have three groups that have been able learn from Muungano, which has been an inspiration to them. One of the groups saw that in the coming years, life in Nairobi will become quite expensive, and they have resolved to build and own their houses in the next ten years. So being part of Muungano has given them the vision. Also, we have taught the children different ways to depend on themselves and not to fully depend on their parents, the government, or other organizations. So these children will have a better future.

As for me, in those coming years I will probably have aged. I have heard Chege being called a professor, so I don’t know what I will be called then. I will be proud of myself for mentoring those who will have passed through my hands.

 I hope to become an inspirational leader and motivate everyone, not only the youths. I would like to inspire them and show them where I am from, where I have reached, and all I have done. Now, I can count all those who have passed through my hands and have succeeded, and the things I have been able to do. I would also like to write a book about my personal life and how I have changed the wider community. I want to be an inspiration leader and if possible, I would like to write a book as an author. I would like to write about my personal life and how I have changed the community at large. I would like to write generally about the youth and the community. I would like to write about people I have interacted with, and what they turned out to be after passing through my hands. That’s what I want to do, because am not going to retire soon. I believe motivation is an ongoing process

A message for the younger generations of Muungano

What I would say is, we should try and emulate the great examples present in the community. Sometimes youths can be quite ignorant: for example, a group of people in the community may want to construct a resource centre, but some youths may go ahead and complain that the group is planning to grab the land. They may have negative ideas about some of the things that are going on, but if they emulate the excellent examples in the community and contribute to the greater vision of the community, then they are bound to benefit from the ongoing projects. I am sure the youths will even take their rightful positions in the community; they should sit together with the members of the community and contribute in any way they can.