Tales of Courage: Start From Scratch

Samuel “Torres” Omollo was nine years old when his parents and youngest sister passed away in a road accident, leaving him and his younger sister orphaned. The two were then separated as one of his aunts took in his sister while he went to live with another aunt in Korogocho.

Life was hard in the slums and on several instances, Samuel, his aunt who was a single mum and her child would go to bed hungry. His aunt did menial jobs such as washing clothes in neighboring estates. Between paying for their one-roomed house and buying food, she could barely make ends meet. It wasn’t long before Samuel was drawn to the nearby Dandora dumpsite in search of food. “I would go to scavenge for food that had been thrown there,” he says. Samuel was on and off in school as most of his time was spent at the dumpsite. “School wasn’t a priority at the time,” he explains. There were others like him at the dumpsite. They formed a gang and the dumpsite became their home. They survived by recycling scrap metal which would later be sold at a small fee. With time, they started stealing clothes from other workers at the dumpsite which they would later sell at the nearby Korogocho market. One thing led to another and soon enough, they were now mugging passers-by of their mobile phones. Though they were arrested several times, they were never convicted. The police would let them free after a while.

“We only went back to our homes when it rained, because then we wouldn’t have a place to lay our heads.”

On reaching Class Eight at Ruaraka primary school, still on his on and off schedule, the local Catholic Church offered to register those that were interested for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE). The church would provide for their uniforms and stationery. Samuel took up the offer and sat for his KCPE exams in 1992. He performed dismally and once again went back to the dumpsite. He didn’t have much hope for a future after this. Together with his gang, they rented a room for Sh 300 per month. They each contributed Sh 50 for the rent. Life would, however, take an unexpected turn. A non-governmental organisation, through a community based organisation, offered to take some of the boys for vocational training in a skill of their choice.

A RAY OF HOPE

Samuel enrolled for a mass communication course in a college in town, majoring in video and radio production. Three months into college, he got his first internship at Radio Waumini. The father at the local Catholic Church once again stepped in to ensure that he at least got a Sh 2000 stipend to cater for his bus fare and food.

WORKED AS A BUS CONDUCTOR

“What they didn’t know is that I didn’t really have to pay bus fare because I worked part time in the buses as a conductor,” he says, laughing at the memory.

In 2016, Samuel started an initiative dubbed Mng’aro Mtaani with the aim of giving back to the community. Through a Facebook page and word of mouth, he mobilizes resources in the form of clothing, bedding’s and household materials and later distributes them in slum areas.

I UNDERSTAND WHAT IT’S LIKE TO LACK

“I’ve always wanted to give back because I understand the challenges of slum dwellings, having been brought up there. Not many make it out and become successful, as I have. Most of them die young while others move to the city centre to become street urchins.”

He kick-started the initiative by donating his and his family’s clothes. The following day he saw those he had donated to walking confidently with his clothes and he was overjoyed. He rushed back to where he used to live and put up a poster asking other tenants to donate what they longer needed. Within a matter of hours, he had six sacks of clothes.  “Mng’aro Mtaani, is not just about resource mobilization and distribution, it’s about others also succeeding in life,”