Former street child escapes poverty through enterprise

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Margaret Nyambura holding Mama Ngina and husband Isaac Karimi holding Uhuru ole Kenyatta at his house in Ongata Rongai on January 21 PHOTO CREDIT: THE STAR

Isaac Karimi, a scrap metal dealer in Ongata Rongai, Kajiado, says he is optimistic his children will grow up to achieve the highest education in the land.

The 33-year-old father of three never went to school after his mother died while he was eight, and his father married another woman who despised him.

After his mother’s death in 1992, he was forced to move out of his father’s house in Kariokor. He went to his grandmother’s home in Nairobi’s Eastlands area.

As soon as his grandmother died, when he was about 14 years, he joined a friend who was a mechanic in Kariokor, Nairobi. Life became unbearable two years later, after he could not make enough money to pay his rent.

 

JOINED A GANG

Karimi chose to move to the streets of Nairobi, where he found several gangsters who taught him how to steal car parts, which they later sold to spare parts dealers on River Road.

“In the CBD, we decided to form our own formidable gang, which specialised in using raw human faeces on passersby to intimidate them into parting with valuables. We made enough money for food,” Karimi said during an interview at his Ongata Rongai home.

He later left the gang and moved on to join another that was specialising in stealing car headlights and side mirrors from parked vehicles.

By the time he was 27 years old in 2011, Karimi was a gang leader in the city, who was on a police list of wanted criminals.

He moved out of Nairobi’s CBD and sought refuge in Ongata Rongai to escape the police dragnet.

“While I was in Ongata Rongai, I woke up one morning in the street and said I should not be stealing from people who sweat to make a living. That day marked the turning point in my criminal activities,” Karimi said.

Several months later, after he had acquired a rental house, Karimi met a young woman, Margaret Nyambura, in Ongata Rongai town, and she accepted to be his partner.

In 2012, the two decided to marry and lead a normal life. After a low-profile wedding that took place in the town, Karimi knew that he could not depend on anybody to provide alms to bring up a family. It was time to stand up as a man to make his own money.

He had already thought of starting a scrap metal broking business, which to him at the time would not require much capital.

Karimi consulted with scrap metal dealers in Ongata Rongai town and secured several that would buy his stocks.

 

GIVING BACK

The first move he made was to go back to the streets, where he was better known by his old folk. He briefed them about what he wanted to do and his idea got majority support from street families.

He would later start his business in earnest with a number of workers, who he paid whenever they delivered scrap metal.

In 2013, Karimi and Nyambura had their firstborn, a baby boy who they named Joe ole Wagura.

Karimi’s business grew by the day, and he agreed with his wife to have another baby. The income from scrap metal had multiplied until he felt they could afford another child.

In February last year, the couple had twins: a boy and a girl. It was an election year in Kenya, and President Uhuru Kenyatta was defending his seat as the fourth president for his second and last term.

Because of their love for Uhuru and the first family, they decided name their second-born boy Uhuru ole Kenyatta and the girl, Mama Ngina.

“I believe that through continuous mentorship and quality education, my children in future will attend law school after graduating from university, and later on open a law firm that they will name Uhuru and Ngina Associates,” Karimi said.

He said apart from developing his business, he uses the little money he makes as profit to change the lives of street families in Ongata Rongai for the better.

“I have raised many families and even created work for them. I have told them that only the lazy people choose to live in the streets because they do not want to sweat,” Karimi said.

He has mentored many young men from the streets by employing them so they can be financially independent, and enabled them to raise their families like other normal people.

“I have bought several motorbikes used as taxis in Ongata Rongai town and handed them to some of the former street boys who I have rehabilitated and mentored. These are not gifts but they pay back the money in small instalments,” said the new entrepreneur in town.

 

BIG MAN

The former street urchin is now a celebrated businessman in town and is promising to go out next year and strive to pay fees for less-fortunate students in the society.

Other than financial support for the poor, Karimi also provides free counselling to street urchins.

Already, by the end of last year Karimi had counselled two former street people, a woman and man, into getting an engagement and later wedding in church.

Three other youth under his care have started off with small enterprises in the town. He is helping them grow their businesses by funding them.

“As a young man, I slept in the cold streets of Ongata Rongai behind Ongami House, sharing food with wild birds, vultures, dogs, cats and other glue-sniffing street children. This is the reason I want to get the urchins off the streets,” Karimi said.

He says he got bruises all over his body, and at one time almost lost his sight, due to beatings he was subjected to in the streets.

“Some of my friends who would work closely with the police and gang teams to undermine our stay in the streets set the scene and beat me up senseless one morning,” said Karimi.

He said street fights are all about scrambling for space and marking territories, and sometimes it is life-threatening.

“I did not get the privilege to know my parents. Sniffing glue was my only companion because leading a street life with a sane mind can be unbearable,” Karimi said.

Currently, Karimi is working hard on sharing platforms to champion for streets families to be supported by the government to change their lives and get them out of the streets.

He is also appealing to the government to put up rehabilitation centres in major towns.