Whilst we were in Eldoret we met and worked with Andrew Mwangi, a leading social entrepreneur in the area who runs a skills development home for street children. Our first meeting, was actually set up in order to interview him for this blog – but he ended up becoming a key part of our Eldoret experience. Here’s the story…

We are in a noisy cafe in Eldoret, opposite a man called Andrew Mwangi, watching him as he slowly sips on a mango juice. He is a humble man, unassuming and softly spoken.  As he speaks we never look away, the rest of the cafe seemingly melts away around us as we are taken on a journey through his life. What a life he has led and although he modestly denies it, what an incredible man he is.

Andrew was born in the Eldoret region in 1980. When he was three years old his father died, leaving his mother and her six young, needy children in a challenging situation. The family was suffering from the loss – both physically and financially – and without enough money to sustain themselves, young Andrew and his siblings would often go to bed hungry and exhausted.  It was during this time that he left this life behind him, setting off with his brother to the city of Eldoret, with no plan and no where to stay, in search of something – food, money – they didn’t really know.

Andrew lived on the streets for a total of seven years with his brother. Although many young people on the streets have escaped a fairly grim homelife, they are often entering into an even darker existence. One that they typically face alone.

Andrew describes to me some of the many very real and challenging situations you can face on the streets – beatings, rape, sodamy, drug abuse, alcoholism, hunger, poverty and disease – and he reals them off as if they’re nothing, whilst I maintain a straight face. Andrew tells us that half of the children live on the streets in the day and the other half live there permanently,

The kids end up on the streets from peer pressure from friends, abuse at home, family dysfunction, poverty.

Andrew continues to tell me there are also street girls, many who become pregnant and give birth, literally on the streets. As such they are at an extremely high risk of catching HIV. “The boys don’t use contraception,” Andrew tells us.

For many children, the streets become their permanent home, it’s where they feel they belong, are a part of a community – and where they can make good money. Those who sell drugs usually earn so much that getting out of this line of work isn’t an option. Others have to spend what little they have in the same day and can’t save for the future; otherwise it will be forcefully stolen from them during the shadier part of the evening, after dark.

Only last week I was sitting in a cafe and I looked out of the window to see a young boy, around six years old, with torn clothes stumbling across the road, sniffing glue from a bottle. When should it be normal to see a child high on drugs roaming alone in the streets? When is it normal for a child to have to fend for itself, alone in the world with no one to protect them? But in Eldoret and in many cities in Kenya this has become a normal sight.

Discussing this with Andrew, he continues to tell his story about what happened after seven years on the streets. And he got lucky, when he met a man called Charles Mully.

Mully was starting a children’s home, and was scouring the streets looking to help vulnerable children. He took him in, changing his life completely.

I lived happily there for 15 years. I got my education as a result, and so my passion for helping other street children comes from my personal experiences.

Andrew is a man who has courageously stood as a young man and said “this isn’t right. This has to end.”

His life experiences motivated him to dedicating his life’s work to ensuring that others receive the support that he never had.  He started an organisation called Tumaini drop in center, a CBO which offers drop in services for up to 250 street children a day. He also started a programme called Outreach, which initially visited homeless boys on the street, chatting to them, hearing their problems and linking them to opportunities, “a number of the boys had benefited from my work and so I thought there was something there.”

Andrew now runs a home for street boys, under his organisation Nyumbani Social Enterprises. They house up to five street boys at a time, giving them food, shelter and vocational training for one year.  The aim of the programme is to help the boys to leave street life behind them for good, giving them a sense of purpose and an opportunity to turn their lives around. He has constructed a house on a quarter of an acre of land to provide a home for them. Nyumbani runs a number of income generating activities including chicken rearing, selling eggs and motorbike taxi services.  They also link up the boys to vocational trainers in carpentry, agriculture, welding and mechanics.

Andrew has big plans for the future.  He wants to set up a tour company and put some of the boys through driving school so that they can drive the vehicles. The profits will then go back into the Nyumbani programme. He also has plans to buy more land in order to run an agriculture project to train the boys on agribusiness and expand the house so that he can house even more boys.

Whilst in Eldoret, Andrew set up a meeting for us with a group of street girls, to learn about their plight and give us an opportunity to find solutions for them. So this is not the end of our working relationship with Nymbani, and we hope to be able to support  them on future programmes.

Everyone from _SocialStarters wishes Andrew luck with all his plans and we’ also like to thank him for taking the time to mentor our VSO participant, Boaz. Check out the different ways you could support Andrew’s programme HERE.