Since I was a little boy my dream was to be an instrument for change. I knew that I was following a complicated path in life. I started carrying a heavy load the day that I was born. They tell me I used to cry when my mother often left me for ten hours without milk, as she went searching for food. There was rarely milk for me at all, as my mother didn’t eat well and she felt dizzy, as she too was hungry.
My Aunt Benta always tells me how I got used to hunger, until I did not cry anymore. My mom stopped me from breastfeeding at an early age (two months) and I was introduced to hard food—and I would often spend days without more than water to fill my stomach.
This struggle forced me to be a homeless kid at the age of 8. At that age I knew how to survive. I was introduced to a world where it really is the survival of the fittest. It is a cycle that is not easy to break, or to even imagine breaking. That was my world, and is still the world of millions of people on this planet. I tell you, enjoy and celebrate if that’s not your world, as for most that is just how life is.
I am often still not convinced that I am living in a world in which I don’t need to walk for long distances in search of water. I no longer have to fight with my mom about the water that I want to use for my weekly bath. I no longer have to stop eating and leave the remaining food for my little brother Hillary, who might go hungry if I feed myself well. I no longer have to worry about what I’ll eat tomorrow. I no longer worry that I might not survive the year, or that I’ll spend the night in the police cell—not because I am a criminal but because I met a policeman who asked for a bribe and I had nothing in my pocket to offer. I still have a hard time believing that I’m living in a world where I can decide to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or do I want with my life. I always knew that I would be wasted potential—one of the millions of people with ideas and talent forced to forever rot and remain in the slums.
Sometimes I think I am living in heaven and this is life after death. How can it be that a poor kid who went to an informal school in one of the largest slums in African can officially share a panel with an American President? President Bill Clinton was one of my first heroes, but I never dreamed that as a slum boy I would even be in the same room with him. I’m still pinching my body to make sure that this is real. If this is real, then there is hope for the millions of people who spend their lives hopelessly, not knowing what they will eat tomorrow. Another world is possible if we dream positively, as I dreamed, and will continue to dream. If this world is real, then I will share the opportunities that I have been lucky enough to find.
I want to see the women in my community taking charge of their education and that of their children. I want to offer my life so that women and girls have equal access to a future. I decided to focus on women because I saw it first hand. Men, women, and children—for the world to change we must all be united by a collective solidarity. I cannot sit by while men, who dominate the community, rape a six-year-old girl. I could not say silent when I see my mom abused by the man she loves—she was kicked and often he even threatened her life, and the worst part is that she always forgave him. I will never forget the abuse I saw my sisters endure because they are women, and how they got pregnant at the age of sixteen. I will raise my voice for the women in my community when I remember my friend Mary who was denied a factory job and any economic opportunities because she is was a woman. Mary had to turn to prostitution not for money, but for food.
However I also can’t blame my fellow men, as I know that the issue is the lack of resources and disempowerment of the community as a whole—men included. This is why from my own experience as a man in Kibera I saw the need to create an incentive structure to place value on women by providing men and the entire community with services. This is why in our model we have The Kibera School for Girls and we also offer social services for men like a library, toilets, health center, water, and education.
I can’t do all this alone. I have come this far with the help of the amazing and supportive people in my life. Jessica Posner shines in my life, and I am always touched by how she gives to my community without judging them. She is my fellow commander on this war for equality for all, despite gender barriers. We are not alone in this movement. Great advisors and mentors also support us. However, most importantly, we have the grassroots support that is sweeping across the United States to the heart of the Kibera slums.