It is a huge table under a gazebo behind a tall building. A silent, calm and serene atmosphere. We are having lunch and everything is so peaceful apart from occasional bursts from Kamotho about discipline.
“When I ask a question, I expect an answer. I like responses just like you do because we are all human beings” he says almost getting annoyed. We just came from the office and everyone is munching on their lunch.
There are two other people on the huge table. Two young girls barely twenty years old. They are the ones Kamotho is addressing. One of them has blonde hair that appears to have been cut on the sides but left to excel at the crown. She is in a pink skater sundress and plenty of jewelry on one arm. The other one has a hip-hop cap on and some nice basketball sneakers. They do not look worried. In fact, I wish I could ever be so relaxed like they look. If I was, I would wear a T-shirt written Hakuna Matata in bold but wishes are not horses.
“So let me get this straight, on Wednesday and Thursday you stay with one of your aunts, the other weekdays you stay with your other aunt and on weekends you stay with your grandfather, is that so?” Kamotho is at it again. He is addressing one of the young girls, who refuses to answer and we continue eating our food. In Nakuru, lunch portions are enormous. I do not think there is anywhere else I have visited in the country with a lot of food than Nakuru. The town gets supplies from all the farms around, Nyandarua, Njoro, Molo, Rongai and the rest of Nakuru and is able to provide these products at very low prices. I remember during my campus years in Nyeri, I always preferred shopping for food in Nakuru and travel with it all the way to Nyeri.
“Can I give you a piece of advice?” Kamotho asks one of the ladies, who seems surprised by the abrupt humility of the question. I am surprised too. I never knew you should request to give advice to anyone, in any case, you just give it as an opinion and the receptor can choose to take it or leave it, but not Kamotho. “You cannot do well with a large number of guardians. You need to stick with one who will monitor your progress, predict your behavior and offer recommendation and mentorship where needed.” He says. He goes ahead to give an analogy about a person in the Bible who wore clothes with many patches that it was impossible to tell the original color of their linen.
Kamotho runs a non-profit called Nakuru Children Trust. They rescue street and orphaned children in Nakuru and put them through a complete education system. After lunch, we walk into the office and immediately discover huge drawers with big files arranged in order of the Kenyan Education System. They are marked Primary, High School, Post – Secondary and Completed, meaning that they take these children from the ages of five, all through the education process until they graduate from universities and colleges and are ready for the job market globally.
When I walk in, the accountant is looking at one of their students’ report form and she is smiling. One of their students who just got there has done really well at school and is standing there basking in his own hard work.
“Congratulations, you still need to improve on that one grade C you got,” she says, unable to hide how pleased she really is. I ask to see the report form knowing fully well that this is private information but this is a celebration, you do not restrict strangers from a celebration. The student hands me his report form. He is a student from School of Business and Economics. The report form has a lot of grades As and Bs and only one C. He did really well and a few more report forms, he will be graduating with honors. Such an achievement sounds ordinary but not to a child from the cold and hard streets.
I leave the main office for a short private interview with Kamotho a little later, where we sit on the balcony of their office facing Nyayo Garden. Nakuru is an amazing town, it is silent and calm and no one seems to be in a rush to do anything. The wind blows and it starts raining almost immediately. Even the wind blows peacefully like a loving motherly whisper of nature.
Kamotho was born and brought up in Nakuru just like me, only that he decided to commit to the town when everyone else, I included, decided to abandon it and head for the city. He did his primary school and high school in Nakuru and passed but his parents could not take him college because of finances. He did a couple of odd jobs, worked in construction and small-scale farming for a period of about five years, from 1998 to 2003.
From church, one fine 2002 afternoons, some missionaries from the United States of America had come to Nakuru and were in dire need of volunteers to do some work like interpretation for them; Swahili – English. That was where he started as a volunteer to create a means of communication between the missionaries and the less fortunate children in Nakuru. The association brought about an organization called Rohi Children Organisation where he continued volunteering for two years.
“We used to run a small football club behind Afraha Stadium, three times every week, supervise young street children in ball games then we would engage a little bit more on talks about drug use, education and mentorship,” he says. At the end of 2003, the organization launched a rehabilitation center and it was when Kamotho got his first employment letter as a counselor.
“Was it a commitment to street children or circumstances that led you to a job of this nature?” I ask, trying to understand this foreign activity he calls, volunteering. He replies, not with an answer but a story.
“One time on my usual activities, I encountered an infant, about one-year-old, crying from the bottom of a pit latrine” he pauses momentarily to give me time to absorb his opening statement, “so we demolished the wooden latrine, retrieved the baby and took her to the hospital using contributions from the neighbors. Nakuru PGH required a police letter first to attend to the baby and that was what we did. We stayed with the baby until the police allowed us to hand the baby to responsible authorities at the hospital. I took this as a calling, God was directing me to care and attend to those who had been neglected” he concludes.
People who reply to questions with stories and in the end you have to deduce the answer for yourself make our work as writers an adventure. I assume there is not much difference between the adrenaline that part of the job causes and the one that happens during skydiving or bungee jumping. You guys can relate? No?
From 1998 when Kamotho completed his high school education, it was not until 2004 when he became capable to take himself back to school, to college to study counseling. He did a combination of both, studying and working at the Rehab station all the way to 2008. The funds that these children needed were supplied by a church in the United States called Cornerstone. Rohi Children Organisation evolved to Nakuru Children Trust and Kamotho moved from being a normal counselor to the overall administrator of the organization.
We are silent for a while and the only sound audible is fat raindrops hitting the tarmac beneath us. An occasional car will zoom along the street below but not enough to distract us from the story being served on the table. In an interview like this, there are a lot of questions and answers thrown around, most of them to help develop a story but there are always one or two questions I often ask because I really want to know. Not for the story, not for anything else, but just because the nature and curiosity of the question is capable of suffocating me if I do not ask it.
“How difficult is it to transform a child from a lawless anarchy behavior of the street into an academic, a wife, a husband or an employee?” I ask amicably half hoping it will be another short story.
It is not easy to make this transformation. It is why Kamotho and his team’s job is more of a calling than it is an employment. I gather this when he tells me a story of Sam. Sam was one of the kids he has been able to see through the education system. He met Sam in 2002 at the rehab center where Sam went through a six months rehabilitation phase before he joined a primary school. He achieved a grade B- in high school, went to college and graduated with honors in a project management course at the University of Nairobi and now he meets Sam in his big car answering big important phones calls from big important people running his businesses. Kamotho was there through it when Sam came in as a rugged boy from the streets. He gives me several other inspiring and heart-breaking examples among which other kids were unable to complete their education.
In terms of growth, through the same years, Kamotho was able to study, get married and start his own family. He not only mentors the street children at work but also his three kids at home. His first born is ten years old, the second one is six years and the last born at three years old when he tells me about them, he has all the pride a father can have for his children and it is admirable.
I tell Kamotho I have a bunch of people I consider friends who come to my website on Mondays (or Tuesdays when my editor catches flu or flies to the moon). Most of them are lost or in the process of getting lost. I tell him how we have given up on relationships and careers and quit jobs after a short while. I tell him to pass a little wisdom to us as if he is speaking to himself back in 2002 and he says, “young people these days are going to school for academic papers and that is wrong, what you are supposed to learn in school beyond knowledge is character,” he continues, “when I employ people, I strive to know their character. Employers want people they can trust. In this organization, the people who fund the children need to trust you with their money, the children need to trust you with their problems because they are from the streets where they had no one to trust. In business, on the other hand, clients and customers also want to seek services and products from someone that they can trust,” he articulates and goes on to tell me in the organization he heads he is the least educated person but the highest in rank, not because he is a better human being but because he understands the value of character.
“Beyond building your character, also build a brand. Your name needs to stand for something that you do. If you take time to build a brand for your name, you will not have to look for money. Money will come looking for you instead” he advises. I marinate a little on this and discover the wisdom in it. Suppose you were looking for someone to invent the phone in the twentieth century who would you go for? Steve Jobs. Then suppose you need a pop hit song in the same century, the name that comes to your mind is Michael Jackson. Lastly, what if you need someone to protect a communal water reserve in the year 2000? Before I say it, you are already thinking about Wangari Maathai. All these people have one thing in common, their names represent something more than their mere identity. They represent inventions, music and the environment. In Nakuru, Kamotho represents care and responsibility for abandoned children living in the streets. What does your name represent?
We sum the interview and walk in back to the main office just about when there is a knock on the door. The newcomer gets in and there is a cheer from everyone suggesting prior familiarity. I discover a little later that he is one of the former students under the organization. He is talking about a wedding, his wedding, and he wants Kamotho and his team to be in a committee to spearhead his wedding plans. I begin to grasp a little of what this office is all about, it is more than a workplace or a community, it is a family to kids who never had parents.
Much later as darkness descends, a laptop is brought in from repair and I discover that the person who made the repair is also a former student from this organization. “He studied Computer Science and before he gets employed we support him by giving him contracts to repair machines from this office and other students as well,” Kamotho tells me later. It is a huge family that supports each other on all walks of life, all from nothing.
It is almost 7 o’clock and I am certain that the office is supposed to be closed by now but just as we are preparing to leave, there is another knock. Another former student with a social issue in need of counseling. She sits there comfortably and honestly expresses herself like you would to a brother, something I would not even openly tell anyone unless at gunpoint (nope, not even at gunpoint). They trust Kamotho with their problems and I watch and listen to this private conversation (arrest me) as he lays his wisdom to her and it is nothing short of amazing. We have real biological families that we rarely tell our problems, we lock ourselves in our houses depressed enough to even forget how to smile and here are a couple of strangers, without actual biological parents, working together towards a relationship that they can be themselves and express themselves freely for an entire lifetime.
Seriously, who is your family?