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 neighbouring 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.
TAKING A WRONG TURN
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.
Luckily, he was offered a segment to cover at Radio Waumini after the reporter covering the segment went on maternity leave.
“No one wanted to touch the segment as it involved covering the slum areas. That was my forte,” he explains.
ATTACHEMENT AT KBC
He later moved to Kenya Broadcasting Cooperation still on attachment.
After graduating in 2007, his sponsor (the World Vision), gave him a handy cam and a laptop to start him off.
The material couldn’t have come at a better time. He used his camera to shoot first-hand events of the post-election violence in the slums. He sold his footage to local TV stations. Subsequently, Nation Media’s NTV, took him in as a correspondent. He went on to work at QTV and is now a communication officer at World Vision Kenya.
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 mobilises resources in the form of clothing, beddings 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 mobilisation and distribution, it’s about others also succeeding in life,” he continues.
He hopes to open a resource centre where life skills, career insights and vocational training will be given.
“Let it not be mistaken with a rescue centre or children’s home,” he clarifies.
Samuel says he is also reaching out to struggling single mothers through income generating programs that will make his efforts with the youth sustainable.
BIGGEST CHALLENGE WAS FOOD
“The biggest challenge I encountered while living with my aunt in Korogocho was food. While community based organisations would offer us something to eat while at the dumpsite, when we went back to our homes there was no food. I want to bridge that gap,” he explains
He has so far visited eight slum areas in Nairobi including: Korogocho, Mathare, Dandora, Kariowa, Kibera, Soweto, Baba Ndogo and some areas in the CBD.
Distribution of the resources collected is mostly done with the help of the area chief as well as community leaders.
He hopes to grow the initiative outside the city, into other towns and eventually regionally to other African countries.
“My donors are you and the next person who offer their clothes for those who cannot afford them. I believe in God and I know God gives and plans for everything.”
Samuel is happily married to Trizah Auma with whom they have a seven-year-old girl and three-year- old boy.
“I met Trizah when I worked as a tout in matatus plying the Kariobangi route. I used to see her in the matatu but didn’t have the courage to approach her. Every time I collected bus fare from her, I tried to encourage conversation which she would always shoot down. With time, she got used to me and we started talking. Several months after, I asked if she would become my girlfriend and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Do you have feedback on this story? Please e-mail:
Natasha started eating hard foods at five. It was the same age that she stopped using diapers.
They moved to court and temporarily stopped their arrests.
Michael Wainaina wants the verdict annulled.