Memoirs Of A Slum Boy

Mark Kamau, 30, Nairobi, Kenya
twitter: @Mark_kamau

My name is Mark Kamau. I was born in the slums of Nairobi which are – to say the very least – quite difficult conditions to grow up in. As a young person it was difficult to understand why.

Why do some people go without food and others don’t? Why had we all to sleep in a cold space with a leaking roof while others had comfortable rooms and didn’t worry that it was raining? Who decides? What did I do wrong?

Many young people numb themselves with drugs and cheap liquor. They steal and will do anything to get by. They harbor no dreams. They themselves are the peddler’s dream. He moves around making sure they never dream. He makes it clear that this is where they are destined to live and die.
To be fair, it was not all gloom. I remember the togetherness and solidarity that living so closely together can bring. I remember sitting by the fireside and everyone contributing the little money they had to give a fallen son a decent burial. This often happened because a lot of young people got shot while committing crime.
But the solidarity, the togetherness in such times is something special. I remember sharing playthings we improvised and running around with my cousin Kamse. Those were special moment of bonding and friendship forged in the substance that is suffering, tears and joy. Bonds forged of life itself.

While many gave up, I decided to dream. My dreams kept me sane. They were the only thing standing between me and the horrible things I saw and experienced. Without them I would have had nothing. I would have lost. I dreamt of success – a proper roof over my head, a car, wealth … you name it.

I played football with all my heart as a way of escape. I even was called up by our under 21 national team. But they never paid us so that was that. I wanted to be a journalist. After finishing school, I gathered myself up and went to the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication to learn about the fees they charge. I simply couldn’t afford them and there was my last card.

By the time I heard about NairoBits I was completely desperate. They wanted to train youth from the slums in computer skills.
I didn’t even know what computers were. I had only seen them through the windows of glass-fronted offices where people wear fancy clothes. It was a dream I had never even considered. But my time at NairoBits changed my life completely. It was the lifeline I needed.

Today I am able to support myself and my family and – more importantly – I also have a chance to help other young people to get a grip on the same lifeline. When I look at my future now, I see only opportunities ahead.

And you know what? I am glad I dreamt …
And I am glad I still can dream …

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We_magazine Volume 04 Creative Commons

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