The picture below is of 10-year old Brian Ochieng’; a young boy with no home, no food, no one to turn to. Nothing left to do with himself but try and survive the harsh life of the streets of Nairobi every single day.
‘I was 6 when I ran away from home. I had been living with my mother and a step-father who made it clear that I was not his son and not welcome in his house. Life at home was unbearable, so I left.
A six year old child, roaming the streets of Nairobi, looking for a place to call home, someone to hold his hand. Nothing. No one. The world outside did not welcome him.
‘I would walk into hotels and restaurants and beg for leftover food just so I can get by. I was not the only one, though. One thing being homeless teaches you is the value of nurturing friendships. We were like family. You find something to eat, you share. Tomorrow you might not be lucky, and another will share with you.
‘One thing being homeless teaches you is the value of nurturing friendships. We were like family.’
The friends did not just come with food, Brian says, they also came with substances to make life in the cold, dark alleys more bearable.
‘I started using drugs. First you do it because a friend is doing it, and because you are no better than him, why not? Then it becomes an addiction. You need it to stay sane.’
At the back of his mind, in the deepest part of his heart, Brian longed for a chance to go to school. To get out of the streets and make meaningful life for himself.
‘I did not want to be there, to live that life. But where would I go? And what even guarantees that I will be accepted and loved where I go? My own home where my mother lived had become unbearable, what better thing awaited me away from the streets? I had more questions than answers.’
For seven years, Brian held onto the dream.
In this period of questioning, through a friend Brian got to know about an organization called Made In The Street, who adopted and supported kids from the streets.’
‘I did not want to pass over an opportunity to expose myself to school. But then Made In The Street only adopted children 13 years of age and above, and I was like 10. So I attended their programs, because this was okay, till I was of age.’
Once they took him in, Brian was happy, but also skeptical.
‘A lot had to change about me. The life I had known for years had to go.’
First, Brian could no longer access and use the drugs he depended on. This, he was not pleased about. Secondly, he was thrust in a world of rules, a place of responsibility and of of thinking about ‘dreams’ and working towards achieving ‘goals’.
‘It is not an easy transition. I was confused for a while, but I think because deep inside I had always longed for a way out, I was determined to stay and see what happens.’
Brian was enrolled to Made It In The Street education classes, where he received basic primary education.
After primary school, Brian got a job at the school as a cook, where he nurtured his passion for preparing sumptuous meals.
‘I had always wanted to be a chef. Of course we did not cook in the streets, we ate from bins but I found it interesting how food brings people together and builds friendships. He who has food is king, haha’.
At the school, he practiced his trade for 3 years, before enrolling for cooking classes at Nairobi Aviation College to polish his knowledge and skills. There, he spent one year.
‘After my education at Nairobi Aviation, I started sending out CVs to different places, but nothing was looking up.’
This was until a friend and sponsor of Made In The Street heard his story, and offered him a job at Ocean Basket Kenya.
‘I was finally living the dream. From the streets to being a chef at such a prestigious hotel. I was happy.’
He now had a job, a decent house, and even more importantly, he now had the freedom and right to choose.
‘I could now say, I want this, I don’t want that. Which had never been the case. When you have nothing, you don’t get to choose, you take what is available and on offer. A beggar does not choose. So knowing I am at a point where I have options was exhilarating.
‘When you have nothing, you don’t get to choose, you take what is available and on offer.’
Brian was happy, but, there soon developed a little problem. A big problem actually.
‘Something was missing. I felt there was one thing I needed to do to be truly happy. And that was doing unto others the good that had been done unto me. I had to go back to the streets and help my friends out.’
Every day after work, Brian would walk through the streets of Nairobi, talking to his former ‘comrades’ and helping them out where he could.
‘I decided to make this a movement. So that many more may benefit, rather than the number I could manage on my own. In 2013 I started Love For A Street Child, and opened a Facebook page which I used to communicate and call out to well wishers.’
The more he did for the street families, the more he felt a growing need to fully dedicate himself to helping out these families.
‘My heart was with my people. I was never going to walk away from them. So one morning, I went to my boss and told him I wanted to quit. He couldn’t believe me. He could not believe I was going to let go of my dreams, exchange a comfortable life for one of wading in unsure waters in the name of volunteerism and philanthropy.’
His mind was made up. Brian explains that more than anything else, he believed in the young boys and girls surviving on their own in the streets.
‘I wasn’t rich or anything. And giving is not about you being rich, but realizing that there are people who have nothing at all.’
‘Giving is not about you being rich, but realizing that there are people who have nothing at all.’
On October 15th 2016, Brian officially quit his job and embarked on his new mission to support street families.
‘I started out by partnering with friends who were also on the same mission.’
Brian also acknowledges the challenges that come with running a charity organization.
‘The biggest issue is funding. I still depend on partnerships with friends. I cannot do this alone, it will be better and have more impact if we do this together. I call upon any organizations and well wishers who would like to be part of this. We will really appreciate the support.’
Clearly, for Brian, the journey has just begun.
‘I believe in this mission. I believe in these kids. Someone believed in me, look at me now. My life is different because someone set out to make that difference. I believe in this journey.’
‘My life is different because someone set out to make that difference. I believe in this journey.’