Tom Thiong’o

Tom is the head of Jamii Bora’a Levuka Center, a residential treatment program for alcoholics and addicts. Levuka means to become sober. That is what Tom has been for 18 years and what he is teaching people who come to Levuka to become.

“Tom Thiong’o”
Photographed by Malcolm King-Fontana

Tom was a teacher until his drinking cost him his job. After it cost him his family too he was ready and able to get sober. He got training to become an addictions counselor and met Ingrid when he was working in a treatment facility. Ingrid had brought several Jamii Bora members in for treatment and they got to talking. He was so impressed with what she told him he asked Ingrid if he could start a treatment program for Jamii Bora. The need for a support program for the main activities of Jamii Bora in the form of a program to address alcoholism and drug abuse was very clear; there was no question about moving forward with a Levuka program.

Like many people who are deadly serious about something very serious, Tom has a great sense of humor.  He brings that, along with his life experiences and years of training, to the critical work of addiction recovery.

 John Oyoo

John is a member of Jamii Bora but there was a time when he was a serious threat. Formerly known as “The General,” John was a notorious and feared gangster in the slums, running gangs of youths that numbered in the hundreds. During the post-election violence, John’s reign of terror was at an all-time high. He was one of people who threatened the lives of Jamii Bora members and staff when Jamii Bora became a temporary disaster relief agency overnight. He was also one of the people who decided to put down his weapons and instead become employed rebuilding the market that he had helped to destroy. His full recovery (he had been addicted to drugs, as many in his former way of life are) and integration into a whole new way of thinking and living, of course unfolded over a period of time. When he speaks about this time in his life he is both reverent about his life today and insightful about his past.

He told us about reuniting with his mother, who he had been estranged from for thirteen years. During that time all she would hear were reports about his terrible deeds and she expected daily to hear news of his violent death. After John had become deeply involved with Jamii Bora and reconciled with his wife and child, he knew it was time to go and see his mother.

When he arrived at her home, he told her everything; how he had fallen into a life of crime and how everything was changing. He begged her for her forgiveness. She wept for three days with relief and joy. When he speaks of her, he does so with the soft voice of someone who understands what grace really means.

In addition to being a business owner (he makes metal trunks), he employs a number of boys who would otherwise be on the streets, and he manages a very large football team of kids recruited from the slum gangs. “It’s so much more than a football team. It’s a movement.” They are called the Kibera Celtics in honor of the Celtic Football Club founded in Glasgow in the 1800’s with the purpose of alleviating poverty.

John went from gangster to loving son, husband, father and tireless mentor of at-risk (no, beyond risk) youth and advocate for peace. In preparation for the 2013 elections in Kenya, the former General is busy arming the most vulnerable with tools, resources, and support.

“Jacob Muli” (Hilary pictured above)
Photographed by Malcolm King-Fontana

Jacob Muli and Hilary Moseti

Jacob first met Ingrid when she was working for the African Housing Fund and he was working for the Ministry of Culture and Social Services. He is now the head of Jamii Bora’s Business School. He spoke to us with great passion about educating members about what it takes to grow a business.

Hilary Moseti, a key trainer for the Business School, formerly worked for an organization that taught business to people who were already business savvy and had a lot of money. Since coming to work for Jamii Bora, not a thing a person does for the pay; he told us with a good-natured laugh, he has had a whole education himself. The trainings they design are tailor-made to serve the trainees, not the trainers and their ideas.

“When you teach lay people, they will teach you things you never learned in university!”

Jacob and Hilary see the value of assessing what the educational needs are before designing the trainings. There are a number of basic issues that need to be worked with before the nuts and bolts of running a business are even approached. People who have been living on the street are not unintelligent or lacking in resourcefulness, just the opposite. But there is often a lack of a certain skill set that needs to be acquired before training in things like record keeping and making a business plan can be taught.

Jacob and Hilary are well-trained in teaching adults business and well versed in addressing the unique needs of the varied population they work with but they add the humor, the heart, and the creativity themselves.

“Hilary Moseti & John Oyoo”
Photographed by Malcolm King-Fontana