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I yearn for a healthy and clean society

Sammy Gitau uses his education to transform the lives of people living in Mathare slum.

His greatest satisfaction is seeing people using their talents to improve their lives.

However, the 42-year-old has had a share of life’s cruelty. The second born in a family of 11 siblings said his mother sold illicit brew to sustain the family.

Consequently, Mr Gitau had a difficult time in his studies but he never relented on his ambition to give back to society.

Slum life nurtured him into drug abuse and petty crime which landed him in the hands of mob justice and eventually into a rehabilitation centre.

“I would steal clothes from hanging lines and sell them,” recalled Mr Gitau.

Change lifestyle

After rethinking his life, he decided to turn over a new leaf and give back to society. 

“I made the decision while in the rehab and from that point, I gave a new meaning to my life,” he added.

From stealing and abusing drugs, Mr Gitau started cleaning toilets in his hood. At first, residents thought he was deranged but after realising that he was consistent in his work, they started appreciating his efforts and slowly started lending him a hand. 

The cleanup which he started in 1994 saw youths in the slum consider him an epitome of success and two months later, they took up the responsibility of keeping their toilets clean.

“It got to a point where they stopped me from going to their area and took up cleaning their toilets by themselves,” said Mr Gitau.

Having an impact not only on the youths but on the larger community, Mr Gitau has transformed the slum into a clean environment. 

“Through a toilet, the community realised that it was the only thing that people could relate to,” he added.

Education

Though he did not complete his studies in Kenya, he got sponsorship to Manchester University in the UK for his undergraduate and masters degrees in development before coming back to the country in 1997 to start the Mathare Community Resource Centre.

The centre which is set on four old shipping containers that were donated to him by well-wishers, serves the purpose of creating a safe space for development of ideas and skills for Mathare residents.

Rescuing and protecting vulnerable children from the slum is his major project. 

So far, the centre has rescued 75 children from the streets since January. 

Besides the child rescue and protection, Gitau strives to help his community in development matters. 

He has put up studios and an art room at the centre for youths and children while creating space where women to meet to discuss issues on how to improve their lives and that of their families.

“Although the centre’s main target was rescuing children, I wanted people to stop being dependent on donations and assistance from the government and instead exploit their talents to foster development,” said Mr Gitau.

Currently, the centre is run by volunteers and financed by donors and well-wishers. 

Aside from serving the community, Mr Gitau works as a social worker with AVIS International. 

He channels his salary towards the projects carried out by the centre. “My desire is to have resource centres all over the country,” he said.