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Reformed robber turns saviour for the drug ravaged

The day Fazul Gitau stole a pistol from a policeman in a congested matatu became his defining moment. There was no looking back as he had graduated from a pickpocket to a robber with his returns also soaring.

At first he thought of giving up the gun, but he was afraid of getting into trouble. He thought of selling it, but his friends and accomplices in crime urged him not to — it would help them step up the crime ladder. From then on, their lives were on the fast lane, but also fraught with danger.

They would mostly target to rob those who had just withdrawn money from ATMs, said Gitau. But the man, then  in his early 20s, had no idea he would be cooling his heels at Kamiti Maximum Prison in just under a year.

This was back in 2002 and  Gitau, who had dropped out of high school the previous year,  also got addicted to heroin use. He had to ‘work hard’ to feed his habit. Gitau said he was implicated in a murder, late in 2003, for which he was remanded at Kamiti Prison for four and a half years before he was released in mid-2007.

Four years later, in 2011, Gitau, who had a wife and two children then came to his turning point. He decided to live on the straight and narrow, joining Dagoretti Youth Welfare Group in Kawangware.

The group has been reaching out to drug addicts, street children, commercial sex workers and ex-convicts since 2004, and helping them to reform. “I had to stop. I was 30 and had two children and a wife. A lot of my friends had  been killed or were in jail and I wanted to be there for my children,” he said.

Gitau is now the group’s Finance Officer and an outreach worker who goes out to talk criminals and drug addicts out of their destructive habits.

The most notorious place  he has had to visit occasionally is a cluster of flats referred to as Kiamboni in Dagoretti. He goes there with other group officials.

Group chairman Hadisi Ramadhani said: “The only reason why we can make it in such a dangerous place is because we were criminals once; we are their friends.”

Ramadhani said they rehabilitated 23 drug addicts, 13 ex-convicts, nine commercial sex workers and 16 street children, four of whom are currently back in school.

“The children are rather difficult because they have to be counselled and guided before being taken to school. But the most difficult are the drug addicts; there’s always a chance of them relapsing,” said the recovering addict.

He said the challenge was to keep the group occupied in gainful activities. They have set up a car wash, charcoal and paraffin stalls and a plastics crushing plant for the purpose. “The ex-convicts mostly have carpentry skills and we are hoping to find funding to set up a workshop for them,” he added.