Dear friends, let me tell you a little story, I would like to tell a little story about my journey and acts of kindness, I was only 8 when I lost my mother, this is when I came to face the cruel world, I realized how she was everything to me together with my siblings, I was the fourth born, my kid bro, now the late was so little then. Growing up, I wanted to be a war photographer; I thought there was glamour in dying to tell war stories.
Back in the days it seemed like every television story was about war, the slums were less congested but with no electricity and no flush toilets, we shared long drop; I think our block had two of them, yes! Always under lock and key and because toilet business was and still is a matter of life and death in the developing part of the planet.
Although I had no questions about becoming a photojournalist, I just thought it was cool, I just wanted to tell stories the way those guys on television were doing it, most of them were Muzungus/Mundele in lingala (White people). Those were the days we could only watch television in social halls, the black and white television belonged to the municipality, you know what I am talking about. I will share with you one day when I first watched a color screen NOT the tinted made in China “Gratewall” for my Kenyan old school friends who shared a similar path.
If I had doubts about my chosen career today I would selling clothes for a living or sipping spiritual wine like any other Catholic priest does, I wanted to be a priest, that was my late grandmother’s wish, I am not sure for how long but I loved serving, the alter boy’s life was special. I was a hustler and a good listener though, I also hanged around smart and motivating older friends, I still do keep most of them, they are my motivation, and I motivated myself that I can make it in life.
Dear friends, telling a personal story is never easy, it is not a personality contest or a celebrity status, my strength is drawn from being able to pick up myself and help other countless selfless/hopeless souls to confront their own challenges. It is from this journey that I resigned from my daily full time job as a photojournalist in one of the leading local daily newspapers, to turn the camera on other countless orphan kids who had lost their parents. In this case I chose to document a story of children whose parents had died of HIV/Aids and were living with their grandparents.
A story that led me to ask grandmothers in Mudoba village in Funyula, Western Kenya and grandmothers in Kibera slums in Nairobi both raising orphan kids from similar pandemic.
What motivates me today, is that these kids and their grandmothers opened their homes and allowed me to bring a camera into their humble dwellings to share a story of hope, loss, death, love and resilience with the world. I felt honored to have their confidence and trust in me, I knew this was the path I was trying to follow away from being a celebrity photojournalist at home. Folks, I got rid off this peer and group thinking and started documenting these families, it was challenging following these families without a budget, but I knew that their story was a turning point, I became part of the story.
I challenged myself to tell my childhood story through these kids; I was rescued and raised by my grandmother, a story so close to my heart RIP grandma! We create our destiny by the way we do things, I never let my childhood struggles hold me back, I wanted to live life but I also wanted to tell a human story, a story of hope, a story of African child from a personal experience.
From this humble beginning, I launched Voiceless Children in 2005 with the help of a selfless American grandmother Susie Banfield, we had met in Kenya, she saw my work and promised to help, the same year I was sent to the US on a Youth Leadership Program (IVLP) a class of very smart and visionary global citizens some were cabinet ministers, some were presidents of law society in various countries, some were teachers, we all wanted to learn from Americans and how we could make our part of the world a better place.
From these times, my journey developed into “A Grandmother’s Tribe” a story set between the above mentioned grandmothers by my special friends who became part of my family Qiujing Wong and Dean Easterbrook a story of HOPE. My family got bigger, I now have families in USA, Canada and New Zealand the home to the film director and producer of this award winning film, a story that triggered me to share my journey, I am not sure any of my friends from school and work ever knew my childhood story.
I have always told myself that I may have been born poor but am not so poor to touch a hopeless child, today I am a proud father, a husband with families and friends all over the world some by blood some through my work, but I cannot be any happier knowing that the second and youngest kid Emmanuel the star in the film through whom I see my childhood challenges, joined high school this week as a result of A Grandmothers Tribe film and dreaming big and maybe one day. I trust and hope Emmanuel and those before him not mentioned on this post will pay it forward!
I could go on and on, but I learned lessons that when you are determined and passionate about a cause nothing is impossible, through this film, over 70 orphans have graduated, with 10 graduates some in university, some teaching and some like Emmanuel still dreaming to make it big! Some grandmothers got homes, they have over 45 cows. I wish I could do more! I am grateful for my family, friends and the larger clan, mostly our children who agreed to share me with these families including sharing the little we had from food, the amazing grandmother Susie who has walked with me through ups and downs, and to the amazing NZ family that even taught me more on film production and to my lovely wife Ellen who means a world to me.
To all my friends not mentioned on this post, you are like stars, you are always there when I need you.
I want to leave you with this phrase “It is not the success that defines me but my journey and how many times I fall and rise when my wings are troubled and cannot not fly”. “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it” William Arthur Ward.