Kenya: Collins Ochieng, "I know the importance of going back to school"

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NAIROBI, Orphaned at the age of seven, Collins Ochieng ended up in the care of an uncle, who lived in Kibera, Kenya's largest slum in the capital, Nairobi. He ran away after two months and became a street boy, living rough in the city's central business district. He was soon arrested and charged with delinquency. A court ruled that he be taken to a children's home as he was a minor. Ochieng, now 14, lives in another slum area of the city, Mathare, home to at least 500,000 people. He and three friends share a 7 sqm room without sanitation, electricity or running water. He spoke to IRIN on 13 January:

"My parents died when I was seven years old and I was sent to my uncle's house in Kibera. He used to beat me, so I ran away. The police found me in the street and a judge ruled that I was to be taken to a children's home in Thika [about 40km northeast of Nairobi].

"My life at the centre was good; I slept in a dormitory alongside 60 other boys. We had food every day and most importantly, managed to go to school until Class Eight. However, when I turned 14, I had to leave the centre as it is meant for children.

"Laban, who teaches at the centre, told me about the Mwelu Foundation in Mathare, which assists slum youth. Laban also introduced us to Julius Mwelu, who founded the organization. I moved here, along with three other boys who had been at the centre with me, a month ago.

"I am sharing a room with my friends now. We do not have power or running water, but we are happy here. And if I compare myself to some neighbours and other youths in the area, I feel blessed because I can study, I am learning something.

"Living alone in Mathare is not easy but I am glad I have the friends I met at Thika Children's Centre.

"When I left the centre I tried again to trace my parents' relatives but couldn't find anyone; I went to Kibera where one person said he knew me but I couldn't remember him. I came back to Mathare. Since my three friends also do not have parents and relatives, we have become like a family.

"Living in a place like Mathare, it is easy to take the wrong path. A lot of people do. If you don't go to school, have no food or a place to stay, things can get quite hard. I am lucky I am not on the streets anymore.

"At Mwelu Foundation, I have learnt how to use a computer. I'm learning photography and how to use computer programmes to edit photos.

"I now understood how important it is for me to go back to school and have a better education. My biggest dream is to finish school."