By Regina Mburu, Unbound communications liaison for Africa
With a smile on his face, George kneads and rolls the dough on a wooden table at his roadside food kiosk in Kenya. The cars tooting their horns, the speeding motorbikes and the pedestrians are not a distraction to him; in fact, the commuters and passersby are his clients. Every few minutes, someone walks up to him and buys a chapatti or mandazi, which are both snacks made of wheat flour.
The 23-year-old, toiling away at his makeshift stand, said, “This is not what I dreamt of doing, but my mistakes growing up led me here. I do not regret, though, because I am proud of what I have become.”
George, the oldest of three children, was born and raised in Nakuru, a city northwest of Nairobi, in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley.
“I come from a very humble background,” George said. “My mother used to sell chapattis by the roadside, and my father, who died recently, was a casual laborer in a soap-making company.”
Young people in slum communities face many challenges. Peer pressure to engage in vices has become a norm. While trying to escape the harsh reality that is their life, many find comfort in the company of people who steer them on the wrong path.
George says he took a wrong turn in life. He decided to quit school, even though he was sponsored through Unbound and never lacked anything to facilitate his studies.
“At the age of 16 my life started going downhill,” George said. “At that time I did not realize it. My mother’s constant pleas to get me back to school fell on deaf ears.”
According to Amos Kihoro, the youth programs coordinator for Unbound’s Nairobi office, the issue of students dropping out of school isn’t unusual.
“In Kenya, a high percentage of youth in slum areas drop out of school in search for a quick fix to their problems,” Amos said. “Most turn to drugs, alcohol and robbery to make ends meet. To them, this is an instant solution to their situation.”
Life out of school was not as rosy as George had imagined it to be. He started feeling restless about his decision to drop out. To make some money, he started working at a local hotel washing dishes.
“My mother never gave up on me,” George said. “She kept insisting that I should go back to school. She told me to go to the Unbound office, apologize to the staff for my truancy and request to be reinstated to school.”
As with similar cases, the staff wanted to help George find a path forward that would allow him to continue his education and stay in the Unbound program.
George felt that he had also let his sponsor, Dianne in New York, down, and that weighed heavily in his heart.
His eventual decision to go back to school was met with enthusiasm from the staff, which made him feel more confident.
George took up a course in food and beverage production. It took him two years and three months to complete it. While he was still in school studying, he started cooking chapattis and other snacks at his food kiosk every day after school.
“I wanted to make my sponsor and my mother proud of me. I owed them that,” he said.
To the young boys and girls in the Unbound sponsorship program, George has this piece of advice:
“Sponsorship is precious, it is like an egg, and it can break. They should hold it with care and treasure the opportunity. The sponsor supports one to get an education and make life better. I would urge them not to take it for granted. I wish I could start afresh, but I cannot. Because of my mistakes, I tasted a bitter life.”
Now a husband and father, George has some thoughts for how he will raise his young son.
“I know the age at which I lost my compass in life, so I will be keen on him when he gets there. I truly hope he will do better than I did.”
Besides selling snacks by the roadside, George works part time as a chef in a local hotel, and he hopes that soon he will be employed full time.
Every young boy and girl has a dream etched in their heart. For George, the original dream was to become an engineer.
“I do not want to regret,” George said. “Mistakes made in the past no longer dictate my life. I have my certificate in beverage and food production, and I am aiming higher. In the future, I will have my own bakery.”
Life hands all of us the gift of second chances. You can work with what you have in your hands and make the best of it. George is proof that yesterday’s mistakes are steppingstones for the future.
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