Thinking Big: Richard’s Story March 31, 2014 by Nick Johnson
It’s hard to believe that Richard, a CFK alumnus, could be any busier. In addition to holding a job as a consultant and event planner, Richard is in his last year as a full-time university student studying economics and development, he is the co-founder and co-leader of the Langata Youth Network, and he mentors new volunteers in CFK’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Program (SRH). He does all this while living in Kibera, a place marked by desperate poverty yet bursting with potential. How did he find the motivation?
His answer: from mentors at CFK, like CFK Executive Director, Hillary Omala; SRH Program Officer, Cathrine Wagude; and SRH Program Officer, Ben Haggai (who is currently on sabbatical in Boston working for Global Health Corps). Recalling Ben’s advice, Richard said, “He used to tell us, ‘I don’t reward failure.’ He was tough, so we had to learn and we’re better because of it.”
Richard is certainly tough as well—and driven because of it. Born and raised in Kenya’s Nyanza Province in western Kenya, Richard was the youngest of eight children. Throughout his childhood, he struggled to get through school because his family was unable to afford his school fees. Even though he was accepted into one of the top high schools in Kenya, he instead went to a lower-quality public school that was much more affordable.
“There weren’t a lot of teachers,” he said, recalling his high school experience. “One teacher would teach 3 or 4 subjects, but if they took time off for extra studies or to go on maternity leave, we would have to wait—sometimes months—until they returned to continue with our lessons.”
After successfully finishing high school, university was financially out of reach for Richard so he began looking for work. Eventually this search took him to Nairobi, a move that many young Kenyans living in rural areas make, often for similar reasons. With extended family in different parts of Nairobi, Richard tried out each area and eventually decided to live in Kibera with his uncle due to its proximity to downtown Nairobi, where most job opportunities are located.
In 2009, Richard saw an ad that said Carolina for Kibera was looking for volunteers to support their Sexual and Reproductive Health program. He applied and was accepted as a Youth Peer Provider (YPP). As a YPP, Richard was taught about sexual and reproductive health, how to facilitate meetings, how to mobilize the community to engage and talk about health, and how to network in order to get things done. After finishing his two-year engagement, Richard moved into a different role as a YPP volunteer mentor, a position he still holds today. His involvement with CFK also led him to apply for and earn a partial scholarship to help him offset the costs of university.
Richard credits Kibera with giving him access to a vast network that could help his own professional development. “People should really know and appreciate the networking potential in Kibera for youth.” Using skills he learned from his time at CFK, Richard was able to leverage that network, and he began thinking about how to create opportunities for himself.
The culmination of his efforts became the Langata Youth Network (LYN), which he co-founded in 2012 with three of his peers. LYN works to educate communities on a variety of issues, such as hygiene and sanitation, education, health, and various sensitive political issues that can evoke intolerance and violence. Richard serves as the secretary-general of the organization. Working across Nairobi with other small partner organizations and with USAID’s Yes Youth Can program, LYN provides community mobilization expertise for the development of programs and services regarding those issues. Though it has started small, Richard has lofty ambitions for the future of LYN—and he credits CFK for encouraging him to think big.
“I appreciate CFK for giving me the opportunity to serve the community of Kibera in different capacities. You can’t actually be president of anything if you can’t start from small things. It’s through volunteering that I got opportunities. I didn’t know I could go to university, have so many contacts, travel to Uganda. We need to not sit back but be impassioned and take initiatives to the next level and not always look for white-collar jobs, but rather to start small. I want Langata Youth Network to grow and create a huge impact on people’s lives. I want to provide scholarships for school, because I know how hard it is. I want to link youth with organizations who can help with employment opportunities like CFK. CFK taught me the skills I needed to be successful and helped me grow my network. I want others to have that chance. It’s through our own determination that we can change our lives.”