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This one is for the boy-child

James Ouma from Lifesong Kenya works with young men in prisons to show them how to cope with life after incarceration

Harriet James

Tells us a little bit about yourself?

My dad died when I was 13 years old, leaving my mum without any financial support. Our family suffered a lot.

I began looking for a father figure to guide and teach me how to be a better man. All the men in our village weren’t willing to step in. That is when the desire to empower and mentor boys and young men was birthed. I always thought I was going to do so by becoming a writer or journalist. Little did I know I was going to do this practically for boys in juvenile prison!

In 2008, I got a job as an untrained television producer at KBC TV. My work involved spending time in schools and around children. I began challenging children, especially boys, to adopt a positive attitude in life, discover the God-given treasure inside of them as well as have the courage to pursue a purposeful life. I also began talking about fatherhood to boys on Facebook.

What inspired you to start the organisation?

In July 2012, a friend of mine informed me about 100 boys at the Nairobi Remand Prison, Industrial Area. When I met the boys, I had excuses why I wasn’t going to mentor them. However, one of the senior prison officers insisted I should start without waiting to become a millionaire first. I started meeting the boys every Friday, which was my off day. I would meet the boys, find out whether they have been visited by their families as well as reconcile them with the people they had wronged through crime. A long the way, a friend of mine, Hosea Omondi joined me.  With time, we also began shaving the boys, calling and tracing their parents and doing other things for them. Six months later, I quit my job to form Lifesong Kenya. Lifesong Kenya aims to empower boys through mentoring, coaching, entrepreneurship, capacity building and educational initiatives.

You recently began to run marathons to raise funds for the prisoners? What inspired you to do this and what has been the impact?

Since I didn’t have a source of income, I seldom had enough food, didn’t have decent clothes and my house was frequently locked up due to rent arrears, but I soldiered on.

After getting married in 2015, I considered giving up and winding up Lifesong Kenya in 2016 in order to find a job and supplement my wife’s salary. By this time, my wife was taking care of our rent, food, electricity and even my barbershop expenses! Seeing her take care of all the expenses while I went to prison and wasn’t earning an income broke my heart.

Then I decided to start running to clear my head and think things through. While running in the morning, I thought about running half marathons and asking friends to support and contribute towards Lifesong Kenya and its activities. I ran my first marathon in 2016 and raised funding that enabled me to resume the prison programme in 2017.

What are some of the activities that you do and the regions that you are focusing on?

Our work involves empowering a total of 60 boys through education, character formation and capacity building initiatives. We are teaching the boys basic computer skills and how to use the same to get jobs or start their own income generating initiatives. Our work basically involves just being there for the boys and providing inspiration through positive masculinity.

What other programme are you running apart from the prison one?

We are also working with 200 boys at Kangemi Youth Primary School and Five Star Academy through the Standing With Boys programme. Standing With Boys is an American initiative founded by Patty Liston and her husband, Roger Liston. Through the programme, the boys learn respect, gratitude, accountability and community service.

We also have an outreach programme at our shop and centre located at Gikuyu Close, off Ngong Road. Children come at the centre to read during school holidays. The shop generates an income for you.

Give statistics on the reach and how many people have been impacted by your activities.

We have reached over 1,000 young people in rehab, informal schools, churches, juvenile prison and other institutions. There are a lot more accessing our programmes online and we hope to achieve much more with the right resources and funding.

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