Betty Muindi @PeopleDailyKe
Coming from a poor background, Austin Ochola, 27, opted not to go to college to give his siblings a chance to pursue education. As soon as he completed Form Four in 2011, he moved to Nairobi in search of a better life. Ochola, from Ukwala Siaya county, landed in Baba Dogo area, where he lived with his uncle while looking for a job.
While there, he volunteered with youth groups and did manual jobs here and there until he secured a job as a cook at a food kiosk adjacent to a parking lot on Loita Street.
Street children who worked as parking boys were among his clients and their frequent interactions blossomed into a money-making friendship.
“They would rely on me to clarify or interpret what clients were saying, owing to my fair understanding of English,” says Austin.
So, when he quit his job at the food kiosk, his transition to a parking boy job was seamless. “Joining the crew would have been difficult for an outsider, but I had developed good rapport with them, it was easy for me,” explains Austin.
His mornings begin at 8am and end at 10pm and sometimes up to midnight. Manning a parking space of about 10 cars right opposite Savanna Coffee Lounge on Loita Street, Austin and five others approach motorists looking for parking space, which are always difficult to spot, and offer to save them the hustle.
“People always prefer our services because they are assured of security of their vehicles and our prices are negotiable. And if you want your car washed, you will not need to pay for parking.
For a small fee, you can run your errands and come back for your clean car,” explains Austin, adding that their clients are willing to part with more than Sh300 because of the extra services they offer.
Working as a parking boy on the affluent CBD street, Austin says he brushes shoulders with the who is who in society.
It is at this parking lot that Austin and his friends met former Embakasi East member of parliament aspirant Francis Mureithi, who gave him a ticket that would change their life for better.
“He was our a frequent client during last year’s General Election campaigns. We washed his car and watched over it while he held meetings and ran errands. Then one day, to appreciate what we had been doing for him, he asked if we could do with some driving skills.
He then paid Sh54,000 for driving classes for all of us,” says Austin. He says, with a driving licence and having gained trust from most of his clients, they leave their car keys with him and once he is done, he drops the cars to their respective places of work or homes.
Owing to his level of education, Austin is on the forefront in agitating for parking boys’ rights. For example, during former governor of Nairobi Evans Kidero’s term, Austin led the boys in presenting their grievances at City Hall.
However, with all the money that Austin collected from the parking lot, he could not account for it. “I always spent my money on food, clothes and rent, and saved nothing,” says Austin, who now lives in Mathare North informal settlement.
This realisation came to him one morning in 2016 when a regular client Kennedy Osiano, a manager at Credit Bank, Koinange Street, asked him whether he saved any money or had any plans for his future.
“It dawned on me that I had only been living in the moment, and given the nature of our job, my life would crumble if I don’t think about my future,” he says.
Osiano introduced Austin to the bank where he started making daily deposits of any amount in a savings account. He has so far saved Sh60,000.
“I had been watching Austin for a long time doing his job, and I liked his personality. He is humble, trustworthy and hardworking. But when I learnt that he was not doing anything to secure his future, I decided to help him, to cultivate responsibility,” says Osano.
Two years down the line, Austin has saved enough to enrol for a Flight Dispatch and Airport Operation course at Epic Aviation College, Nairobi.
He has, however, not been able to pay the whole amount required for school fees, which totals to Sh27,000 per term and approximately Sh72,000 per year. He says he has the responsibility of taking care of his family back home.
“I hope that I will have saved enough to pay up the balance and start classes or get a sponsor who can help me get through my education,” says Austin, a third born in a family of four. He also wants to help his colleagues who abuse drugs and alcohol.
“I try to talk them out of their habits, but they always go back. I think most have lost hope in life and see no point of saving. Most times, especially when they get some good money, they disappear into drinking dens and reappear again after a few days when they have nothing left. I have not given up on them though, they are like family to me,” he concludes.