Money: here today, gone tomorrow. This is a concept Clinton James understands all too well. His childhood was turned upside down after his father retired, leaving the family with no steady source of income. Clinton went from living in Upper Hill, Nairobi, to a substandard house near Dagoretti, then to living on the streets for two years. He has seen it all.
He tells the Star about his life on the streets and how it inspired him to start a foundation to help street children get an education and shelter.
Clinton James, 26, is the eighth born in a family of 11. His childhood was not a very happy one for two reasons. First, his parents separated when he was only 12 years old. Second, after his father retired, he and his siblings had to move from Upper Hill, Nairobi, to a makeshift house near Dagoretti.
After his parents’ separation, Clinton and his siblings went to live with their father under duress. Clinton did not get to interact much with his mother after the move. “It was an ugly separation and my dad threatened to stop supporting us if we went to see my mother, so wisdom applied — we didn’t visit her,” he says.
Clinton adds, “The shift from Upper Hill to Dagoretti hurt every part of my life. My education really suffered, as I had to transfer to a nearby school and was in and out of the institution because of financial constraints.”
Clinton started doing odd jobs to supplement the family’s income.
In his new school, he made friends who introduced him to the "wooi" trade — collecting scrap and selling it for a little money.
“For a while, I would join my friends and engage in the trade after school then go back home.”
But soon, Clinton found himself sucked in the trade and turned the part-time job into a full-time one. He ran away from home and lived with a friend also involved in the trade. But that didn’t last long due to differences, and instead of going back home like the Prodigal Son to seek forgiveness from his parents, he opted to move to the streets.
“I became a street boy for two years, living off handouts. It was a bad life, but I never engaged in crime. I was one of the good street kids who just asked for cash and if I didn’t get it, I moved on to the next person,” Clinton says.
On one night after roaming the streets looking for somewhere to sleep, but finding none, Clinton suggested to his gang of friends that they go sleep outside the makeshift houses where his father lived.
“We overslept and my stepmother found us outside the following morning. She said nothing and just called my father. He was so happy to see me and convinced me to return home.”
Clinton went back to school and was counselled by his class teacher. “Her name is Christine Omondi of Kinyanjui Road Primary School. I call her mum because she was so kind to me and encouraged me not to throw my life away.”
After returning home, Clinton decided to take his studies seriously, but because of financial constraints, he had to drop out and move upcountry.
In 2008, Clinton decided to go to church to seek redemption. “Life had become too hard for me, so I went to seek some spiritual deliverance in church. After the sermon, the preacher made an altar call and I decided to become born again. At that point is where I asked God to give me direction and to show me my purpose. I felt a calling to work with young people and mentor the underprivileged in society.”
With this, Clinton went back to school and also decided to dedicate his time to helping orphans. He teamed up with three other friends to form a group called Cross Movement to preach and mentor teenagers in primary and secondary schools and get donors to supply basic needs that would facilitate learning.
In 2010, the group decided to register it as a foundation and changed the name to the Social Action Network Africa Foundation.
Because of financial constraints, Clinton was still in and out of school. He ended up sitting his KCPE exam in 2010 at the age of 19. He scored 262 marks out of 500.
Afterwards, Clinton decided to focus on his foundation. He says he and his co-founders have reunited two street boys with their families.
With the help of donors, the organisation also started a monthly street feeding programme and orphanage visits to deliver food and clothes to orphans.
At one point, Clinton decided to pursue his secondary school education through homeschooling and sat his KCSE exam in 2015 and scored a D-. He says his grades have never made him feel inferior, or unable to achieve his dreams.
Clinton has big dreams for his foundation, including setting up a career training institute for youths aged between 17 and 26 years.
He says: “The government and private sector need to partner more with organisations like us to help develop this beautiful country. But they need to be careful to avoid being conned. Many people set up NGOs to make a quick shilling.”
And in case you were wondering about his English second name, Clinton says it is a way of trying to avoid the notorious statement once used by a politician: “Your name betrays you.”
He says: "I prefer to be called by the English names to avoid discrimination as I do my work. I have three African names, but I have never used them. They only appear on my ID."
Clinton’s organisation is involved in a number of projects, including the Love Basket programme, where it raises funds and buys essential items to take to orphanages and feed the homeless.
“We do this twice a month. This is where we have made the most impact in our organisation. Helping families is fulfilling,” he says.
Clinton is passionate about mentorship and runs a programme called Wajibika, urging youths to make the best out of their lives, regardless of their circumstances.
UPS AND DOWNS
Running the organisation has not been without its ups and downs. Clinton cites a time when a con cheated the organisation into thinking he was homeless. “He asked for transport money and a little sustenance cash and once it was sent, he disappeared. We realised he was not a street boy at all,” Clinton says.
Although he has not yet gotten the chance to pursue further studies, Clinton says he wants other youths to get the opportunity to study. “A lot of people drop out of school at different stages in their life for various reasons. Some people just made poor decisions and are condemned for life. That is not fair. Everyone deserves a second chance in life, and I am determined to give youths this through a career skills training programme.”
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