By Tabitha Oeri

In a bid to solve drugs and substance abuse among young people in the expansive Kibera slums in Nairobi, Kenya, a group of youths from within is aiding with the transformation of lives.

The youth group runs a drug rehab centre that targets youths whose lives have been ruined by side effects of drug addiction. The rehab centre does not only talk about crime, effects of illegal drugs to health, but also a passion and purpose-driven lifestyle.

Many young people in the informal settlement are caught up in the pit of addiction of hard drugs, liquor and criminal activities. Commonly abused drugs and substance in the slum include marijuana, chang’aa and busaa (locally brewed liquor) among others. Majority are either smoked, injected or sniffed and of course drunk.

This habit is a serious social problem among youths in the slum that local authority has been scrupling with for long. However, the newly formed youth group, Kibera Saints Football Club (KSFC) founded in 2013 is engaging in rehabilitative activities for these drug addicts.

According to Mark Tizodi, team leader, the church Sports Ministry group aims at transforming lives of the young people as their peers who were engaged in drugs and substance, and crime addiction through developing interpersonal relationships that provide them with a strategic plan to be greater and resourceful people in society.

He said the rehabilitative activities have a range of restoration programs that drug-addicted youths are taken through as individuals and as a group. The stages differ depending on how long one has been into drugs and substance abuse, level of crime, secrecy, and convenience.

Team leaders

Tizodi revealed KSFC being a church-based team, the approach of dealing with every situation is different. For example, the principle of confidentiality and respecting someone’s wishes are mandatory. So, professionals are not allowed to share personal details about someone with others, unless that person has said they can or it is absolutely necessary.

“Our passion is to see lives changed through the use of sports, recreation, fitness, and entrepreneurship ministries by the local church.We fulfill this through resourcing, training, and equipping the group with our own expertise here,” Tizodi explains, adding: “Anyway, none is compelled to go to the church as freedom of worship is upheld.”

“We have had our own experiences from drugs and petty crimes through losing some of our members along the way. It prompted us to start this youth group as Sports Ministry to advocate against drugs and substance abuse and crime within the slum. It was dubbed “bring the city to life”, he discloses.

“The program goal is to reduce if not to eradicate drugs and substance abuse among youth in Kibera slums. Only then shall we be able to say our future is bright.”

Rickson Osore, a beneficiary says when he joined the restoration program, they were about 15 youths but along the way some dropped out.  He endured the transformation processes despite having been hooked to the drugs and finding it incredibly tricky to get off.

“Personally the program has really helped me,” Osore said. “I had become an habitual drug user, especially because of friends and conducive environment to do such things, I had my problems and felt the need to escape from life but before than the right support came from KSFC.”

Osore further adds: “The program has indeed helped me stop using some of the drugs I was using before. With the help of coach Tizodi, I have some side-hustle of selling clothes to residents in the community to sustain myself.”

“However, I must say here that I have lost most of my friends in the process of rehabilitation. They refused to transform but I made up my mind to do so hence happy with the steps I took. Currently, I have new friends though few, with positive impact on my future life,” Osore testifies.

Leading by example, Coach Mark Tizodi

Bildad Tang’ang’a, is yet another beneficiary of the KSFC restoration program who has been on drugs for a while now, but he is struggling to quit. He joined the program through a friend who had joined and whose life was transforming for better.

“I was on drugs then stopped but went back to it and became addicted. I am still struggling to quit but I know as time goes by and consisted guiding and counseling of KSFC restoration programs, I will stop,” he hints.

Tang’ang’a argues that KSFC restoration program’s slogan: ‘Restoration is about Progression not Perfection’, is in itself a driving force that encourages these youths to take the bold step to reform.

Sports journalist and a former media liaison, Clinton Lusuli, is the KSFC programs Coordinator and he said youth who are currently incorporated in the restoration program age between 16-27 years. He further explained that the restoration program follows a 12-step training class session before one graduates from the program.

“The training sessions do not have a specific curriculum except for reference to the 12-step training approach that is crucial to Narcotics. It is an anonymous book used in other countries for the same drug addicts,” Lusuli emphasizes. “Remember ours here is basically through real-life experience sharing.”

Lusuli revealed that through the addicts’ personal testimonies during sessions, one gets the genesis of all these problems.

Some of these social problems are attributed to unemployment, idleness, poverty, lack of education, school drop-out, peer pressure, environmental factors, poor parenting, and quick money syndrome among other issues.

“Starting off restoration programs had challenges as it took plenty of time to convince these youths to accept change. Nevertheless, living in the same community, we understand their ‘language’, needs, and behaviors, so we remained consistent in follow-ups,” Tizodi said.

“As time went by, we had a good number to start with. Again, when some youth were in the program taking lessons, others from outside could ridicule them so as to abandon the sessions.”

Some of the beneficiaries

Recently, the KSFC’s sport youth group came up with entrepreneurship as part of the rehabilitation activities. This is value addition and core component to the other programs which is aimed at ensuring the recovering addicts become self-reliant long after rehabilitation processes.

The entrepreneurship includes running small businesses within the slums. For instance, making and selling snacks, boutique shops, sports shoe stalls, garbage collection and weekly community clean-up. Involvement of community clean-up is part of returning to society and part of environmental conservation for living inconducive and friendly environment.

However, Lusuli cautioned that for the recovering addicts to adjust to friends, family members or community accepts them back, they undergo long-term treatment and training. This is to monitor their progress for a while to stay on track before being left on their own.

“For instance, we have training classes every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 11 am to 12:30 pm. The one and half hours are for expertise in various fields to talk and coach them on various aspects of life and businesses,” Tizodi said. “Our own William Moracha handles sports while Terry Odindo is an expert in business management and myself skilled in the boutique enterprise.”

Daniel Ogutu, a beneficiary of the business training notes, “I realized that running a business without enough coaching is challenging. However, since joining the classes I have gained various management skills that enable me to manage my Royal Looks business effectively despite the challenges.”

Nancy Mutunguri is the only beneficiary who is a lady here. She admits through attending the training, she has gained skills enough to revive her collapsed business.

“I have learned a lot from this restoration group and now I am equipped with skills and confidence to get back to my Jacket Chips business. I messed up myself but it is never too late to mend,” Mutunguri attests.

Kibera Saints Restoration team

Consequently, Collins Ochieng’ a beneficiary has since become the Kibera Saints FC goalkeeper. He admits quitting drug and substance abuse is not easy but he is happy with the restoration program which helped quit. Today in Kibera slums, he is a soccer star raising the present social status he never ever expected.

Ochieng brags: “I am happy despite having lost my friends due to rehabilitation processes I went through by KSFC restorations programs. I used to deal in crime and drugs, and I was ever guilty, avoiding people, and my family disowned me. But today, everyone wants to be associated with me as their relatives just because I have transformed and living a straight life.”

“The people in the restoration program are mostly males,” notes Ochieng’ explaining that they once had a woman in the program, however; she expressed fear and was not very free to express herself and dropped out.

Ochieng is now calling upon parents to enroll their children regardless of gender in the KSFC initiative for the free programs. He has since become an ambassador who advocates for the transformation of drug and substance abuse or crime in Kibera slums.

He blames parents who are very harsh to children in families to change such characters as it plants fear in children. He suggests parents should not be very strict and harsh but could be strict and lovely, listens, flexible not rigid to decisions making and above all lead Godly ways in a manner that youth can express their shortcomings.

Fidel on the other hand, has shown the impacts the program has had in the community. He convinced his friend Brian Okoth, who joined the restoration program. Okoth, a student in secondary school in Homa-Bay, testifies that he did not really know what his friend was up to until the restoration training session began in the room.

“My friend Fidel lured me to this place though I had heard of it, I never wanted to join. I feared for our friends outside there complaining of betrayal hence disowned,” Okoth reveals.

“Anyway, I am happy that I joined the restoration program and one main benefit so far is that I went back to school, the other is trying to quit drugs gradually. I have realized bad company ruins good morals and idleness is the devil’s workshop.”

At the time of this media interview, there were only 5-6 out of 15 teenagers actively attending the program session. Meaning the majority were in various boarding schools sitting their form four national examinations. This shows positive response and changes taking place among drug and substance abusers or criminals by rejoining school after going through rehabilitation processes.