Growing up in the informal settlement has never been easy with crime and drugs at your disposal. Many youth in Nairobi slums often end up dead, in jail or as junkies for life.
But one man, who grew up in that environment, has beaten all odds and turned out to be a role model to many others in his community.
Meet Samuel Tai Omare, a human right defender, who was born in the sprawling Mathare slums in 1992, the last born in a family of three.
His mother was a mama mboga while his father worked in a local hotel in the neighbourhood.
Something was always different about him. For instance, Tai went straight to Class Two because his teachers thought he was too bright for Pre-Unit and Standard One. His mother never compromised when it came to education.
The family relocated to Kayole in the year 2000 due to the high level of crime in Mathare. “In 2006, I sat for my KCPE at Kayole Hekima Academy. I was Index Number 1 (1401310001) and I scored 321 out of the possible 500 marks,” he says.
What his parent did not know is at this time, Tai had already started associating himself with criminal gangs.
“As early as 10 years we were joining gangs. In these gangs, we would smoke bhang and steal small things so that we could get a few coins to buy ourselves good things like the rich kids we schooled together,” said Tai.
By the time Tai was clearing Form Four, he had been to four secondary schools.
He joined St. Lwanga Secondary school, a Catholic-run school in 2007 as a Form One but was later expelled the same year .
“I was caught with bhang, chang’aa, muratina, busaa and cigarettes. You name it. I guess walikuwa wamechoka and they decided to send me home for good.”
His mother was very disappointed when she learned why he was expelled.
“What my mother didn’t know was that I first smoked marijuana at 12 so by the time I was 15, I was a regular smoker of marijuana, tobacco, and heroine,” he adds.
At this time, Tai had lost interest in education and when he was in Form Four, he was accused of leading other students into a strike. He was charged with attempted arson.
“I was taken to court, spent a few months in police custody. I sat for the exams while out on bail. The case was dismissed two years later for lack of evidence.
This point in life and the few months he spent in the police custody would play an important role in moulding him to the person he turned out to be.
While in high school, he had started writing music and composing rap something he continued doing after he cleared.
He felt that the most respected members of his community were the criminals and every young man wanted to emulate them and so he joined the older gangs.
The gangs would come to town on Sundays during jam sessions and they would rob the unsuspecting revellers of cash, phones and jewelry.
“One evening in October 2011, we robbed a mama mboga in the hood and her screams attracted the passersby. I managed to escape but my best friend Junior did not. He was killed by the mob, he was only 18 years,” he says.
Years after that incident, three other gang members from the Alliance were burnt to death. That was a wake-up call for Tai. Junior’s death was a turning point for him but he played it down for the years that followed.
He went back to school in 2014 and joined KCA University for a Bachelor of Business Information Technology course which he completed last year.
Time at KCA university was a transforming moment for Tai; meeting students from different backgrounds from what he was used to opened his eyes to a new perspective of life.
He realized there was more to life than the crime life that he was used to. At his hood, he joined a group of youth at the Pure Talent Galore. He wanted to keep himself busy and avoid bad company.
After leaving the crime world, he knew he needed to learn a few tactics in self-defense if in case they came calling. He co-founded the Kayole Wings Miller Boxing club. The club has for years helped in keeping the youth in his community in school, get jobs and even scholarships abroad.
Currently, Tai is a community leader and a mentor in Kayole.
Last year he was nominated for the upcoming human right defender category where he was runners up.
He uses sports and arts to effect change, raise awareness and bring the people of his together for a good cause.
He has tried to transform his community by rehabilitating the once dirty, filthy, discontent and inhuman living places in Kayole. He works with more than 100 youth groups.
The transformation caught the eyes of the Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko and he employed a few youth to work in the Sonko Rescue team in Kayole.
Spoken words and rap have been his main channel of communication to residents of Kayole.
“I want to keep investing in my community to change the narrative of crime and drug abuse. I will keep recording more music and poetry which i use as a tool to sensitize the youth,” he says.
In 2017, he successfully did a documentary ( 4Tumentary001) about his work as a musician, poet, and human rights activist.
“After doing my first documentary successfully, I intend to record most of my life, the milestones and challenges to use for research and as a learning tool for those who will come after me,” he says.