“When I was 13, I was suddenly parent to my younger brother and sister. My father had divorced my mother and left us. Then mother became sick and went into hospital for a long, long time.
My brother, sister and I had no money to eat, so sometimes I used to go to the dump to get things I could sell to earn a living. I used to keep it secret. If people found out you were doing this you would become very stigmatised so no-one could know. I am so thankful my brother and sister did not go astray.
I am now 24 and have my own wife and a baby daughter, Natasha, and we live in the next village on from Korogocho, a large sprawling slum on the edge of Nairobi. I am so lucky in life. I have been given many opportunities.
I love working with children and young people. It’s something that I’ve done since I was nearly 14 years old when I met the MMM Sisters who were working in Korogocho. They took me on as a trainee, a young community health worker and peer educator by the MMM Sisters. Four years ago I was employed by them full time.
What I enjoy most is being with children, training them, being involved in activities, and going to their homes. They are children growing up just like I did in this same slum. Like them, growing up for me was not easy; it can be hard, hard here.
One thing I believe in is no matter how well I do, there is always someone else who can be a lot better. That’s what makes me so committed in my work. Because I was helped by others to be who I am, I need to give back to the community. So even when I’m not at work I spend all my spare time helping others.
One of the people I remember most is a lady called Sister Gill Horsefield who was a nun with the MMMs. She really inspired me very much and totally turned my life around. Even when she was back in England because she was retired, I used to cry because she was gone. She really made my life great. She was one of my best role models.
Now I think of people like Mandela, too. These are people who see a problem and they bring change. I love them very much.
We do a lot of therapy work, things that can make children feel they are children again. Some of them are very traumatised with the problems they face at home. They can be deeply stressed in their lives and don’t know what to do with themselves.
But if you give them a chance to play, they become children again.
We do football, drumming, acting, drawing, dancing. Through games they are able to express themselves and their fears and angers.
I’m now a role model for some of these people. I say, if George can be who he is, so can you.
I would love to see youths training in different economic activities, focused in life with the confidence to follow their potential, so at the end of the day they don’t involve themselves in criminal activities or sex work and become HIV positive.
I would love to see an empowered community of young girls, and to do away with the problems of early teenage pregnancy, and allow marriage to be theirs and not a forced decision, something they can do at the age they want to do it.
My dream is that these people I work with expand their territories. I don’t want them to be stuck.
A lot of the time it’s important just to be able to get children to talk about things and offer advice to each other, while you are there to guide them. These No Strings Kibing! films are a perfect tool to help us do that.”
– George Ochieng, Peer Educator, Child Therapist, Nairobi, Kenya
* Since this interview in 2010, George has founded his own organisation Slum Child Foundation which serves vulnerable young people in his community around issues affecting their wellbeing such as drugs, HIV, and early marriage.