LIFE
FORCE
The magazine of the photo-essay
September 2017 issue
Umoja
“A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine.  Fabulous!” Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film maker
by Chris Dade
'Umoja’ is a photo-essay depicting a group of Kenyan ex-street boys who have come together in what they call ‘umoja’, which translates as unity. ’Harambee for Kenya’, a small charity that runs the homes, has helped the boys to nurture the more positive elements of the gang culture that the boys have grown up in. This has evolved into one of the most unique, empowering, self sufficient and inspiring care models I have ever encountered. ‘Umjoja’ can be seen throughout the home. Each boy has his role to keep the compound clean, to cook for one another, to serve food to each other. When a new boy comes in off the street, one of the other boys will take responsibility to look out for him, help care for him and mentor him. These actions rarely need to be promoted by the house parent, they are voluntarily done and done with love and conviction. To witness this community in action is inspiring. When a new boy leaves the streets to come and live in the safe house, the boys tenderly wash him removing lice and dirt, then clothe him and reassure him, as many boys have been beaten on the streets and are not used to this care. It is a beautiful, humbling and almost biblical sight to see them gently bathe the new boys feet in order to care for them and remove any jiggers (parasitic worms that burrow into the feet). Brian, one of the boys, describes this: "What we have here is umoja, unity, so we love each other. We wash him (the new boy), we welcome him because he is my brother, he is suffering as I was suffering, I know how he was suffering. We love him so he remains with us". These young men, now proud and well educated, are far removed from being a ‘Chokoraa’ a label that Kenyan society has given them, which translates as “garbage-eaters”.  Denis, one of the boys, states: "We were seen as street dogs, something without honour"  He goes on to say: "I heard that my friend died some years ago on the street, and if I was still on the streets I would have died, my future would not be counted in this world. Now I see my future is good and I am working hard to achieve my dreams." These boys are proof that we are so much more than the label society gives us. The images testify to what can happen when we come together in unity and envision a new way of life. If we learn to nurture each other then life and possibility will flourish, even from deprivation. As Hendrick, one of the boys, says: "We all have to learn to respect and love one another, and to never lose hope in life."  This is a story of brotherhood, a celebration of the power of hope, of Umoja, and of love. To see the film made with the boys, also entitled “Umoja”, or to find out more about the charity and how to sponsor one of the boys, visit www.harambeeforkenya.org
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Some street boys burning rubbish in the early morning to keep warm. 
Portrait while doing a street outreach. 
Portrait while doing a street outreach.
A young man is found unconscious with a bottle of glue in his pocket. ‘‘Glue is cheaper then drugs, when you sniff the glue you are no longer aware of being on the streets, it makes your mind forget some problems. Glue is like a blanket in the night when you sniff glue you don’t feel cold.’
Asleep in a doorway of a shop. ‘Life on the street is harsh we sleep in ditches, we're beaten by police, we eat food from the dustbin or go hunger.’
Unity in brotherhood. ‘Bases (gangs) depend on each other, they unite to share food, play cards, here we are together as one.’
Moses leaves the streets to come and live at the safe house.
Two new boys arrive, Vincent and Brian, they are washed and cared by the other boys. ‘We wash him, we welcome him because he is my brother, he suffering as I was suffering there. I know how he was suffering.’
Boniface is washed tenderly by Brian on his arrival. ‘When you live on the streets no one takes care of you, we come here and we settle down like brothers and take care of each other.'
Brian takes Boniface under his wing, ‘Love is a strong feeling you feel about yourself and another.’
Wash day is always an excuse for a swim and driving contest.
Washing in the river, ‘We are brothers united in everything we do.’
Having left the streets several days before, Clinton take a wash in the rain. ‘Never lose hope in life.’
Learning to fly. ‘You can no longer call me a street boy, I don’t remember that boy.'
The rainy season turns the front garden into a water park.
Shooting some baskets together.
Calvin does his homework.
Portrait of Calvin ‘The love we have here is like the love my family use to have. Here people are coming from different places, but we take them like brothers, one family. We have harmony, love and peace. Without love you can’t live anywhere.’
Josphat enjoys an education that he would never have had while on the streets.
Toto at school. ‘I have seen a bright day. Harambee has changed me from rages to somebody, I can now stand before you.’
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