James Ouma · James Ouma writes · Mentoring boys in Kenya · Writing by James Ouma

Wings to Fly

sewing torn children's clothes and replacing buttons has changed the way I look at giving
sewing children’s torn clothes and replacing buttons has changed the way I look at giving

They say, you can judge a man by their pair of shoes and belt. At least, that is what Emma kept telling me when my shoes and belt weren’t worth writing home about. I still don’t have the best of shoes and belt, but trust me, they are not what they used to be.

Well, I don’t use shoes and belt as a parameter to ‘place’ people. To me, buttons or the lack of it is what I look for every time I meet a person. It has become so automatic, I can tell how many buttons a person needs to replace on their shirt.

I am in between appointments when I visit Olympic Primary School where Ramogi, some friends and I gave a talk on career and success last Saturday. After sharing my life, experiences and the lessons I have learned from my mistakes, I gave the children a writing assignment. Out of the 100 children I met that day, only eight of them managed to hand in the finished assignment. None of the eight was a boy!

It broke my heart seeing that the boys had not done the assignment. In my work with boys in juvenile prison I meet boys who come from places like Kibera. Compared to the girls I meet and mentor, boys normally just go through life without knowing exactly what they want out of this life. Most of them simply wake up each new day and end the day without any purpose at all. I tell the children I am very disappointed and when I add that I still love and will keep meeting them, a few of the girls are teary while the boys hung their heads in shame.

Since my next appointment, which is going to be a writing job appointment, is three hours away I decide to visit children at Blessed Hope Academy. Cynthia and I visited the school in January to donate exercise books, pencils and I ended up narrating a story that has earned me the name ‘Jakingli’. The children are so delighted to see me they start screaming Jakingli, Jakingli!

Judging from the wide smiles on their faces it is evident that they are expecting to hear another story. I take off my backpack and place it on a table. Inside my bag is a Bible, names of the boys I have met in juvenile prison, a list of what the girls at Dagoretti Rehab needs for their bakery class, loads of story books, sewing threads, needles and hundreds of buttons. I am on a different mission.

I grab an armful of shirts and blouses and retreat to the shade where I have been assigned. I start working. I am just about to sew the fourth button when a 3-year-old girl stands in front of me. She rests her small hands on my knee caps. I stop what I am doing and give her the attention that she deserves. She looks me dead in the eye, pokes me on the chest then she asks, “What’s your name?”

“Jim,” I say, and feeling like I am Double-O 7 I add, “Jim, Jim Buttons!”

“Are you a fundi (tailor)?” she asks.

“Yes, I am,” I reply.

“Are you going to tell us a story?” she continues.

“Yes, I will,” I promise.

 

I watch her walk away to a row of potties where she sits to relieve herself. As I turn to my sewing, she tells me that her name is Linda. I continue sewing buttons while my mind strays elsewhere.

 

We live in a society that aims at identifying, applauding and rewarding school children perform well academically. The best gets all the goodies while the non-performers watch from the sidelines, and perhaps share the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table (remember the parable of the rich and poor man?)

The brightest becomes the leaders in the school, go for numerous trips and access to scholarships that give them wings to fly while the rest are lucky if they gain access to Nairobi Aviation or those colleges that often don’t know how to spell the very courses they claim to be offering.

I have always wanted to mentor children, boys especially, and little did I know I would be working with children and young people who have lost a lot, gone through so much and have no hope at all. Many are the times we hold sessions without having the right resources. That is how we began sewing children’s torn clothes and buttons. I am content with my life and work, but deep inside me, I keep hoping we get funding and partners soon.

one of the boys we met doing his homework using a flickering lamp
one of the boys we met doing his homework using a flickering lamp
Victor Wanyama scoring against Barcelona in a past Champions League match inspires boys to dream big
Victor Wanyama scoring against Barcelona in a past Champions League match inspires boys to dream big

 

 

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