Giving Lessons from Lifesong Kenya

As the government and other organisations try to find ways to help to the needy during these hard times caused by the Corona virus pandemic, one organization is approaching the issue in an innovative and empowering way.

Lifesong Kenya is a Community Based Organization that is committed to empowering at-risk male teens through mentoring, coaching, character formation and restorative justice. This enables male teens to thrive and live life to the fullest.

One of the places where Lifesong has its programs is the Kamiti Youth Correction and Training Centre (YCTC), the juvenile section of Kamiti Prison, where they hold ICT/ Entrepreneurship classes, coaching and mentoring. I had the privilege of visiting the centre together with James, Earnest and the team over a year ago. You can get a glimpse of Lifesong’s prison work in the story I wrote after that visit as well as on their website. The links will be at the end of this article.

In the wake of Covid-19, prison visits have been stopped but that has not stopped the lives of many other boys that Lifesong Kenya is mentoring and helping integrate back into society after being in juvenile prison.

The families of the boys in the Lifesong program, together with many others have been adversely affected. Most of these families live in low-income settlements in the city and are struggling to get food and other necessities due to lack of jobs and failed businesses caused by the pandemic.

Lifesong Kenya is committed to ensuring that families who need assistance receive help.

And they are using an innovative approach to do that.

One of the beneficiaries of Lifesong’s food care package is the family of Romario, a student who lives in Bombolulu, Kibera together with his mum, sister and aunt.

“It’s been tough for us a family as we depend on casual jobs to put food on the table,” says Romario. Those jobs are not there anymore, and they had to survive on one proper meal per day that came when the mum borrowed money from friends.

They were incredibly happy when Lifesong Kenya came to support them.

James, the founder of Lifesong together with his team cycled to Kibera to meet Romario and his family.

I asked Romario how they were supported.

“They bought us food; maize flour, wheat flour, beans, rice and cooking oil. He also got us omena and vegetables” he responded.

But James did not just buy the food and deliver. How he approached it is what Romario finds interesting.

“First of all, he came up to our home and we did the budget with him,” he says. “Being involved in the whole process and the fact that he asked what we needed made it more unique.”

They then went around and identified a local shop where they got dry foodstuffs and a mama mboga where they got omena and vegetables.

Lifesong Kenya pays the local shopkeeper and mama mboga weekly to supply the families with food for the duration of one month. The needs of the families shall be assessed after the month is over.

One of the shops supplying the families

I checked on David, the local shopkeeper supplying Romario’s family. He noted that life has been hard for them as most of their customers have little or no money to spend. Business has been hard and having an organisation like Lifesong supporting local businesses is very uplifting for him.

Such deep level of community involvement is not new to the Team at Lifesong. Integrating boys from juvenile prison back to society often means going deep into the slums to look for their families and try to reconcile them to their boys. It is a painstaking process as they would find some families have moved or have disowned the boys but that doesn’t deter James and his team.

James’ explanation to their covid-19 food care approach is simple.

“We sit with individual families and learn about their usual meal routine. The information gathered helps us to plan meals together with family members.”

He adds that this helps provide respect of choice, encourages participation and upholds the dignity of vulnerable families that need help, care and support during this crisis.

Each family is then asked to budget with KShs. 1000 ($10) or more depending on the family size. Once the budget is ready, the beneficiaries introduce Lifesong team to their local shop or vendor who are often a friend, family member or neighbour. This ensures that there is steady income and retention of jobs within the local community who have taken a hit during this season.

Kshs. 1000 may seem little to you, but somewhere else it is enough to feed a family for a week especially in tough times like these.

Buying from local businesses enables the Lifesong Team, supporters and beneficiaries to achieve the following goals:

  • Less disruption of the lifestyle that the beneficiaries are used to
  • Give beneficiaries the power to choose items that they need
  • Promote local businesses
  • Teach our beneficiaries how to plan for meals and have a balanced diet
  • Show beneficiaries the art of giving back when they will be able to
  • Save money that would have been spent on packaging and transport

If you think about it, the amount of commotion and attention that comes with food donations in low income communities is not only bad for social distancing, but it is also degrading for those who do not benefit and sometimes it fuels animosity in the community, especially in these hard times.

Romario’s family is just one of the 26 that is being fed by Lifesong for a whole month. Your support can make it 27 families. Your friends’ support can make it 30, 40 even 50 families.

Consider supporting this great cause today by donating as little as 100 bob to the Mpesa paybill number: 574329 Account: Lifesong.

More details can be found here. Be sure to learn more about Lifesong programs on their website.

Read more about my visit to the juvenile prison here.

5 thoughts on “Giving Lessons from Lifesong Kenya”

  1. A visit to that prison is not for the faint hearted. Those boys look so innocent but they have stories to tell if you listen. James is doing a good job and I just pray that it bears fruit. I have often wondered what practical help can be offered for correctional services which would be real transformational. I am curious too about the 13 year old but then, it’s not about me…

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