Dressed in ragged and dirty clothes, always carrying a sack on his back and seated next to the city council garbage bin in Hurlingham shopping centre-Nairobi, one gets the impression that John Kiiru, 19 years old, is a street boy. But you are wrong. John is out in search of money to make ends meet. He is both an employer and an employee.
Q. Do you have a family?
A. No. I lost my mother when I was 5 years old. I have no siblings and I have never met my father.
Q. What happened after her death?
A. Pumwani association, an organization that takes care of orphans, came to my rescue. They took care of me till I was ten years old. I decided to quit then.
A. I decided to take care of myself. You cannot depend on someone for the rest of your life and after all, I was old enough though I had nothing. Fortunately, Lugard offered me a house in Pumwani.
Q. Who is Lugard?
A. Lugard used to visit us at the association. We interacted with him a lot. I shared with him my intention to quit but he was not for the idea. I stood to my grounds. Lugard owned several houses in Pumwani that he rents out, he offered me one at no cost. I live there up to date. Lugard stays in Hurlingham.
Q. After leaving the Association what happened?
A. I went out in search of a job. Some employers complained that I was too young. But that did not discourage me. I did gardening, laundry and carrying luggage among others. I did this in different estates until two years ago when I landed at Hurlingham shopping centre. Here, I was offered a cleaning job in four hotels. I saw an opportunity in food left overs that were frequently discarded from the hotel. Instead of throwing them, I began selling them as food for pigs. That is why I am always seated next to the garbage bin. I always sort the left overs because most of them are a mixture of food, papers and mud among others.
Q. How do you combine this with cleaning of hotels?
A. I don’t work alone. I have employed a 16 year old boy who attends to the customers that come while I am away. At times he does the cleaning on my behalf. He hangs here till 11pm.
Q. How do you price the left overs?
A. I measure them using a 20 litre bucket which I sell at Ksh. 100. I make over Ksh. 500 on a good day and Ksh. 200 on a bad one. However, I am glad that am I can buy food for myself, pay my bills and pay my colleague.
Q. How do people get to know about you?
A. By word of mouth. Some customers are directed to me by the hotel staff. Most hawkers based in Hurlingham know what I do, so if anyone comes asking for pig feed, he is directed to me. Some people, curious to know what I do beside a garbage bin, come to me directly. When I tell them, they are amused and some go an extra mile of getting me customers.
Q. How much do you get from the cleaning?
A. I clean four hotels that pay me Ksh. 50 each.
Q. Do you face any challenges?
A. Yes, my major challenge is discrimination. Most people think I am a street boy, so they avoid me. I cannot get into some buildings when am dressed in tatters.
Q. Why are you always dressed in tatters and dirty clothes?
A. Because my work is dirty. I don’t leave the house in the morning dressed like this. I usually change when I get here in the morning and in the evening before I leave.
Q. At times I see very many other boys dressed like you here. Who are they?
A. Those are my friends who do the same work I do, but they are based in other parts of
Q. Did you go to school?
Q. Would you like to go school?
A. Yes. But not primary or secondary school because I am too old. I would love to join a college where I can learn more on food and nutrition for animals.
Q. Do you have any in mind?
A. No, but if I knew of one, I would be the first to go.
Q. What is your greatest dream?
A. To be a major pig feed distributor in
Q. What motivated you to do all this?
A. My mother. She used to work hard to sustain us. She owned a kiosk. I remember she would wake up so early and sleep late. She ensured that I did not miss a meal. I came to learn I cannot rely on anyone for my survival. If I sit waiting for help, I will die of hunger. I took the risk at my age.