The story of Francis, a social entrepreneur grown up in the slums of Nairobi, – how he fights COVID 19 and how we work together

Francis Gikufu is one of our Making More Health partners in Nairobi. He is a social entrepreneur, one of those who experienced himself – right from the frog perspective- how it feels to be a slum child… and who today brings change to the people, especially the youth living in Mukuru slums…

Francis Gikufu is a 2018 kanthari* graduate. There is where we met and where our partnership began… ! Now several years later we work closely together to make more health happen in Mukuru slums in Nairobi. Francis is very supportive in sharing essential insights with our students during the students’ hackathons (venture4change program) and at the moment we engage together to bring more concrete support to the people who suffer a lot in these COVID19 times. From soap making to mask production, from hygiene teaching to engaging the youth for improving the general knowledge about health.

That’s his story (extract from kanthari blog):

Gikufu grew up in Mukuru, the third largest slum in Nairobi.

Until he was five years old, he lived with his family in a village in the countryside.

In this area, the Mungiki sect was raging, attacking villages, killing people and abducting countless people. Even after the sect was banned, the members continued to operate. They were especially interested kidnapping children. This forced many families to flee, looking for a more peaceful life in the cities. This however, in most cases meant living in slums, in confined spaces and in humiliating poverty.

Gikufu described how his family of seven siblings lived in a ten square-meter hut. Mats formed walls and a piece of corrugated iron protected more or less against rain. Most of daily life took place outside. There were no Mungiki here, but drug dealers who had no scruples about recruiting young children for their business. By the time he was eight years old, Gikufu was already ‘hired’. There was hardly any drug he hadn’t tried. The money he brought home was used by his family for food, and to send Gikufu’s siblings to school. He himself only had a few shillings left… “We children of the Mukuru slum had only one real passion. It was certainly not school, but… movies. To be able to see a movie in a cramped room, we invested everything even when it meant going to bed hungry.”

As he grew older, he often wondered why his parents never sent him to school. Maybe he was not smart enough? The only one in his family who seemed to believe in him was his older sister. But she had taken her own life at a young age after she had given birth to a son.

Eventually, a missionary became aware of Gikufu’s situation. She first brought him to a kitchen where, as he remembers today, there were ‘mountains of food’ piled up. The deal: he would only be given food if he showed in class regularly.

At first this seemed to be an advantageous offer for him. But he had not expected that school would mean sitting still and concentrating for many hours. His brain was not ‘calibrated’ for this. The constant learning without doing anything was too much for Gikufu. He stayed away from school and it was only thanks to the persistence of the missionaries that he was always found and brought back to class. In the end, Gikufu managed to get a degree. All this time though, movies remained a main focus.

Francis Gikufu

And since there was no chance for him, the child from Mukuru Slums, to ever be admitted to a film academy, he decided to study media communication.

In spring of 2018, he applied for the kanthari program with the idea to set up an alternative school for slum children. After he had mastered the five stages of the selection process and received an invitation from us to participate, not much happened. It remained suspiciously quiet on his side. Henry, a former kanthari graduate from Kenya, did some research and found out that Gikufu seemed to have some issues related to his birth certificate. Well, actually, he didn’t have one, but it was a requirement for him to apply for a passport. Later, Gikufu said, “All my brothers and sisters were registered. Only I was nobody.” Only when he investigated did he find out that he was not the son of his parents, but of his older, already deceased sister and that her son, was actually his little brother.

While in kanthari he developed ‘Mukuru Angaza’, a film academy for children from the Mukuru slum. Through project work they are to acquire all the skills they would theoretically learn in a school. They learn writing through working on their own life stories, technical thinking through the construction of movie sets, the English language through acting and dialogue. And they learn to value themselves, because now they are the stars among the slum children.

Even during the Corona crisis, there is no break. The films now have a theme, “how do we fight the virus.” Additionally, Gikufu and his team are working on slowing the spread of the virus.

From our site we support with knowledge on liquid soap making and mask production.

Meeting Francis and his team, Sep’2019 in Mukuru slums , Nairobi

*kanthari is a learning center for social entrepreneurs in South India, run by Sabriye Tenberken (German) and Paul Kronenberg ( Dutch) They offer one of the most disruptive, agile and impactful trainings I have ever seen. Many students are very successful after the eight months training onsite.

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