Frankly, I am exhausted. Maybe weary is a better word. On the road now for eight days, first Uganda, now Kenya, soon Ghana. But, I have to get this out before I forget. I cannot wait until I return home to recover and fully process the experience. Travelling to three countries in 16 days, meeting eight different enterprises, endless car rides into remote places, a diverse range of personalities, anecdotes and stories, details, numbers, facts that boggle the mind and the completely unexpected has a tendency to rip one’s defenses away. None of that matters when you meet someone like Alex.
I do not know Alex’s last name. Nor does he likely know mine. But, I will always remember him as an example of the human spirit, fraught with weaknesses, but blessed by a spirit that has transformed the life of one lone solitary boy (now a man) who by all accounts should probably be dead by now. Yet, now, at age 26, not only is he flourishing, he is also showing the way forward for those just like him.
By age six, both parents dead, alone in Nairobi, Kenya, a child alone on the streets of the Kawangware slums in Nairobi, Alex seemed to be just another lost statistic. Found by the luck of Fortune, moved from orphanage after orphanage enduring constant displacement, when a relative, an uncle he never knew, retrieved him from what appeared to be a lost life. It was no better. An outsider in an abusive home, a third class citizen in one of the worst slums anyone can imagine, abused and then kicked out. On the streets again, alone with only his wits to save himself. Found a cousin, a thief and drug peddler, to take him in, only to be left alone again when his thug cousin was shot. Skilled at theft was all he knew.
Alex told me as we walked the alleys of the marketplace crowded with every sort of person eking out a livelihood if it weren’t for an ad he saw offering to be trained to sell some product that might earn him a small income, indeed, he would likely be dead by now, but that ad posted by Livelihoods to join the ISmart team offered him an alternative. Instinctively, after surviving on the streets for fifteen years, he seemed to know that this might be his last chance. So, he grabbed it, just as he might grab your wallet or cell phone. He joined LivelyHoodswww.livelyhoods.org , an enterprise endeavoring to provide a way for those living on the streets, on the margin of life, a pathway out.
Today, Alex still spends his time on the streets, but now he is mentoring other that were just like him, teaching them how to sell a range of products that are designed to help the poorest of the poor improve their condition and, at the same time, help those just like him to escape the stranglehold of poverty.
Poorly educated, no marketable skills except his passion, Alex is an incredible personality. He knows he was lucky to get out and he knows that he must do whatever he can to help others get out. It is not easy. The slums are unremitting, forever sucking life out of you before one’s own eyes. It is grinding, painful, dangerous and depressing. Yet, when you watch Alex light up as he pitches products or pushes another to sell and not be afraid it is hard not to love him. He personifies the human spirit. His story is one of redemption.