Today on Man Around Nairobi we feature James Waruiru. James Waruiru defines himself as a ‘Glocol Citizen’ a word that he coined for himself. Glocol is a fusion of Global & Local meaning a kind of person who is aware of what is happening globally, a person who thinks global yet acts Local. James believes if we all act on local issues that affect our communities and network and collaborate globally we will achieve a meaningful change. James is a 2016 Acumen regional fellow and 2016-2017 Community Solutions Program global fellow.
James is the project manager & co-founder of the Fountain of Hope Life Centre (FOHLC), a community-based organization founded in Kiambu County but with wider national reach and appeal. FOHLC runs three core programs; HIV/Aids awareness and care, providing audio Bibles to the elderly and visually impaired, and the supply of sanitary towels, undergarments and reproductive health training to disadvantaged young women. The program has won a number of accolades which include; second place in the 2010 “Out-of-the-Box” competition hosted by the University of Kansas, USA, the 2013 Australian “TravelGiver Challenge” and in 2015 was among the ten global finalists in the “Community Tool Box” competition.
- Did you grow up in Nairobi?
I was born in Mombasa, but I spent most of my childhood in Nairobi. We were evicted from our land in South Coast in 1997 by Likoni clashes which were politically instigated by players in Moi Government. At the time it seemed like a very bad thing because we lost all our possessions, but now I am very happy it happened because the displacement brought me to Nairobi.
Nairobi is vibrant and challenging. In Nairobi I have met and interacted with dreamers, people with nothing in their bank accounts, but who have big visions, something that I didn’t see in Mombasa. At the coast the people I knew lived for that day and blamed the government and fate for their predicament. When I came to Nairobi I was lost in confusion and culture shock but I came to one conclusion, I must integrate and catch up with the speed of Nairobians.
I lived in Embakasi, where you could get anything and everything ranging from illicit brews to the best bars, massage parlours and brothels. The youth had energy and they would anything to raise money for house rent. I will never forget our rent collector, a mean guy called Macharia, who even after we had paid our rent would be found hovering around with a set of padlocks seemingly sending a message that we should not forget who he really is. All this made me work harder and smarter, though I attribute every gain to God. I juggled between several menial jobs and ran several businesses. I was also running a construction company I inherited from my father. Later I founded Fountain of Hope Life Centre, a non-profit organization where I now work full-time. Having dealt with all of this, I would say Nairobi has shaped me into the man I am today.
Growing up in a remote part of the south coast we did not have modern toys but we were very creative, we would make soccer balls and even organize small tournaments of boys from different villages. These tournaments would often result in fights but because we were all drawn from the same school we would reconcile very quickly. I also loved playing hide and seek, because I was a very mischievous boy. I would hide in places where one would need a sniffer dog to find me and this would give my friends the great task of finding me, to the extent that it would not be a game anymore but something closer to FBI mission of finding a fugitive. My behaviour however pushed my friends to craft rules of the game and so there were certain areas one was not allowed to hide.
- What do you love about Nairobi?
The speed and the dreams, it’s a fact that one cannot have a breakthrough in Nairobi if you cannot keep up with the speed. When there is a job opening, the turnout will be bigger than expected and you have to be exceptionally better to scoop the prize. One thing that is awesome about Nairobi is that you will find dreamers, people with crazy visions, but with so much passion to chase the dream. I have witnessed this from people in my circle, such crazy dreams coming to fulfilment. I believe there is no dream too big with enough passion and direction.
I also love people generally. Nairobi is a cosmopolitan city with the representation of every Kenyan community and foreigners. Despite this blend of different beliefs, languages, and colours, there is a strong bond, the Nairobi spirit makes people live as one.
Collaborating and networking opportunities make my job easy and fun. In Nairobi, people love giving back to the community and so finding short time volunteers for charitable activities is easy.
- What would you change about Nairobi?
The big test for Nairobians comes during political campaigns and voting, Kenyans of Nairobi are still separated by tribe during voting. Sadly you will see people voting ‘one of their own’ even if there is a better candidate, one who is morally correct or more qualified. The voting pattern is also determined by which candidate is dishing out more cash to bribe the electorate, and the result is getting bad service and performance from the leadership. I think the younger generation can change this; we need to elect leaders because of their ability and not the size of their bank accounts.
The second thing I would change is to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor. I can liken the difference here with life and death. Some have so much while others have almost nothing. If I had the power I would do away with all corruption because I believe corruption is the root of this problem.
One thing that Nairobi folks do not know about is that you can give back to society from your desk. Nairobians, especially professionals do not know they can volunteer online and help many initiatives in Kenya and even regionally. I post challenges for our project online on Sparked.com, UnVolunteers.com etc. but all responders are from Europe or USA. It is time we start helping local initiatives. In the same breath, I think it is time local initiatives begin to exploit volunteer opportunities that are available online.
- As a professional how is it working in Nairobi? Is Nairobi open to what you do or what could be better?
I believe that Nairobi is the best place for start-ups, for growth and even for organizations who want to scale up. There are many networking and collaborating opportunities. If you are running a commercial venture you most certainly will find a market with Nairobi because we are spenders. In comparison to many other cities in sub-Saharan Africa, Nairobians love to go shopping and try out new products.
But there is always room to make things better, Nairobi has a population of over 3 Million people who reside there and over 2 million that come in for work or business every day. This makes Nairobi an over-populated city; its amenities are overused and hence overwhelmed. I think devolution should be made to work, whatever brings over 2 million people every day to Nairobi should be made available in neighbouring counties and upcountry to reduce this immigration.
People in Kenya are not generally poor, but generally many suffer from what I call a poverty mentality, many believe that for one to give to charity one must be a millionaire. This is what makes the contrast between us and the west. In the west, people who give to charity are not rich, they too do not have everything but they believe in the power of giving. Fundraising is hence more complex than it is supposed to be.
Bureaucracy in government and corporate agencies also makes things move at a snail’s pace. This is worse in government agencies where getting a permit, a recommendation letter, or a tax waiver for something that will benefit society would take you days if not months. There is much talk of good without unnoticeable action. It is time to walk the talk!!
- If you had a tourist friend coming in from outside the country what three things would you say to sell them the idea that Nairobi is worth visiting?
This would be the easy one because I will only state the facts to them without sugarcoating. I would let them know that the capital and largest city in Kenya is Nairobi, which is famous for having the world’s only game reserve in a large city.
Nairobi is the second-largest city in the African Great Lakes area with 3.5 million residents. With the suburbs included, Nairobi is Africa’s 14th largest city with 6.54 million people. I would encourage them to travel to Nairobi around and mingle with our sincerely friendly residents.
I would also encourage them to see the suburbs and visit the nearby attractions outside the city including the 14 falls in Thika, and Machakos People’s Park, and they should also hike the magical Ngong Hills.
If you would like to interact with James you can find him on Twitter and Facebook. You can also find the Foundation of Hope Life Center on Twitter. James also writes on the issue of Menstruation and one of his articles can be found on the African Feminism website.