Kawangware

MUSIC TO CONQUER POVERTY IN KENYA

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How can you find meaning in your life when growing up in one of the biggest slums of Kenya? In Kawangware, KAJA BERG met ‘The Conquerors’.

The Kawangware slum in Nairobi has 800.000 inhabitants. Like other African slums it consists of tons of garbage, worn down sheds and very bad sanitation.

The Conquerors is a band formed of five young men called Paul Gandu, Douglas Masheti, Bernard Kimwere, Evans LisaLiza and Jackson Katunzi, who are determined to overcome their background in poverty.

“Everyone has their own story, but we all found ourselves on the street,” Masheti says.

Masheti’s mother’s died in 1994 when he was only 12 years old and his father was unable to provide food for the family as he didn’t have a job.

“Most of the time I usually don’t want to talk about my past because I feel like crying.

“I believe that if I had been brought up well with both of  my parents I could have made a very good progress in my life, but because of living in the streets of Nairobi drinking alcohol, taking drugs like sniffing glue and jet fuel as well as being involved in crime, my life changed.”

The group explains that people who are well off depend on their gods, but for them living in the street at that time they used to depend on drugs in order to forget the challenges in their lives.

Douglas Masheti lost one of his best friends to drugs.

“One day we found him dead and two other friends are still in rehabilitation at the moment. I thank God that I am alive and that I can still continue to share and create awareness about drugs and HIV/AIDS.

“Living on the street means you live a careless life, but at the same time street life is a life of love.

“We cared about each other and shared everything with everyone.

“Sniffing glue was common among kids as well as adults since we all shared the glue.” Kimwere explains.

Today the men work together to reach out to young people that have fallen victim to prostitution, peer pressure and drugs.

The Conquerors, from the left: Jackson Katunzi, Bernard Kimwere, Paul Gandu, Douglas Masheti and Evans Lisaliza in the front. (Photo: Kirsten Markhus Underland).
The Conquerors, from the left: Jackson Katunzi, Bernard Kimwere, Paul Gandu, Douglas Masheti and Evans Lisaliza in the front. (Photo: Kirsten Markhus Underland).

In Kenya over 60% of the population is under 25 years old and the country loses a great deal of them due to things like HIV/AIDS, abortion, drugs, abuse, crime and war.

After meeting in the streets and discovering each other’s music talent the young men formed ‘The Conquerors’ in 2002 with intentions to change lives through their music.

The Conquerors offer music concerts, drama festivals and visiting learning institution in Kenya as that’s where their target audience is.

Education is some of the things kids can miss out on when they’re left in the streets and one of the projects The Conquerors started is to offer the children in Kawangware free meals.

“In Kenya we have free education to everyone, but when the kids are not full they can’t learn anything so we want to feed them before they go to school,” says Kimwere.

The Conquerors also visit schools, colleges, churches, orphanages and homeless children to share the knowledge of god through music, give away clothes and food from donors to those who need it and to create awareness and prevent issues the youth is faced with today.

“People in the slums can only get out of the slums and make a better life if they believe in themselves because I believe change begins with oneself. “ Masheti claims.

“The Conquerors were living in the slum, but now we are making a difference.

“For us it’s all about giving back to the community.”

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