“It's important to choose your friends wisely because they can make or break your future.”
In the space of just a few years, 19-year-old Chilemba's life has changed dramatically after meeting a social worker from PKL(Toybox's local partner in Kenya),which led him to train as a beauty therapist. Here, he shares his journey from a life reliant on the streets to full-time employment.
"I used to go to the streets on and off since I was in class 5 - I was working there and going home in the evening. When I was 13, my parents separated as my father was very violent towards me and my mother. At this point, my mother was unable to pay for my school requirements and provide for other basic needs, so I dropped out of school and went fully to the streets. Staying at home all day with nothing to do and with no money was hard - there was barely any food. My parents did not care much, so I decided to find something to do to earn money and be with my friends.
Before I met PKL, I had given up on life. I used to go days without food, put on dirty clothes and sleep in a pig shelter where I would help the pig owner by feeding the pigs in exchange for a plate of food and place to sleep. I felt neglected and had lost hope. I had bad friends who influenced me into using drugs and engaged in petty crime for survival. I'm grateful that PKL helped me out of that agony."
When Chilemba was 17, he met a social worker from PKL, who told him about the Nione project, where he has since been receiving support and guidance to help him move away from the streets. Speaking about his involemnet at the project he explains;
"I was interested in the project as I needed something better to do. I like how the social workers are friendly and ready to support you. I also enjoy the life skills and mental health sessions because they are very practical and you apply them in daily life. At the project we've also been supported to improve our economic situation through business start-up and entrepreneurship training. We were trained to save and borrow credit and form a savings group. Now we can save and borrow credit from the groups."
Through the project, Chilemba has also been supported to access vocational training, where he completed a course in beauty therapy. Reflecting on his time spent on the training course he recalls;
"I'd always had a passion in beauty and needed to acquire the skills to better my life and leave street life, which is very unfriendly. I also wanted to be far away from friends who had a negative influence on my behaviour. I wanted to meet new people who would help in boosting my self-esteem and feel like a normal human being.
When I started my training the hardest thing was getting used to being occupied for the whole day. Waking up every day and reporting to school was a bit hard in the initial stages, but I'm grateful to PKL who did numerous follow ups and checks to ensure I attended school.
My tutor was also very good and knew how to motivate me. She understood my background well and would always encourage me to work extra hard. Through the course I learned skills in nail art, massage, pedicure and manicure, and makeup application. I was also taught communication skills and how to better relate with people - which has enabled me to relate well with my clients."
Since completing the beauty therapy course, Chilemba has found a job in a local salon and is now able to financially support himself. He continues;
"I'm proud that I've finally finished my training. Now I'm able to support my mother with household needs and I'm also paying my own rent with ease. I'm living a meaningful life away from the streets. I earn money through the beauty work that I do and I also have a joint second-hand shoe business with my friend which I started from savings I've made.
I like having the opportunity to interact with new people away from the slums where I live and that I'm occupied and busy. I enjoy making my clients look beautiful. When they say 'thank you' it gives me the motivation to work harder. I also like the fact that no one looks down on me and they love and respect what I do. We live as a family, and this makes me look forward to reporting to work every morning.
Chilemba is still involved with the Nione project, where he attends sessions which focus on the development of soft skills for use in the workplace. A staff member from the project shared;
"Chilemba is very committed, disciplined, humble and respectful. He was much loved by his tutors, and this has contributed to his success."
Chilemba has clear goal for the future and concludes;
"I hope to save enough to one day open my own beauty parlour and employ other youth from my community. You can change your life despite your circumstances. You just need to have a purpose and be committed to it."