I have brothers and we all speak perfect English

Nelson Mandela said, if you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. But, if you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart. Well, I have brothers and we all speak perfect English. Maybe, that’s why my request for help with what Lifesong Kenya is doing has gone unanswered for the past 10 years. 

Working with boys and young men has taught me the value of having a father-figure and a supportive band of brothers

They also say, that if at first you don’t succeed, you keep trying. But, what happens if you share the same message for ten years and nothing significant happens? What happens if you share the same message in three different languages and nothing moves the hearts of your target audience?

For the past ten years, I have been running Lifesong Kenya, an organization that I founded back in 2013. Throught the organization, boys and young men who are in conflict with the law get a second chance and the tools they need to get back on their feet. Together with our team, we provide access to restorative justice, education and transitional housing.

This enables the boys and young men that we work with to take responsibility for their mistakes, heal and reconcile with their families and the people they have wronged and hurt. It is work that began as a personal initiative when I began visiting juvenile prison every Friday in July 2012. With time, I have come to learn that this is something that requires the involvement of other people, which I thought meant getting men onboard.

I have brothers and we all speak perfect English

My failure to find men who can support this work used to drive me crazy. I started doubting my value and worth as a man. This got worse whenever our team cycled across Kenya to raise funds for our work.

Cycling in 2018 to 2020 was the most difficult for me. I would think about my failure to get support and break down. With time, I started looking back to the challenges I have faced with what I have come to refer to as ‘reserved resignation.’

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Lifesong Kenya

In hindsight, I look at every challenge, barrier and struggle I have been through as a blessing in disguise. Had I gotten all the help that our work needs right from the very beginning, I wouldn’t have learned the valuable lessons that I have learned. Let me start from the very beginning, okay?

When I first met the first 100 hundred boys in juvenile prison, I immediately recognized what they needed. Because they needed the same thing that I grew up without and desperately needed, I wanted to make a 180-degrees turn and run in the opposite direction. The year that I turned 13 years, my dad died. His death left an emptiness that needed to be filled up by an adult male role model. 

This need was never met and by the time I was meeting the boys in July 2012, I didn’t see value in myself. In 2016, I eventually had an opportunity to walk away from it all when I took a year-long break to reflect on the decision I had made to quit my job three years earlier. During this break, I started running in the morning and using it to pray and ask God to speak to me. 

Lifesong Kenya's programs

God's strange sense of humour

I kept asking God to speak to me in a voice that I could easily recognize. However, He didn’t speak to me in a dream. Instead, I got a call from Angela Uwamahoro Kamanzi, asking me to meet her for a cup of coffee. When we met, she asked me, “When are you going back to prison?”

“I’ve decided to stop going,” I replied. “I’ve realized that this isn’t the kind of thing that I should focus my energy, time and effort to,” I added. “I’m just not the right guy for it!”

“James, you need to go back to prison,” Angela said, “those boys and their families need you.”

“I’m waiting for God to speak to me,” I replied. 

Laughing, she replied, “How do you want God to speak to you?”

“Through a dream and in a language that I will easily understand!” I said.

Then I told her that I was taking the whole year off to clear my mind, reflect and whether I was going to continue going to prison or quit. In the end, I decided that the very thing that I thought I lacked was at the same time the same thing that I needed to continue working with boys in juvenile prison. The same thing that I thought I lacked was the same thing that gave me valuable experience that I need because I am able to identify with the need for a father-figure.

Moving ahead with courage

Together with the boys, our collective desperate need for a father-figure is the same thing that ties us together. That is why I no longer consider the numerous challenges I have faced in my work with a lot of humility, dignity and gratitude. I know that getting the funding and resources we need would have robbed me of the valuable lessons that I have gained. 

But I would be lying if I said that I don’t need help. Since most people usually consider young men who are in conflict with the law as perpetrators, very few people support us. This makes it harder to receive support especially from men. Even though I have asked for help and tried to engaged men around me in our work, not many men have answered the call.

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have brothers and we all speak perfect English. Maybe, that’s why I am finding it hard to find men who can support our work with boys who are in conflict with the law. But despite this, I strongly believe that it is a matter of time before we start getting the support that our work requires.  This is the hope and faith that keeps our vision alive. Of course, I welcome you to be part of our growing community so we can do more.