I grew up in the Mathare slums and was raised by a single mother alongside two sisters and a brother. I am the last born in the family. Growing up in the Mathare slums was hard and I had to face many challenges and problems. Mathare is highly overcrowded and privacy is impossible to achieve.
There is no supply of water and electricity and having a tap with running water or having electricity is a luxury. Sanitation is so poor that to own a toilet is a dream. The makeshift shelters provide little or no protection against both human threats, such as theft, and natural disasters and extreme weather conditions, such as heavy monsoon rains.
Other challenges include inadequate provision for basic needs like food, clothing, education and shelter. There are social challenges too, which include negative peer pressure, bad influences, no positive role models, a lack of advice and guidance, as well no way to realise and develop talents and skills.
My mother was uneducated and unemployed. To support us, she operated a small and illegal business selling a local brew known as change. She tried her best but money from the business could only take care of the need to feed us and she could not afford to educate us properly. I went through primary school and high school but with a lot of struggle.
I would be in and out of class because we couldn’t afford the fees or pay for learning materials. I dropped out of school twice. The Award came into my life when I had almost lost all hope. I had conformed to the ghetto mentality where you believe that your destiny is in the slums. You are born in the slums, grow up, marry, start a family and finally die in the slums. With this kind of attitude, one has no dreams, aspirations, ambitions or motivation and you put hardly any effort towards personal growth and development. I had low self-esteem, no confidence and regarded myself as unfortunate, desperate, hopeless and unworthy. I thought that I would never be able to make it in life and attempted to commit suicide.
With the help of some friendly and passionate assessors, I later came to understand the concept behind the Award. I realised that the Award programme was suitable for everyone and that there is no discrimination on the basis of religion, sex, race, financial status or background. With the guidance of the programme assessors, I began to put effort into the other sections and finally, after another six months, I got my first Award - Bronze.
Completing the first level of the Award programme brought me an overwhelming sense of achievement and satisfaction - I was able to overcome the challenges I had set myself. It made me face the following levels with a profound enthusiasm and passion and I attained Silver and Gold. By the time I completed my Award, I had reaped a lot of benefits from the programme and had achieved so much. Honestly, my life changed a great deal - I was able to deal with my issues. The interesting thing was that no one offered the solution, I worked on the issues myself with guidance from the assessors.
Through the Service section, my passion for the community catapulted. Before the Award, I used to teach junior boys and girls soccer skills as a coach, but after the programme, I initiated a mentorship programme called Raising Hope (originally Rays of Hope) with the help of a friend. We started Raising Hope in 2008 to help the kids in the Mathare slums cope with the vices and challenges that face them. The only role models that these vulnerable children have are the older kids who engage in crime, drug abuse and other negative behaviour. Raising Hope gives them a chance in life through mentorship and guidance.
After completing the Award, I had a desire to help others achieve what I had achieved. I really want to give back to society. I was lucky that I was later trained by the national office as an assessor and even now, I am volunteering for the Award programme with a lot of passion. The Award is a powerful tool that can be used to address the issues affecting young people all over the world. I really believe that I have a role to play in helping others become better citizens. I believe that although I cannot help the whole world, I can help a few. We should all help someone in every way that we can.
Julius Irungu Krush, Kenya