Fredrick Njoroge is a reformed criminal and founder of ‘Piga Look Initiative’ in Mukuru Viwandani slums. He spoke to the Nairobian about his life in crime, battle with drug addiction, and the incident that gave him a new lease of life.
Where did all this start?
I was born and raised in Mukuru Viwandani slums where we were surrounded by hardships and frustrations. My parents were unable to provide basic needs since they lived from hand to mouth. I found solace in the wrong company. Peer pressure, lack of role models and mentors fueled my urge to engage in crime and drugs. Crime was my hustle. Drugs helped me to forget the situation at home.
They also made me level up with my peers. All this started after primary education in 2007 when I couldn’t proceed with secondary school due to financial constraints. I was trapped by peers because of idleness and the frustrating life in the slums. I joined a deadly gang of youths from different hoods such as Mathare, Kibra, Kayole, and Dandora.
What were the operations of the gang?
We used to spot areas or business premises and ambush. We also conducted highway robberies.
What is the most regrettable thing you did in crime?
I bumped into an expectant woman and pulled out a gun on her. She was frightened, peed on herself and collapsed. This hit me so hard. I panicked and got confused. I didn’t know if I should help her or run but since her collapse raised attention, I just took her phone and money and fled the scene. Deep inside I felt something strange I had never felt before. I felt remorseful.
Did that make you reflect on changing your lifestyle?
Yes, it did. I took time before I went back to crime but still, it wasn’t easy to stop. It was my main source of income, so any time I thought of quitting and ran broke, I found myself going back to robberies. But that incident made me remorseful while conducting robberies.
How did this lifestyle affect your life?
I can’t wish it on any youth. I didn’t have freedom. I lost some of my close friends and classmates. I lost focus in life and found myself living on the streets as I was being hunted by cops. I became a thorn in the flesh of the community. I wasn’t welcomed. I was viewed as a bad example. I became so addicted to drugs, I would fall seriously sick if I missed my fix.
How was street life?
Going to the streets was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Life was tough. It was hell. Since I was already in crime, robbery became the order of the day. I couldn’t afford to beg on the streets. I got different types of drugs and the addiction got me weak and finally sick.
When did change knock in your mind?
When my friends were shot dead reality dawned on me. Some went to prison and others to mental hospitals. Others died due to excessive drug use. That opened my eyes and I decided to turn over a new leaf.
How was your journey of change?
The experience wasn’t easy especially abstaining from drugs that had taken over my body. Financial constraints meant missing out on rehab but my family and friends picked me from the streets to a rehab centre and on to my journey of recovery.
It took time to sober up but I thank God the centre never gave up on me. They were so persistent to see me change. They not only rehabilitated but also trained me in life skills and counseling. It was really hard abstaining from drugs but I fought and came out sober.
How was the reaction when you came out clean?
The community had mixed reactions at first. But immediately I was pronounced drug-free, I got saved and became an evangelist. Some said I was just hiding my bad character in church. Others believed I had changed but expected me to backslide. It was not until I started preaching and conducting drugs and crime awareness seminars did they start trusting me.
What inspired you to start the ‘Piga Look Initiative’?
It was after reflecting on my life in the slums and the streets that I thought of saving our young generation. Lack of proper basic needs like clothes can push one into a life of crime and drug abuse. That was the inspiration behind this initiative which also creates awareness in the community.
What are you most proud of?
I founded the ‘Piga Look Initiative’. I am a preacher at Mt Zion African Ministries besides owning my own rental house. I am also the chairperson at KIKAKA C.B.O. I am a peer counselor at Youth Ventures Initiative, a motivational speaker at VICCO ORG who walked with me in my reform journey.
I am also a community champion at Mukuru Youth Initiative (MuYI), a member of Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), a member of P.L.O Lumumba Foundation Kenyan Chapter and the Fresh Cutz Foundation besides being the chairperson at Alternatives Africa Mobile Business Chapter and a community volunteer within Nairobi slums.