Former street child brings hope to Nairobi’s slums

Aug 08, 2018

Given a hand up, Sam’s now giving back.

Samuel Omoll was just nine years old and living with his parents in Nairobi, Kenya, when his life took a tragic turn.
Both his parents and his baby sister were killed in a road accident, leaving Samuel and his five-year-old sister orphaned. The two children were separated—each one taken by a relative—and Samuel went to live with his grandmother in the country. Over the next two years, he moved from one home to another until, at just 11 years of age, he made the unimaginable decision to live on the street with two friends.
“I was neglected and exploited at my relatives’ homes,” he explains. “Life on the street was better. We were eating and sleeping together. We would scavenge in the markets or sometimes people would give us food.”

For three years, the boys managed to survive on the streets of Kericho and Kisumu before finally arriving back in Nairobi. But life in Nairobi became even tougher, as the boys became scavengers in Dandora, a huge dumpsite, searching for food and any object they could sell to pay their rent in the Korokocho slum. Sam was still just 14 years-old. 
“We were sniffing glue to feel good, but when we joined a scavenger gang in the dumpsite, we became heavy on drugs,” he says. “Life on the street toughened us up and we started stealing from people, and it became more dangerous.”

A group of four young men sit on a pile of garbage
Sam speaks with kids at the Dandora dump, where he spent his time as a youth. Photo: Samuel Omoll

One day, Sam stayed at home sick while his two childhood friends went out with the gang. Things turned bad, and his younger friend was stoned to death, “buried by the city”.
The death of Sam’s friend affected him deeply. The tragedy was a turning point. Soon afterward, he made the decision to leave the gang. He took a job as a parking attendant in a different part of town. That’s where he was spotted by World Vision staff and was recruited to join a project for orphans and vulnerable children.
Sam had always wanted to become a journalist, but that would be near impossible without any formal education. Even so, “God works in mysterious ways and nothing is impossible with him,” Sam says.
With support from World Vision, and after receiving a hard-earned acceptance to college, Sam completed a three-year technical diploma in mass communication through a program that didn’t require English. He then got a job at a Catholic radio station.
“This was through in-built skills from God, because I could not even write a script. But I was very good technically, and I loved journalism,” he says.
Sam also took freelance jobs, producing stories and photos for local TV stations, including coverage of the 2007 post-election violence. Then, in October 2014, Sam joined World Vision. “When I applied and went for the interview, I knew I did not have the level of education they were looking for, but I just told them, ‘I am one of yours and I am very good in practical [work].’”

A man operates a video camera
Sam covers a Canadian parliamentary visit to Kenya in May 2018. Photo: Agnes Muvira Kiromera 

Today, Samuel Omoll is an assistant videographer in the department of communication with World Vision Kenya. He is married to Treezah and they have two beautiful children: Lexy, seven, and Hector, four.
But wait—that’s not everything about Sam. This story would not be complete without sharing how he’s giving back to the community through his own charity, Mngaro Mtaani, which means “shine in the hood.”
“I was sleeping one night, and God gave me this name,” he says. The charity was started because Sam didn’t want anyone else to go through the same things he endured, and he wanted to bring joy to others.
“I am giving back because I know how it feels to lack. I used to go without clothes or shoes and would sometimes steal—girls even go into early marriage just to get clothes,” Sam says. He started by collecting his own family clothing and bringing it to the slums, where he also talks to youth about the hazards of drugs and crime. Today the charity is registered and has benefitted 7,200 people.
Sam now spends his evenings and weekends using his platform to reach kids, not unlike himself, in the dumpsite and in the slums and streets of Nairobi that he once called home.

By Agnes Muvira Kiromera​

A woman and man embrace each other and pose for a picture
The author with Sam in Kenya.