Here in Pumwani everyone has some story to tell. This is the story of Peter Mweke, a 17 year old lad who I’ve been teaching to read and write, and who has become a good friend. Peter recently needed to get his story written on paper and I was helping him with the process. This is what he told me to write:
‘I was brought to Pumwani when I was very young by some person. The name and identity of that person is not known. The person came and asked if anyone wanted me. An old lady said she did and she paid the person 400/= (around £3). This lady went to the chief to get permission to look after me and the chief said she should take care of me as if I was her own child. But if someone came to look for me then she should bring that person to the chief. The old lady then took me in and gave me my name: Peter Mweke. I stayed with this lady for many days and no one came looking for me.
When I was 5 years old, the grandmother took me to school. The grandmother loved me very much. But when I was 6 years old and in class 1, the grandmother died.
I started collecting metal and selling it to get some money. It was hard work. I started to go to the streets because life like this was tough. But I continued studying as well as trying to provide for myself.
By the time I was in class 4, I had totally turned to the streets and was living as a street child. I was collecting garbage to sell and continued like this until I started stealing metals. After a while I became the street children’s leader. I was the big boss. There were 17 boys I used to steal with and I was in charge. I used to wake them up late at night so they could go and steal.
One night, as usual, I woke the boys to go and steal but they refused to come, so I went with only one other boy. We went to a garage to steal car parts. We got there, beat the security guard and took spare parts of cars from the garage. But thieves are not easily satisfied, so we entered another garage to steal more, but found some dogs there. We threw meat to distract the dogs and started the steal the car parts. We didn’t realise there were watchmen there. Suddenly the watchmen came and started to chase us. We weren’t prepared and they caught us and tied us up by our hands and legs. The watchmen started beating us until we were unconscious. They kept us there, unconscious, until morning. The boss of the garage came in the morning and told guards that they should have set fire to us and killed us because we were bad boys.
He was very angry, but he didn’t kill us. He took us to a chief and we were beaten again. Then the chief took us to Shauri Moyo police station and we were put in a cell. After court, we were taken to an approved school. Here we were made to dig and do farm work. After a while in that approved school we were taken to another place in Machakos where we stayed for some time. This is where I learnt I had a talent of singing. I began to dream of recording my music and I have never lost hope.
In 2008 I was released from the approved school and came back to Pumwani. I decided not to return to street life. I wanted to change my life but I didn’t have anywhere to stay, so I slept in a factory which makes ice. I took myself to school and started class 5. To support myself I started to do small business making and selling mandazi. I do this before school and this gets me money for food. I use some of the money I make for food, but some I have saved and I recorded my first song.
I have had a lot of challenges but I have never lost hope. After all that I have been through I think I have become a good example to other street children and I have changed my life completely. I thank the Lord for everything, every day. Every day I see boys being killed and it breaks my heart because I believe that if I can change then so can they.
That is my story.’ Peter Mweke.