Alfred Sigo: A Story Of Resilience And Boldness

Youth and children languish in poverty, there is crime, drugs, alcohol, prostitution and anti-social activities.

After growing up in a slum, he is now happily helping young people in informal settlements avoid the many traps that could destroy their lives.

At 27 years, he is already making an indelible mark.

Alfred was born and raised in Bangladesh, the largest informal settlement in Mombasa. It is home to more than 20,000 people.

Young people there, he says, are seen as a ray of hope for families that have spent their entire lives attempting to rise out of poverty.

However, many young people get into the world of slum gangs, immorality and drug abuse.

In Standard Four, he encountered a life-changing experience that took away his closest friend.

Aged 14 years, his desk mate died during an abortion attempt.

He describes the experience as the key motivation to becoming a youth mentor and advocate. “She died while doing an abortion. I couldn’t believe it. We had earlier sat together in class then in the afternoon we were called in with news. She had been found dead at home.”

“I couldn’t believe she took 12 pills of Malariaquin while at school.”

Growing up, he blamed himself for not having noticed and helped her.

“She was my close friend and desk mate…I wish she had shared her problems with me,” says Alfred.

Fearing stigma, and the harsh reality of bringing up a child in the slums might have triggered the attempted abortion, he says.

As a young person, Alfred witnessed teenage parenting and abortions.

Every other day, people were getting infected with HIV in my area; I had to stand up and fight the menace.

The pull to community service was even greater when his own family members became infected with HIV. His family was dealt a heavy blow when his father, the breadwinner, died. Some of his relatives also passed away.

“With the high numbers of HIV infections in the area, I was driven to start the community initiatives. Some people from my family had also contracted HIV. It was now more of an issue that also affected me,” he narrated.

This realisation of the health challenges facing the community is what has led him to devote more time to educating young people.

Today, he offers advice and help to youth seeking to change their ways.

Life in the slums is not easy, he confesses. “I grew up in the full glare of HIV, unemployment, drugs and youth gang groups.

Life was full of disappointment and deprivations. There was no electricity, water or library to facilitate learning.

He was in and out of school most of the time until free primary education was introduced.

“I always wanted to be a lawyer but I couldn’t be. Ours was a slum school without the necessary amenities,” says Alfred.

He was never aware of a better life beyond what he was used to – dirty lanes, cramped up houses, mountains of rubbish and disorderly drunks were a common sight.

In 2000 after completing his secondary school education, he started a community youth group called Alpha and Omega.

“It first started as a theatre group with four people. We would perform during the chief’s baraza and community meetings,” he says.

The group also organised friendly games and the players were taught life skills.

As a trained peer champion through Unicef, Alfred’s aim is to improve the life of young people through health education and economic empowerment.

“Acting, dancing, music and later on short films were my means. The topics revolved around behavioural change communication, reproductive health and rights,” he says.

At first it was all about awareness. It later moved towards working to provide a sustainable programme for the people.

“I once visited a family living with HIV. They were not aware of its management.

“It was at that point I started doing advocacy. I felt it was my responsibility to bring on board all stakeholders in supporting such families,” he says.

The selflessness extends to even empowering people right from his own living room.

Determined to host the youth, Alfred converted part of his two-bedroom house into a youth empowerment centre.

“I am an advocate of economic empowerment. One of the bedrooms is a photography studio while the kitchen serves as a music studio. The sitting room is left as an open space for the young people,” he explains passionately.

While the kitchen has been glammed up to accommodate young models for photography, the next door opens up to a small room with a bed, clothes, files and books neatly arranged – he lives in this bedroom.

The living room is always a beehive of activities. Pinned on the walls are charts with lucid messages on patriotism and health education.

Worn-out sofas tell a tale of the number of youth who have sat on them for years, while manila papers with work plans are pasted on the walls.

A typical day for Alfred begins with exercise at 4am. He then moves from his room to the now empowerment centre.

At 5am, you will most likely find him working on concepts and writing reports on the progress of his activities.

He takes his time too to study, he simply graduated with a Diploma in Project Management from the Technical University of Mombasa.

Exercises of the Pwani Youth Network, another of his drives, are additionally planned from the premises.

 

Pwani Youth Network was founded and registered as a non-profit community-based organisation in 2013.

“We hold a meeting every day with various departments in the network. We have a modelling agency, photography, a media film foundation and a sports platform,” he says.

Last year he organised 17 youth advocates who engaged county officials and MCAs on matters affecting young people.

“The county government was working on the County Integration Development Plan (CIDP). We looked at the gaps left by the previous CIDP and started engaging the relevant county officials,” Alfred says.

One of his agendas has been pushing the County Government of Mombasa to increase financing for health services targeting the youth.

His greatest joy is seeing youth reformed through his initiative empower others in the community.

He adds that behavioural change is an uphill task but mentoring a school drop-out until he or she becomes a youth advocate keeps him going.

He is motivated him is the more than 100 youths who have benefited from his initiatives.

Alfred is also a peacemaker. During the elections, elders and community policing officials often called on him to calm the tension among the youth in Bangladesh.

“Since I interact with the youth every day it is easier for me to respond to some of the cases. I work on countering violence and extremism,” he says.

Alfred also trains and mentors youth at the Mikindani Youth Friendly Centre and the Gender Based Violence Centre at Bangladesh.

The centre, built through the Deutsche Stiftung Weltbevölkerung (DSW), is intent on reducing new infections and supporting youth living with HIV.

Alfred’s efforts have won him two awards. He was recognised a young human rights activist by the Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHRC) and also awarded for promoting peace in Mombasa by Haki Africa and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission.

Alfred has also travelled to the Netherlands for the Heart Connection Tour to inspire youth.

One of his films, Watamati, bagged the best special effects award at the Kalasha international film festival. He was the executive producer. The film is about social ills.

The greatest challenge he faces is inadequate funds to cater for the large number of youth seeking help. He urges the government to include the youth in planning their programmes.

Should he get more funds in future, he would like to establish a learning institution and talent centre that would accept everyone in spite of their level of education. He wants the centre to nurture their abilities, talents and skills.

He also has a dream of changing how people view young people from Mombasa.

“You will hear people in Nairobi and other areas saying that Mombasa people are lazy. Growing up in a slum and coming up with such great ideas shows that there are more youth who may have the same dream. They only lack opportunities and mentorship.”

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