How Obama and a chance encounter led me to my dream job

Wednesday November 29 2017

Kiundu Waweru at the Internews Storyfest awards

Kiundu Waweru at the Internews Storyfest awards 2015, with his award for Best Print Health Writing. PHOTO| COURTESY 

By MARION MAINA
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Gratitude is the word that Kiundu Waweru chooses to best describe his feelings towards his journey to becoming a journalist.

The 37-year-old will be marking his tenth career anniversary in December 2017 and has chosen to do so by giving back to a group of children at the Mutuini Hope Centre.

“When I look back to where I have come from, am overwhelmed with gratitude. It is for this reason that I purposed to commemorate my tenth work anniversary with the gentleman who took a chance of believing in me pretty much when no one else- including me- did. His name is Mbugua Mwangi, a sub-editor at the Sunday Nation and founder of Mutuini Hope Centre. ?He was a regular customer at my barber shop in Kinoo. I was keen on customer relations, engaging them in chitchat whenever I was around at the barbershop. It was great for business but in this particular

case, it gave my life a complete turn-around for the better.”

GREW UP IN ZAMBEZI

Kiundu grew up along Nairobi- Nakuru highway at a place called Zambezi.

The second born in a family of five children, he had a knack for business from a very tender age. He accompanied his mother in her small side hustles of running a green grocery and selling milk at Kangemi to supplement her meagre income at Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) where she worked as a casual labourer.

When he was not helping his mother with the business, Kiundu would often be spotted in butcheries along the highway deeply engrossed in old newspapers.

INSATIABLE APPETTITE

His appetite for reading was simply insatiable.? He was particularly fond of Sunday Nation’s Whispers Column by the late Wahome Mutahi and the Standard’s Stranger than Fiction as well as all kinds of feature stories.

?While the boys his age were out pulling all sorts of mischief, Kiundu would be found buried behind some reading material. He even read the newspapers that insulated and decorated the walls of their humble wooden house from the biting cold and harsh winds along the Highway.

NEVER OWNED A TV

“My folks could not afford a television set or even a radio. Since I was not given to sports, I sought entertainment from storybooks, magazines and

of course the readily available newspapers. I read Swahili and English storybooks in equal measure.?My Kiswahili teacher Mr Ngigi, a great inspiration

and mentor, supplied me with Riwayas. I read my cousins’ high school set books such as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Animal Farm, The

Government Inspector and so many more. Books softened the blow of the struggles we were facing at home. They were my escape to a land of great

possibilities, marvel, adventure and abundance.? They were a special treat which I would devour with great relish, encompassed in a blissful bubble

and totally oblivious to the harsh realities of life.”

In class, Kiundu’s compositions always scored the highest marks.? One day, he was summoned to the staffroom and asked to read aloud his

composition for all the teachers. They interjected severally with claps and cheering, his writing was a work of art to say the least. Despite such

impressive writing skills, no one in Kiundu’s life pointed out his prospects of a career in writing. He was never mentored and his writing was basically

an overflow of his rich creativity cultivated through a fervent reading culture.

BLURRY VISION

When he completed high school, he was still quite lost on what he wanted to do with his life. He had a blurry vision of building a profession in media

but that blur was thickened by lack of mentorship as well as a marred self-esteem that made him think that media jobs were a preserve of people of a

higher caliber than him. His confusion quickly dissipated as he faced the fact that his parents could not afford collage fees. It therefore didn’t really

matter that he hadn’t figured out what he wanted to pursue in college.?

Kiundu Waweru poses for a photo with Juliani,

Kiundu Waweru poses for a photo with Juliani, one of his favourite artistes. PHOTO| COURTESY

“We happened live next to a big hotel and a friend hooked me up with casual labour. I was a natural in the kitchen. I later moved to another hotel

where I rose up the ranks to service and finally a barman.? For the five years I worked there, I made some good money and thoroughly enjoyed my

20s. Then I felt a gnawing in my heart, like I was meant to do more, to be more.? After a few restless days, I packed my bags and left for Mombasa

to go work at the beach hotels. I must have picked my spontaneity and sense of adventure from all those years of reading James Hadley Chase!”

CHANCE ENCOUNTER

When Kiundu arrived in Mombasa, he was hired on a daily wage basis at Nyali Beach resort. He vividly recalls one night when the hotel was hosting a

Quiz night for the guests and he was waiting on the tables.

The table he was assigned to was of a large Indian family.

During the competition, he kept tipping them with answers to the quiz questions. The family became first runners up.

Caught in the excitement of the moment, they told Kiundu that he didn’t belong there merely waiting on tables.? As fate could have had it, Kiundu had a falling out with the supervisor and lost his job at the resort.

JOBLESS AND DEPRESSED

“I was depressed. Here I was in a strange town with no job. I had come to seek greener pastures only to encounter dry sand. I resorted to doing

menial jobs for survival. Around that time, I had also discovered the internet so I spared some money to spend at the cyber café and while away the

hours reading.? One day as I was enjoying a plateful of Pilau in a mabati café at Bamburi, I caught sight of the then Senator Barack Obama’s speech

at the University of Nairobi that was airing from the bleak television screen mounted on the wall of the café. His meticulous oratory skills

drew me to the TV set. As I listened keenly, I was awestruck. His words resonated with my entire existence up to that point. He spoke to my fears

and as I soaked in his words, I felt a stirring in my spirit. After the speech, I passed by the cyber café to read more about him. After a brief reflective

moment, I realised I had achieved very little in my six months stay in Mombasa.? Once again, I packed my bags and went back to Nairobi.”

GOT HIS ACT TOGETHER

When Kiundu came back from Mombasa, broke and thin like a stick, his family helped him get his act together.

His sister Wambui was very supportive in helping him set up a barbershop business.

While in Mombasa, Kiundu had noticed a unique barbershop that had a lovely ambience and high quality services.

He purposed to pioneer this new barbershop set up that was quite contrary to the small cramped up cubicle barbershops that dotted Kinoo, his new residence.

He set up shop and it picked beautifully. Fate seemed to be smiling at him finally.

He got a few employees and though they swindled some of the profits, they were gracious enough not to run down the business.

“Back to the day my regular customer, Mbugua Mwangi dropped in for a haircut. ?Mbugua was always carrying a newspaper and I was always reading something whenever we met at my barbershop. We soon became literary friends.

He had moved in recently to my neighborhood and we occasionally took long evening walks over light conversations.

So on this particular day he asked, out of the blue if I had ever considered writing for a living. In a split second, I had a flash of my childhood dreams of a career in the media. A sharp pain wretched my heart and I was lost for words.

Unaware of the turmoil inside me, he went ahead and urged me to write for Parents Magazine‘s open forum as he worked with the publication. Just when I had penned down something, he got a job with the Standard as a sub-editor.

Dejected, I never submitted that article.? Mbugua persistently pushed me to write and submit to standard’s open forum addressing it to the editor.

I got my first by-line on October 13, 2007 in the publication' s pull-out magazine; Women’s Instinct. Ten years down the line, I have done a degree in

Communications and bagged numerous awards all courtesy of someone who gave me a fair chance to prove myself. Currently, I work as a media

trainer with Internews, an international media development organisation.”

GIVING BACK

Kiundu , together with fellow alumni from Kamagunga Primary school where he is a member of the Board of Management, is in the process of

completing a modern library for the school. Last year, they were able to renovate the classrooms in a bid to create a conducive learning environment

for the pupils .On December 10, this year he has invited his friends and acquaintances to celebrate 10 years of his career in journalism by joining the

Mutuini Hope Centre ,in Dagorreti South for a thanksgiving fundraiser to fund the center’s expansion of classrooms as well as putting up a well-stocked library.

“Despite my rough start, I am living my dream. That happened because someone gave me a helping hand along the way.? My teachers applauded me

and gave me books, my cousins let me enjoy their set books, the various butcheries along the Nairobi-Nakuru Highway had me spoilt for choice with

newspapers, my good friend Mbugua Mwangi appeared when I was ready to break free from mediocrity; empowered by Barack Obama’s speech and

most importantly, my mother has been there throughout the journey guarding my confidence and letting me know that I can be whatever I aspire to

be. The reason I mentor kids and give back to children is because different people spread across different times in my life, did the same for me.”

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