It was always the gang members who had the nicest clothes. The drug dealers who wore the best shoes. When Ben Mwangi saw those well-dressed men on the streets outside his home, he wanted what they had.
Instead, Ben had thin sandals that left his feet sore and bruised, clothes so tattered they could fall apart at any moment. He knew those young men had nice things only because they did bad things. But the temptation was almost too great to bear.
Ben grew up in the slums of Korogocho, one of the largest in Nairobi. His parents worked odd jobs, his mother occasionally brewing liquor in their home. Ben often slept to the sound of drunken men arguing outside his home — and woke to the sour smell of alcohol spilled on the floor.
The conditions inside his home mirrored those outside on the muddy, garbage-filled streets. In Korogocho, the majority of families live below the poverty line, making just U.S.$1 a day. Unemployment has bred a potent mix of crime, drug abuse and alcohol abuse. Many girls resort to prostitution, spreading HIV throughout the community.
Ben had no safe place to retreat — until he found Compassion. When he was 9, he was registered at the Korogocho Child Development Center. Suddenly he had a peaceful place to do his homework after school. He could play with his friends without being accosted by local gang members.
“I became so engaged in the program, and there was no time left for me to mingle with any of the gangs,” says Ben. “Most of my friends who weren’t in Compassion are right now either dead, have lost hope, or are hospitalized because of drug abuse. One of my best friends, whom I studied with, already has three children. He is jobless and still in drugs.”
Nothing good can come from Korogocho. Ben had heard that message his whole life. Children in the slums grow up to be adults in the slums. But Compassion gave him a different path. The encouragement of his sponsor, combined with the support of the Compassion workers, gave him hope that something good could, in fact, come from Korogocho.
“I don’t think it would have been possible if Compassion had never come into the picture,” says Ben. “God is not limited, maybe He would have made another way for me. But I believe God used Compassion to change my life. One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received is Compassion.”