NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 11 – The soft afternoon sun is calmly spreading its rays across the expansive Dandora area and the quiet peace and tranquility at the Social Hall in Phase Four, though punctuated by the stench from the nearby dumping site, is quickly disrupted when a familiar vehicle is spotted snaking its way in.
The Hall, with a gym and a handful of people sitting in a small group discussing issues of the day in hushed tones, is quickly invaded by a marauding crowd, most of them mothers, as they sight the car that once in a week delivers a filling meal.
It is the Friends of Arnold Origi meal caravan.
Once in a week, the nearby families benefit from a program started by the former Kenya number one to feed street families whose difficult struggle to find food has been made even harder by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Smiles quickly line up near several of the hall windows, children with glowing eyes, mothers with hungry babies on their backs and men eager to get what might be their only meal of the day.
“I am very excited. I don’t know who has brought this food but we always look forward. I just want to say that may God bless him and make him richer,” one of the young boys, about six years, already licking his fingers after ravaging his share of the meal says, his wide smile betraying the joy from his heart.
Another one quickly adds; “I have known Origi since he was a kid and is almost like a brother. I am very excited to see him doing this because not all celebrities from the hood have such kind of a heart. I just pray that God blesses him with more and hopefully I see him back in the national team soon.”
It is a similar story all through the small compound as smiles and laughs rent their air.
Origi, through an initiative he started with friends thought of setting up the program at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to lend a helping hand to street families to get well cooked lunch and breakfast.
“I always believe that if you are a member of the society and you have been blessed with a voice loud enough to be heard by the rest of the society, it’s your responsibility to lend your voce to those whose voices are not loud enough,” Origi says, speaking to Capital Sports from his base in Helsinki, Finland.
“I feel like I have been blessed with a voice loud enough to be heard and that’s why I decided to use my voice to help,” he adds.
Through friends all the way from his second home Norway to Nairobi, Origi collects funds weekly and sends it from his base in Helsinki to the Kenyan capital, where he has partnered with others to cook lunch meals thrice in a week and distribute them to families in the streets.
“It started as an idea from the awareness of the need for help to the street families. At first, I made my own donation to set the ball rolling and then I reached out to my friends and family who came through in a massive way and suddenly the thing was gathering momentum,” Origi explains.
Twice, they distribute to street families in the Central Business District and once in Dandora.
They provide a whole lunch meal as well as milk and bread for the mothers which will be used for breakfast the following day. They have a weekly budget of almost Sh50,000 for the three weekly meals.
Their target is to feed at least 150 people per sitting.
“We cook different meals ranging from ugali, chapati, rice and meat. We also include water and a fruit as well as milk and bread,” says Ryan Williams, who heads the catering unit of Origi’s CSR program.
He adds; “Arnold has given us huge support and we would not have done without him. We appreciate because we have been able to reach a lot of people, rescue people from the streets and some have gone back to their families.”
Francis Karanja who runs the logistics back home on behalf of Origi says the reception has been so big that they are thinking of expanding the program to other areas.
“We decided to do cooked food because even if you give them dry foodstuff, they don’t have anywhere to cook from in the streets. The people we serve have been so appreciative and now they demand is increasing,” he says.
For the street families in the CBD, reformed street boy John Mbugua, alias Bravo, has been of massive help as a link as they try reach out to the most vulnerable.
“Before COVID, I had been working with street families to look at ways they can better their lives through sports and we have had activities in cycling, football, taekwondo and boxing. Origi came in when we needed him most because street families have always had problems with food. Those who were previously donating to us couldn’t continue because of the pandemic and when Arnold came in, he made the situation bearable for us,” Mbugua noted.
On top of the street families feeding program, Origi has been rolling out help to the Single Mothers Initiative based in Ziwani whose sole purpose is to help young mothers leave the streets and transform into responsible citizens who can fend for themselves.
Origi has donated sewing machines to the program with the proprietor Angeline Nandwa says they use them to equip the street mothers with a skill that they can use to help themselves.
Nandwa’s program deals with street mothers aged between 13-17 years and they take them in with their children, give them a place to stay and apart from teaching them skills like sewing, baking and catering, they also offer them education through a government-seconded teacher.
“Arnold came in at the start of the year when we did not have funding and he has been helping with feeding the street families. Now we are also partnering with him in a project where these mothers will use the machines we have to make face masks with his branding. He will sell them and proceeds will come back to the mothers,” Nandwa explains.
“He has been of great help to us and you can’t even compare him to anyone else from this community who has managed success but never come back to help the community or give back where he came from.”
“This is something really great he has done and others should emulate him. Getting mothers and children off the streets is not an easy task,” she adds.
The shot-stopper says his affection towards mothers pushed him to offer more support and he says he wants to make the program bigger even long after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
“Mothers have a very special place in my heart and it is very heartbreaking for me to see a mother in pain or suffering and that’s why I decided to do this.”
To add on to whatever he is already giving, Origi has worked with renowned media personality Stella Katiwa (Miss Katiwa) in empowering the girls and not just giving them a meal for the day.
Katiwa has had her own CSR activities with HIV Positive women and girls in Kibera and for her, seaming in to Origi’s initiative was a natural decision.
“I have been brought up in the ghetto and didn’t have the prestige of having full education. I know what these girls and women go through and when Arnold asked me to come in, I didn’t think twice. I saw it as a good opportunity to also help in empowering the girls and encouraging them,” she says.
Origi plans to move on with this project beyond COVID-19 with his biggest target being to help as many mothers and families as a whole off the street.
“The plan is to make it long term even after the COVID-19 situation. We want to take the direction of having these mothers off the streets. Of course we can’t get all of them out but even if we get two or three and equip them to fend for themselves and be able to sustain their families, that would be really awesome,” Origi states.
Meanwhile, Mbugua who runs a separate program with street kids, but relies on help from Origi has urged the former Kenyan international to create an annual street children tournament to help them realize their talents.
“It would be a great thing if we had an Origi Cup every year exclusively for street children where they can come, play and show their talents. You never know who is watching and they might get life from it. But so far, I really appreciate the kind of help that Origi has given us,” he adds.