The chicken thief

By Kinya Kaunjuga

Things were turning out better than expected. The small group of miscreants had grown in number after the successful capture of the rooster. What now consumed them was getting a hold of the propane gas lighter.

The rooster belonged to the high school farming club and had been raised on a special nourishment formula, a closely guarded recipe passed down from one club leader to the next. Its size boasted an ability to provide a feast.

A few teenagers hanging out in their neighborhood in Mathare slum. Balala, a black belt nurse employed at Uzima Medical Clinic which is located in that slum, is pictured here engaging in conversation with them.

The group leader was Fidel Castro and no one was surprised. He was already facing possible expulsion after racking up multiple demerits from breaking almost every rule in the school. His antics had only fallen short of appearing in the school newspaper because that would fuel the rumors and myths about him which always seemed to make the school principal the villain and Fidel Castro more popular whichever turn they took.

A school in Mathare slum.

It had taken time to plan their heist. Everyone knew the night guard left his post just twice very briefly and that was when everything had to take place. The chemistry whiz in the group couldn’t guarantee that his sleep inducing concoction wouldn’t poison the bird or the guard. Only the bravest and most daring students were entrusted with core functions because there was no plan B with a live chicken.

The conclusion had been that it all needed to happen almost at once. Stealing the chicken and breaking into the chemistry lab to get the propane torch. Fearless Fidel would apprehend the prized cockerel and silence him with a blindfold. No one else was venturesome enough to stand between the high school farming club and their win at the regional competition. The chemistry whiz was tasked with getting the gas lighter from the school lab and a deputized leader would commandeer the rest to find firewood and build a large fire.

Somewhere between gazing in anticipation at their meal which was roasting on a blazing flame and bragging about their success among themselves, the pack of go-getters never realized the air was filling with gas. The chemistry whiz described his dexterity at disconnecting the propane torch from a gas pipe in the school lab and crawling back out of a window undetected. There was a loud explosion as the fire ignited everything around it and lit up the night sky. The entire school was jolted out of sleep by the shrill whistle blowing of the night guard in between his frantic shouts of “Fire! Fire!”

Fidel Castro and his followers had fled in all directions, not daring to glance back at their meal as it sizzled into a pile of ashes.

The Slum Odyssey

A walkway between homes in Mathare slum.

Name: Fidel Castro O.
Age: 17
Father: unknown
Mother: currently a third wife
Siblings: three
Residence: tin structure in Mathare slum
Education: grade 11
Health status: addiction to drugs
Addiction substances: illicit brews of alcohol and the “slum cocktail” (a mix of cannabis, cocaine, diazepam, tobacco and petrol dried and rolled).

Adding to a rap sheet of four fights, the theft of the high school’s chicken which is considered a criminal offense, finally got 17-year-old Fidel Castro suspended from school. During the time out of school, he was caught stealing a bicycle, beaten by a mob and left for dead. Barely a couple of days later, he was arrested by undercover police while buying and using the slum cocktail.

Balala visited the badly bruised and despondent Fidel in his police cell. It had been a long and miserable two nights but no harm had come to him because Balala had called in a favor to a friend, a high-ranking officer at the police station, when Fidel’s mother had called for help.

Some young men who live in slums eke out a living by transporting garbage for market vendors to dumpsites using a "mukokoteni" like the one above. (Constructed from used wheels, wood and some metal).

A few of the slum residents were preparing to bury another victim of mob justice. In the week prior to March 1st, 2024, a local morgue had received 13 patients between 17 and 22 years of age who had been beaten by mobs when caught committing crimes. One of them was Fidel’s friend and as he wept during the burial, he asked Balala, “Will we eat hope?

In the video below shared by Balala, we see him training children from the slum in taekwondo. He is a full time nurse and does this for free as an after school program to help steer them away from joining gangs and begging in the streets.

The medical clinic where Balala works is a fortress of safety and hope for everyone in the Mathare south slum. That includes gang members. You can read more about their impact in the stories, We dance, Black Belt Nurse and Protected by gangs.

Fidel Castro is back in school. He was willing to return on condition he was not made to repeat the tenth grade but go on with the eleventh. Balala pleaded with the school principal to take back Fidel because he was desperate to rescue him from idling in the slum, where within just three months of being out of school he had almost been murdered. Balala is also aiding Fidel in overcoming his addiction; although he has stopped consuming the slum cocktail, he remains addicted to the slum’s illicit alcohol brews.

A lot of the teens here are so addicted they keep returning to the drug bases where they are recruited into gangs and a life of crime,” says Balala, black belt nurse at Uzima Medical Clinic, users of BandaGo software since 2019.

Balala and Uzima White (owner and clinical officer of Uzima Medical Clinic) continue to try and find out who is supplying the diazepam pills to the addicts in the slum. They have been unsuccessful so far.

The Secret of Life

Seen here, a wall in Mtego slum proclaiming "the secret of life": Think, Believe, Dream and Dare.

Thank you for your support that helps us as we think, believe, dream and dare to impact the lives of some of the poorest patients in the world by building technology solutions for the medical clinics that are treating them.

In slums, informal settlements and distant rural villages, small medical clinics are a lifeline to so many. We simply couldn’t do it without you.

Photos by: Banda Health.

Kinya Kaunjuga

Kinya Kaunjuga

Kinya brings passion, an infectious laugh and 15 years of experience in the corporate and non-profit world to Banda Health. A Texas A&M alumni with a degree in Journalism and Economics, she says, "I love doing things that matter!"