The story of Dan Oduor — founder of ROCK Kenya.
Dan Oduor is the founder and executive director of Reaching Out with Compassion in Kibera (ROCK Kenya). The organization’s main purpose is to transform the livelihood of Kibera residents through education in the slums of Kibera. Dan started the organization about ten years ago. To-date, the organization has served more than a hundred students through high school.
Why did Dan start ROCK Kenya?
There are a number of reasons why Dan decided to start ROCK. Growing up in the heart of Kibera slums, there are a lot of challenges that Dan faced during his childhood among them poverty. He was raised in a family of ten — three sisters and five brothers (including his parents) and his parents didn’t have stable sources of income and therefore it was hard for the parents to feed all the family members. This led Dan to search for new ways of surviving at a tender age.
While hustling on the streets, Dan witnessed his friends being shot dead by the police for engaging in criminal activities and girls falling in the trap of early pregnancies. Due to lack of proper jobs to consume the time always growing number of idle youths, they decided to join gang groups — robbing people for survival. This forced the police to hunt down these young people on the streets and firing in an uncountable number of bullets into their ribs. Although Dan himself didn’t engage in the gang groups, he felt very bad seeing his friends being murdered by the police.
The lack of school fees contributed hugely towards this high rate of criminal activity and idle youths on the streets. Parents in Kibera didn’t (and still don’t) have enough money to take their children to high schools and colleges. Hence, after primary education pupils don’t always have proper knowledge or advice on how to progress from there and such, the only way left to earn their dream lives is through engaging in crime.
Dan experienced all these challenges on a daily basis and there was a need to turn the situation. All these challenges motivated him to do something that would transform the youth around Kibera. Hence, ROCK was born. The existence of ROCK is to provide the solutions to the above-mentioned challenges — paying school fees for less privileged families, reducing youths’ engagement in crime, getting rid of poverty, taking responsibilities, and change-making (turning problems into opportunities).
During the early days of ROCK, Dan started by counselling his fellow friends at a very early age. Here is what he said concerning counselling his fellow friends:
I started counselling my fellow friends at a very early age. The point was all about finding the solutions to our daily problems — good life, going back to school, and ways of stopping criminal activities. What helped me in this aspect of counselling my peers was my gift and power of bringing young people together to talk about these issues. I think I’m gifted because I could actually approach most families to them about change and they could easily trust and believe in me — they saw real solutions to real problems when I explained to them my ideas of change.
To bring more people together, Dan decided to start a football team. The team would play and after the training or playing, Dan would sit down with them to discuss issues affecting them. As Dan puts it, “The point was not about winning trophies” instead it was to bring people together and stop being idle. He wants these youths to do something creative or of their passion so that they don’t hang around doing useless things on the streets.
Dan took this so personal that he even took and stayed with some of these youths in his own house with the aim of mentoring them. He wanted to see the change in these youths. He wanted these youths to emulate what he was doing — doing healthy hustle. When I’m talking about healthy hustle, I mean the state of doing great activities which raises the living standard of the doer and the employer.
Eight years after ROCK started, the scholarship for high school to less privileged families began. The scholarship programme now serves as the strongest activity at ROCK. In 2018, ROCK has provided scholarship to 25 students join form 1(freshman year of high school) in different schools around Kenya. In overall, ROCK has served 175 kids through school upto date. Actually, lack of education is the main problem facing families living in the slums. When a child gets a chance to attend high school and later joins college or university, there is hope that the entire family of the child will get out of the slums. It is always a dream and vision of most of the ghetto kids to leave the ghetto lifestyle and move to big apartments, duplexes, or complexes one day. This dream is often achieved when these kids get the opportunity to get proper education and mentorship. That’s why ROCK gives scholarship a bigger hand.
Other activities that takes place at ROCK include mentorship programmes, organizing camps, leadership trainings, computer training, feeding programmes, and sanitary towels distribution for young girls around Kibera to help keep them in school. In 2018, starting February, we’ll be providing 600 girls with sanitary towels on a monthly basis for the whole year.
As Dan puts it:
ROCK is going to be BIG! My plan is to build a BIGGER center with more facilities to create room for more students, parents and the community as a whole. I believe this programme is going to positively change the lifestyle of residents of Kibera. They need to have a growth mindset instead of the fixed which they are used to.
Seven years ago, ROCK’s office was Dan’s house — which is within the slums. All students used to meet at Dan’s extremely small house. The same house used to be the library — the books used to be stored there and any one who would like to use the books would have to come to Dan’s house. This restricted Dan from doing some activities related to his hustle.
Dan moved in to a new house (outside Kibera) but his house still serves a greater purpose at ROCK — it houses students who are part of ROCK but are struggling to find a stable place to stay. I (Melkizedek Owuor [Mirasi]) have been a beneficiary of ROCK Kenya and the house. A year ago when I was in form 4 (the last grade of high school) and no place to stay after my uncle threw me out of his house, Dan’s house came to my rescue. Also, Dan partly catered for my food while I stayed in the house. There are more situations like the one I underwent in Kibera and so the house serves to solve the problem.
Five years ago, we moved to a more spacious place — Olympic Estate in Kibera. The place is conducive for studies. Students living in the slums find it difficult to do their night revisions due to lack of electricity, poor state of the house, and little space to accommodate other family members who would like to do their own stuff. The space (ROCK) therefore becomes a huge resource for these young people living in the slum. Every day, students come to borrow books and do their assignments and revisions after school. The space has textbooks which the students can use to do their assignments and revisions.
I’ve been under Dan’s authority for 5 years. For those 5 years I’ve learnt a lot from him — entrepreneurship, leadership skills, management and operation skills among others. Also, it is through Dan that I joined high school — through the ROCK’s scholarship programme, I did my high school studies. Dan sees things in a different angle — he sees the outcome even before something happens. And anyone who follows his footsteps is successful in one way or the other in most cases. He taught me this: “Work first, and the money, food and other things you need will automatically follow”. As someone who was born and raised in the slums of Kibera, he understands the dynamics of the slum and ways to maneuver to find opportunities in every challenge that comes your way. I’ve really capitalized [and still capitalizing] from his teachings. His hustle skills are superb and anyone who directly and openly associates with Dan never sleep hungry. ~ Melkizedek Owuor [Mirasi], beneficiary of the ROCK’s programme