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For the love of the rubbish dump children

 The Big Issue Kenya 07 February 2019

Nobody knows better the effects of Dandora Dumpsite, Kenya’s waste capital, than streetpaper vendor Hamilton Aaiyera. He has scavenged for food and collected scrap metal, and still bears health scars. He has dedicated his life to getting children out of the dumpsite. (775 Words) - By Lilian Maingi-Barasa

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BI Kenya_for the love of the rubbish dump children

 Kenyan women scavengers dig for resaleable items at the Dandora waste and dump site outside Kenyan capital Nairobi. Photo: REUTERS/STR New

Born in 1982 in Korogocho Slums, Hamilton left education at primary level due to lack of school fees. An talented footballer, he split his time between playing football in the nearby St. Johns Catholic Church and the collecting waste materials and left over foods from the dump.

"It is a life I loathed and prayed for a breakthrough. My prayers were answered by a football scout who was volunteering in the church and discovered my skills. He advised me to form a team and promised to sponsor us through a tournament. For the love of the game and determination to get out the dump, I got together with my fellow dumpsite dwellers and we formed a slum soccer team. In 1996, we were sponsored to go and play homeless soccer in South Africa. That is when I encountered other teams playing under the Banner of The Big Issue Movement. We were advised join the Big Issue Kenya team of vendors to sell the magazine and earn a decent living. Just the break through I was looking for."

Hamilton became a Big Issue Kenya vendor in 1997 and has remained one since. With the little money he earned from playing football in South Africa, he set up an initiative to change the lives of the young girls of Korogocho dump and its surroundings. He uses the money he makes from selling the magazine to boost his other small businesses like installing a satellite dish where people watch sports for a fee, equipping his barber shop and a salon which his wife manages, and trains some of the rescued rubbish dump girls.

"I am determined to get the vulnerable girls away from the dumpsite. When I was there, I saw them get raped, get hooked on drugs, get infected with HIV/AIDS, and die. They go there because of the need to earn a living but instead they lose their lives. I have to keep selling this magazine because it helps me in my cause. Although my income is very small, and the temptation to give up is high, I will remain relentless."

For a vendor who barely makes ends meet for himself and his young family, he truly has a heart of gold. In order to make contact with the girls, he organizes tournaments next to the dumpsite and invites them to come and play. He then offers them some bread and milk sometimes donated by well wishers and other times bought from his magazine sales. His eyes pop out with joy when he tells me the number of girls he has rescued from the deadly dumpsite.

"So far 700 children have been assimilated back into the society and about 200 of them have gone back to school. Some are training to become hairdressers and others have turned to mentoring their fellow girls. My current headache is how to provide them with sanitary towels because some leave school at least one week every month to look for money to buy the pads. They end up at the dumpsite and some don't even return to school," Hamilton says, making an appeal to anybody who can teach him how to make improvised sanitary towels for his girls to come to his rescue.

He says he is not about to stop selling The Big Issue Kenya. He in fact plans to recruit parents of these children and train them in how to sell the magazine, because he wants every life at the slum changed positively. He knows the Big Issue Kenya is the way to achieve this. So when he is not coaching football or busy with other activities at his center, he is very happy to don his uniform and sell the magazine.

"My joy is when the girls I have rescued from the dump site smile at me and tell me that I have given them a second lease in life. It makes me feel fulfilled. It makes me know that I don't need millions to change a life. All I need is determination, continued support from my other partners, selfless attitude and more sales from The Big Issue Kenya," he concludes.

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