Jey was just nine years old when he was thrown into prison for stealing a purse on the streets of Nairobi in Kenya.
The experience was a frightening wake-up call for the young boy who grew up believing that crime was the only way to build a better life.
The reality of life in Mathare
Jey grew up in Mathare, a community in the Kenyan capital. 500,000 people live in an area roughly two miles long by one mile wide.
Many homes are single room dwellings where whole families live, sleep, eat, and cook. While it may be crowded inside, worse threats often lurk outside.
“At night it was too dangerous for us to go out and use the bathroom, so we just used to pee in the bed we shared,” Jey shares.
Crime and drugs are common place in Mathare. Without money for school, children like Jey are easy prey for gangs.
“Our family couldn’t afford a meal, so how could we afford tuition fees?” Jey says with a sad shrug of his shoulders.
Imprisoned at nine years old
While normal nine year olds look forward to going to the park and playing with their friends, Jey had more serious concerns – feeding his family.
As their situation worsened, desperation set in and Jey began begging on the streets. It wasn’t long before he was stealing and dealing drugs.
Jey was vulnerable for the simple reason that his family lived in poverty. “I joined the wrong group and then, at the age of nine, I was arrested,” he confesses.
It’s children, just like Jey, that you can help us to reach by sponsoring a child.
A cry to God
In jail, Jey was completely alone. His family couldn’t afford to visit and his ‘friends’ deserted him. He called out to the only person he could think of – God.
“I knelt down and I prayed for two things. I prayed for God to take me out of prison and, most importantly, I wanted to get out of poverty,” he remembers.
Jey’s first prayer was quickly answered, but his elation was immediately met with disappointment.
“I walked into our small home and it was cold,” he remembers. “If it was warm, that meant that there was something cooking. But it was cold, so I knew there would be nothing to eat.”
Hope of sponsorship
As his mother struggled to support her family, her mental health suffered and she attempted to take her own life.
Jey’s grandmother intervened. She was already supporting about 15 of Jey’s cousins, but couldn’t bear to see the boy out on the streets again.
While she had no money to pay for tuition fees, she marched Jey to the local school and, in faith, requested that they educate her grandson. The school accepted.
Being in school meant Jey kept out of trouble, but he struggled to make progress.
There is an old African proverb that says ‘an empty stomach has no ears’ and Jey often went to school with nothing in his tummy.
“The teacher was speaking, but all I could hear was ‘blah, blah, blah,’” he reminisces. That was until the local church and a Compassion sponsor intervened.
Jey’s sponsor helped to end this cycle of poverty and you can help another child today.
Cycle of poverty is broken
A Compassion project had very recently started in the neighbouring church and they were looking to enrol children just like Jey.
He can remember the day he was registered vividly. “Everyone was rejoicing,” Jey says with joy. “Compassion gave me the life that I didn’t have.”
Pressure on the family was immediately eased as sponsorship meant school fees were paid, uniforms provided and that Jey received health check-ups, too. Extra supplies were even sent home for his family.
But to a growing nine-year-old, the highlight of the week was project day. “Every Saturday, I would go to the project and eat lots and lots of food,” he says with glee.
It wasn’t purely practical benefits that Jay received.
Speaking to the soul
The fact that someone on the other side of the world knew his name and cared enough to write to him, had a profound impact on this young Kenyan boy.
“The first time I heard the words ‘I love you’ were from my sponsor,” he says with a smile. “These things started speaking into my life and encouraging me.”
The child who wanted to be a thief became a young man who wanted to go to college.
“My sponsor gave me so much that can’t be taken away from me,” says Jey, proudly. “They gave me love, education, and the word of God.
“Compassion introduced me to Jesus and if everything else fails then the word of God will not.”
The legacy lives on
Jey has gone on to complete a degree in youth ministry at Daystar University in Kenya. However, he’s never forgotten that frightened little boy he once was.
“We didn’t have role models in Mathare Valley, so I want to be a role model for the kids there,” he says passionately.
As a DJ, Jey now uses music to connect with young people and share his faith. It’s his way of thanking those who supported him and ensuring their legacy lives on.
“If I was not sponsored with Compassion, I would be dead right now. All my friends I grew up with are either dead or in prison,” Jey says with a sombre conviction.
“Sponsorship is about more than just the money. It’s about God calling you to change a life.”