Mama Said

Mama Said

Written by Ted Horton, BOD chairperson(HHF Canada)

If you are my age (give or take 10 years) you may remember the female pop group the “Shirelles” from the early 60s and their hit tunes (“Mama Said”; “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”; “Dedicated to the One I Love”).

“Mama said there’d be days like this, there’d be days like this Mama said–Mama said, Mama said”

Yesterday, as I listened to Hillary talk with us about his days at HHFL and about what “Mama” (aka Mama Hanna) said, and the difference she made in his life, that tune played in my head.  Funny what words can trigger.  

When Hillary joined HHFL in 2009, he was 14 years old. A brash kid who had been born in Kibera and who had already seen a lot. Most of you have seen Kibera from the road or in flight but I suspect not that many of you have ever ventured into it. For those who don’t know it, Kibera is a 2.5 square km slum (one of the largest in Africa) with over 1 million inhabitants. It snakes along a valley near downtown Nairobi, and it has venomous side to it.

In 2009 Kibera was a flash point in the post -election violence (when Odinga lost to Kenyatta). Hilary’s dad was killed. His mum’s kiosk was burned down and they and many others fled for their lives.  

But that was “yester -year”. Yesterday Hillary was beaming from ear to ear as he came to greet us at the airstrip. He wanted Mama Hanna and I to be amongst the first to know. He had just been hired as a full -time employee by Tropic Air.

How and why he got to this day is a story worth recalling.

It was evident to us from the outset in 2009 that he the “smarts” (and he knew it). His brashness/sense of self- importance needed some serious work (and we knew it). His good grades got him invited to a prestigious National high School (Upper Hill). Unfortunately, perhaps, he got expelled in Form 2 when he used his fists on 2-3 “rich” classmates who taunted him (as a “slum kid”). He disappeared and spent the balance of that year in hiding. He admitted yesterday that he was hiding from Mama Hanna because he knew that she would not have been pleased with him and how he “handled” the situation.

While he could run he could not hide indefinitely from Mama. Fortunately for him, Mama Hanna eventually found him (she wasn’t about to see him waste away in a slum) and she put him back in high school (Kikuyu) where his brains, despite never finishing Form 2, got him into Form 3. Hillary finished high school and with HHFL’s financial support completed a 3- year diploma at Nairobi Aviation College in Aeronautical Engineering.

Yesterday, Hilary called Mama Hanna a “genius who saved his life, not once but twice”; when she got him back into High School and showed him tough love in the process, and when he lapsed back into the slum. In the latter case, he had graduated from Engineering but then lost his attachment on the Coast when the outfit he worked with went belly up. He didn’t know what to do and suffered yet another slum lapse—out of work and wasting his talents in the process, like so many thousands of slum kids.

He may have known in his heart of hearts that Mama Hanna was not about to stand by and watch him and his education go to waste. She went looking for him again. Her sources found him. She had another “come to Jesus” moment with him. We got him an attachment with Tropic Air in early 2019 and he blossomed (“I love it” he would always say when I asked).

He knows where he came from. He confided yesterday that most of his childhood boy friends in Kibera are dead/shot by police for thefts, and the girls are prostitutes. Different circumstances/opportunities and outcomes.

Hillary is one of the lucky ones. He had people who believed in him, wouldn’t give up on him and expected him to prove, in a humble way, that their love and trust in him was warranted. He is fulfilling his promise to us and to himself.

Yesterday was a wonderful and fulfilling day for Mama Hanna and I.  Samuel, his HHFL brother at Tropic Air, reminded him when he heard the good news, that “It takes a village.

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