Michael Mungai

Co-founder, Harambee USA, Inc.

Eleven years ago, I was one of the countless homeless children living in the streets of Dagoretti, Nairobi. My father had abandoned my three siblings and I with my mother, who struggled to feed our family by washing people’s clothes and working on their gardens. Unable to pay for school, I willingly left home at 14 to ease my mother’s burden and took to the streets, where I spent almost two years eating from trash-pits and sleeping on verandas, enduring cold nights and physical abuse from police and local private security.

To feed myself, I was employed at the local slaughter-house and put in charge of skinning cows after they’ve been slaughtered. However, a documentary film Left Behind that raised awareness on the predicament of street children and HIV orphans, which I featured in, exposed my situation. An intervention from a well-wisher sent me back to high school where I graduated in 2002. In 2003, I co-founded Dagoretti 4 Kids (now Harambee Youth Kenya), a community-based organization in Nairobi that offers rescue, shelter and education services to former street children, micro-lending services to families affected by HIV/AIDS, as well as coordinating youth self-help groups and community organization. Students from St Joseph’s University who were volunteering at an orphanage in Kenya were inspired by my story and my work and encouraged me to apply to their school. In 2005, I was awarded a full scholarship at the university, where I graduated from in 2010, having pursued a dual degree in Economics and Philosophy.

In pursuit of higher education and advocating for human rights, I have participated four times in the university’s Summer Scholar Program, where a student conducts an independent research project in his/her major. My first research involved tracing my roots back to my native country to conduct a research in the form of a documentary film which tells the stories of child labor and child abuse in the streets of Nairobi. In my second year of summer research, I examined the impact of micro- credit in the form of small loans to unemployed youths in Dagoretti. My third summer research project examined the impact of the distribution of sanitary pads to school girls in poor Nairobi schools on attendance and participation, as a result of soliciting Johnson & Johnson for a donation of pads for the intervention. Most recently, I conducted research to investigate the compensating differentials of unprotected sex for sex workers in Kibera, where the HIV prevalence is above 20%. All these rewarding experiences have shaped my understanding as an advocate of social justice and children’s rights, offering me opportunities to serve on social development panels in various universities, including Cambridge and London School of Economics in the United Kingdom, as well as University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Columbia University, University of Georgia, Athens, Holy Cross University, and Villanova University, among others in the United States.

Currently, I am a graduate student at St Joseph’s University, pursuing a Master’s in International Marketing. On campus, I am involved with Harambee African Awareness, a student-run group promoting awareness of African culture in efforts to shatter stereotypes and misconceptions about the continent. Every year, Harambee sends students from Saint Joseph’s on summer immersion trips to Kenya to work with the local community. I plan to go back to Kenya after my studies to pursue an economic development related career.