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Former street child in Kenya looks forward to college

Presbyterian Church of East Africa helps transform lives — one child at a time

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

Brian Odhiambo, a former street child in Nairobi, Kenya, will soon begin his college studies in business and entrepreneurship. (Photo Mary Njambi)

NAIROBI, Kenya — About three years ago, Brian Odhiambo lived a life of “survival of the fittest” on the streets of Nairobi, Kenya. He was rescued from his street boy existence and taken to Eastleigh Community Center (ECC), a vocational skills training primary and secondary school of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA) that promotes peacebuilding at every grade level.

“They did something great to my life,” Odhiambo remembered. “They took me back to secondary school and paid for my school fees and education essentials.”

Today Odhiambo looks forward to beginning his studies in business and entrepreneurship at Maseno University in Kenya. He is excited to pursue his goals in life and gives God all the glory, he said.

Phares Mithamo Nyaga is director of Eastleigh Community Center, an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church of East Africa’s Nairobi Central Presbytery and served as an International Peacemaker in the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program three years ago. (Photo by Mr. Faraj)

Phares Mithamo Nyaga, an ordained elder of the PCEA’s Nairobi Central Presbytery and director of ECC, served as an international peacemaker with the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program in 2017. He and the center’s staff believe education is effective in keeping street children from being exploited and radicalized by terrorists and traffickers of drugs and ammunition.

ECC, a ministry of Eastleigh parish and church, has been providing access to faith-based educational opportunities and vocational skills development since 1959. Nyaga and the center’s staff believe education is an effective tool in sustaining peace through economic and political empowerment of vulnerable people, such as refugees, women and children.

In addition to Kenyan street children, ECC helps “street families” and others affected by war and famine in neighboring Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia.

“In my opinion, Eastleigh Community Center and the Presbyterian Church of East Africa are revealing, through their work and ministries to those on the margins, the quintessence of what it means to be a Matthew 25 church,” said the Rev. Paula Cooper, World Mission’s regional liaison for East Central Africa. Cooper said the center is feeding, teaching, clothing and sharing God’s love with children, youth and families experiencing hopelessness within their current circumstances.

PCEA’s Eastleigh Secondary School has 135 students almost equally divided between boys and girls. Both the primary and secondary school provide an environment where Christian and Muslim students and parents can interact and experience peaceful coexistence. The school provides subsidized tuition to make learning opportunities available to children from poor families who would not otherwise be able to attend school. (Photo by Phares Nyaga)

“They offer a holistic approach to their ministries,” Cooper said. “On that great day, when they are asked, ‘Who did you feed?’ ‘Who did you clothe?’ ‘Who did you visit?’ They will have responses.”

Eastleigh is called “Little Mogadishu” because of its large Somali population. It is considered a place of opportunity and a major East African commercial zone. Through educational support of children, basic literacy skills for adults, psychosocial support, livelihood skills training for youth, women’s microenterprise development and promotion of health and sanitation, ECC’s primary and secondary school programs emphasize attitudes of respect, harmony and co-existence between students of different religious backgrounds while equipping the youth with skills that will give them a competitive edge in the market, Nyaga said.

The Rev. Jane Kariuki (right), parish minister of the Eastleigh Parish, leads a counseling session for youth who have completed the PCEA’s vocational training programs. (Photo by Steve Collins)

Government policy in Kenya allows a child to be in a rescue center for a maximum of three years.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, all except 10 of the rescued street children have been returned to live with their families. The 10 students at the center are waiting to take their primary education examination, scheduled for October. These students are under the supervision of four staff members who are helping them prepare for the examination.

James Mwangi (center) was rescued from the streets of Nairobi, Kenya, in 2018. He has now completed his training in automobile mechanics at the Presbyterian Church of East Africa’s Eastleigh Vocational Skills Training School and is awaiting job placement and reunion with is family. Mwangi is flanked by Steve Collins, manager of the vocational school, and Hillary Khalwale, a volunteer social worker. (Photo by Paul Mwai)

Nyaga said the main challenge has been providing food and essentials for the students, as well as paying staff salaries and utilities with no incoming revenue since February. “We remain in prayer that all these hard experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic will come to an end,” Nyaga said.

If you are interested in learning more about the work of Eastleigh Community Center, contact Cooper at

The Rev. Paula Cooper, World Mission’s regional liaison for East Central Africa, facilitates PC(USA) relationships with partner churches and institutions in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia. She also provides support for PC(USA) mission personnel and Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) in the region. She assists PC(USA) congregations and presbyteries that are or who want to be in relationship with partners in East Central Africa. Contact her here.  Subscribe to her letters. Consider supporting her work in East Central Africa.


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