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Trainees at work in the Wajukuu Art workshop in Lunga Lunga, Mukuru, Kenya.

Wajukuu Art project fights crime in Kenyan slum

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Staring into the blank air in his dimly lit studio, Lawrence Mwangi recalls how he lost six friends to crime. The memories still haunt him to date. Friends with whom he had started a project in their Mukuru, Lunga Lunga home, one of Kenya’s slums.

Some of Mwangi’s friends left as they viewed the group’s success as a mirage while others left since they viewed selling art back then as tasking. A few others joined notorious gangs in Nairobi in the early 2000s.

For a moment, Mwangi, famously known as ‘Shabu’, considers speaking more about them, then, he decides he would rather not. From a group of 12, there are currently only six surviving founders, one of whom is inactive. They are the founders of the ‘Wajukuu Art’, a community-based organization equipping Mukuru, Lunga Lunga children and youths with artistic skills.

Wajukuu Art co-founder and visual artist Lawrence Mwangi.

Founded in 2004, Wajukuu Art started as a collective, bringing together youths with a passion for art in Mukuru, Lunga Lunga. ‘Wajukuu’ is a Swahili word meaning grandchildren, and in this context, it refers to the next generation. In addition, it kept them off the street where crime, drug abuse, and substance abuse were rampant. Most wanted quick and easy money which cost them their lives.

Shabu’s passion for art and yearning for more than the stereotypical narrative about life in the slums pushed him to hold on to Wajukuu Art and take part in propelling it to where it is at the moment.

“People thought we had gone nuts when we went into art. They did not understand our act,” Shabu says.

Ngugi Waweru is one of Wajukuu Art’s surviving founders. He joined when he was 15 years old. He notes how growing up in Mukuru, Lunga Lunga was hard. Lacking special care from parents who often were single mothers indulging in drugs made him lack in proper stages of early childhood development.

“When you grow up in an informal community, the first thing is you’re left to fend for yourself at an early age. Not because your family doesn’t love you or anything, just because of the situation,” Waweru says.

Wajukuu Art co-founder and visual artist Ngugi Waweru designs ‘Mbinguni Kume Pasuka’ wall sculpture.

Thanks to Wajukuu, and his talent, Waweru is now an award-winning visual artist. His work is on display at Circle Art Gallery, one of the major galleries in Nairobi, Kenya.

Wajukuu Art has trained more than 1,200 children and youths under its Kids Club program.

Fresia Njeri is one of its beneficiaries. She joined 15 years ago as a struggling teen mother. She held down a job as a drugstore salesperson. However, that was not her passion. She took a risk, joined Wajukuu Art, learned artistic skills, and now sells her works. She also works with the Kids Club, teaching them art and mentoring them on life skills.

Wajukuu Art Head, Kids Club, Freshia Njeri.

Ndung’u Kimani is another one of Wajukuu’s success stories. Despite coming from a tough life, growing up in the slums, Kimani has beaten all odds and is now a gallery assistant at the Circle Art Gallery. This gives his peers and children from the Kids Club hope that they can accomplish the great things they set their minds and hearts to.

Circle Art Gallery Assistant and Wajukuu Art alum Ndung’u Kimani.

Wajukuu Art is recognized not just locally but also globally. It won the best artistic Collective during the prestigious “Documentary Fifteen” contemporary art exhibition in Kassel, Germany in June 2022.

Trainees at work in the Wajukuu Art Workshop in Lunga Lunga, Mukuru, Kenya.

Wajukuu Art has managed to equip Lunga Lunga, Mukuru children, and youth with artistic skills which they use to earn income hence keeping them from indulging in crime and drugs. It also goes further to equip them with life skills which make them better and responsible people in the community. Wajukuu Art has played a huge role in making Lunga Lunga, Mukuru safe.

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