NAIROBI, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Fredrick Okinda grew up in the sprawling Korogocho slums on the eastern fringes of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, at a time when it was the embodiment of urban decay including crime and pollution.
The 32-year-old father of three escaped jail by a whisker nearly a decade ago when his youthful peers introduced him to the criminal underworld under the guise of striking a fortune and escape from the jaws of poverty.
Okinda's colorful past has nevertheless offered him free tutorials on reinvention and self-discovery, attributes that aided his quest to transform his immediate habitation choking with environmental pollution.
The founder and chairman of Komb Green Solutions, a grassroots environmental lobby based in Korogocho slums, said that he has no regrets abandoning crime to support reclaiming of green spaces in his neighborhood.
"We decided to come together as reformed youth and embark on cleaning up Nairobi River and later establish a green park on its banks that has become a popular recreational site," Okinda said during an interview Wednesday ahead of World Environment Day to be marked Saturday.
He said that Komb Green Solutions, established in 2017, has enlisted more than 70 Korogocho youth whose volunteerism has paid dividends as evidenced by reduced pollution on the Nairobi River and its riparian land.
Lush green bamboo trees, bougainvillea, bottle brush and sunflower dot the 500 meters long green park that used to be a garbage dumping site and a hiding den for criminals.
Okinda said the well-tended and tranquil green park that sits next to the Nairobi River has been a treasured destination for individuals looking for recreation and emotional healing.
His teammates were in their element as they scooped mountains of garbage from the river using rakes even as balmy weather enveloped Korogocho slums.
Okinda said that about 15 kilometers of Nairobi River riparian land have been reclaimed in the last three years even as its cleanup continues on a regular basis. The once pristine freshwater body has been choking with garbage for decades but thanks to the relentless devotion of Korogocho youth, its pollution load has reduced.
According to Okinda, Komb Green Solutions has mobilized women to collect, sort, recycle and sell biodegradable carrier bags scooped from the river.
He said the green park is now a crown jewel for the Korogocho community that is always a venue for parties and forums aimed at promoting security and harmonious coexistence.
"Youth from other parts of Nairobi and beyond often visit the park for benchmarking," said Okinda, adding that his organizations bagged 1,000 U.S. dollars prize money after emerging overall winner among groups that have championed greening of Nairobi's landscape.
The prize money was used to set up car washing stations that have been providing daily wages to members of Komb Green Solutions, said Okinda. According to him, his organization is also mentoring children in Korogocho slums to inspire them to embrace environmental conservation and decent lifestyles despite growing up in difficult circumstances.
Okinda said the theme of 2021 World Environment Day, "Ecosystems Restoration," should serve as a wake-up call for Nairobi youth to rise up and reclaim its fading ecological beauty linked to pollution.
"We have lined up cleanup activities on Saturday to mark World Environment Day to help restore the beauty of our neighborhoods," said Okinda.
Members of Komb Green Solutions who are also generating some revenue through urban farming are keen on support from the government and well-wishers to facilitate their growth. Some youth have benefited from vocational training funded by well-wishers and are now eking a living through masonry, carpentry, or plumbing, said Okinda, adding that his organization's future plans include establishing additional green spaces along the Nairobi River besides enlisting more young people to boost its restoration.
John Gicheha, a 25-year-old volunteer with Komb Green Solutions, said that he has fully disengaged from criminal activities and is on a mission to improve the ecological health of Korogocho slums where he has lived for more than two decades. The father of one said that participating in cleanup activities along the Nairobi River alongside the restoration of nearby landscapes through planting trees has been part of his recovery from a broken past.
"Since joining Komb Green Solutions in 2017, my life has reformed and I have inspired many youths within Korogocho slums to turn their backs on crime and engage in productive activities like protecting the environment, "said Gicheha.
Calvin Okoth, a 23-year-old high school graduate who was born and raised in Korogocho slums, said volunteering at Komb Green Solutions where he is involved in cleanup activities, rescued him from the shackles of criminal gangs that roam the informal settlements.
"We used to mug pedestrians but have decided to erase that criminal past now that we are busy reclaiming Nairobi River," said Okoth, a soccer enthusiast who also aspires to become an entrepreneur in the future. Enditem