Violence at home gave rise to anti-GBV campaigner
The split-second stare by Wanjira Hezron, 21, and the curled lips when asked about the whereabouts of his old man, is sufficient caution — he is not ready to indulge in the discussion.
Nicknamed ‘Cricket’ in theatre and cultural performance circles because of the noise he produces, Hezron explains how proud he is to condemn gender-based violence in his mother’s name.
He harbours no bitterness for the economic violence he was subjected to at a tender age by close relatives. The fifth born in a family of six, raised singlehandedly by his mother, Anne Teresia Wanjira, reveals the violence the family was subjected to back in the village.
“Relatives of my absent dad issued elimination threats. The roof of the house was pelted with stones at night. We went for days without meals,” says Hezron.
He explains in flawless sheng, picked in the sprawling Korogocho slum, that the family had to flee for dear life as the violence meted out escalated.
Afterlife became unbearable, his mother, a younger Hezron and his siblings landed in Korogocho, or Ngoch in Sheng. A grandmother in her 60s offered abode for the family.
“Life at home was unbearable. Mum was everything. There was no one to help her,” he explains of the situation back home in Gathiruini, Mathioya sub-county, Muranga county.
It was in the slum where he came face to face with even worse violence and injustice against the vulnerable.
“In the slums, violence is directed at young girls. They were not safe. Turning down sexual demand from slum gangs most likely led to rape and elimination,” he recalls.
Desire to speak out against the violence overwhelmed him. He developed cold feet for fear of being killed if he spoke against the injustices.
“But I decided my life did not matter. My passion to use theatre to campaign against gender-based violence (GBV) was sparked off in Korogocho,” explains Hezron during a break at a community dialogue forum at St Phillips ACK Church in Jericho Lumumba, Nairobi.
The forum had been organised by Makadara Social Justice Forum coordinator, Kenneth Adagala, in the heart of the populous Eastlands part of Nairobi county where GBV is regarded as a norm.
Vicar of St Phillips Church, Rev Maurice Ameda says the severity and nature of GBV in Eastlands requires a combined effort of residents to tame it. His sentiments were shared by the Jogoo Road Police Station officer in charge of GBV cases, Margret Mwangi, who said measures to fight the vice are often frustrated by relatives who organise kangaroo courts to settle disputes.
“There is a problem in a reporting rape case. Where reports are made witnesses fail to turn up. No one can terminate a sexual offences crime. Only the attorney general has that mandate,” says Margret.
Cricket, who shifted base while in Class Five, was enrolled in an informal school run by St Clare Franciscan Missionary in the slum. They admitted him to continue with education up to Class Eight after which he joined Fatima Secondary School in Korogocho where he scored 329 points in 2017. The results enabled Cricket to join St Dominic’s Technical Training Institute in Juja Farm, Kiambu county.
In the last two years, Hezron has become a household name, taking his anti-GBV campaign with gusto mainly in the slums using the Social Justice Theatre with 18 centres in the city.
“Performing on these injustices has never been easy. You get threats from community members who don’t understand these injustices. Performing in a rogue system about how the constitution has been violated, on extrajudicial killings to a police service that changed to the police force for oppression hasn’t been easy,” he explains.
“I joined the Social Justice Centres Traveling Theatre to have the right platform to advocate on these injustices without fear,” he says, having ventured into professional performances in 2019.
One of the pieces he performed that year was dubbed ‘Generation Lamba Lolo’ in Mwingi, Kitui County.
“This was after I saw gengetone songs describing women by their privates, and body shaming others,” he says. His main target is the youthful population, pointing out the consequences of their actions besides organising massive mentorship programmes.
“After many are abused, they have nowhere to go to or what to eat. I partner with other bodies and individuals to offer food and medical care. Rape cases are not reported out of ignorance. We facilitate legal aid for victims,” he says.
Cricket has just completed putting in place plans to set up ‘The Cricket Art World Foundation.
“The objective is to campaign for social justice in a coordinated manner, raise funds to support victims and support the poor to empower them financially to avoid young girls from engaging in sex to raise cash to meet basic needs,” he explains.