Breaking the Poverty Cycle... with a bicycle
Dedan Ireri, From street
beggar to paralumpic aspirant
Coastweek Kenya, November 16, 2007
By Ingrid Munro,
Managing Trusteeof Jamii Bora Trust Ltd
A skilled and speedy cyclist rounds the corner of Enterprise Road and
Funzi Road in Nairobi's industrial area.
His style, his speed and his pride on the bike show that he is a
He enters the gate to the Jamii Bora headquarters and parks his bike.
With ease he detaches his crutches from the bike.
It is only then you will realize that Dedan Ireri only has one leg as
his right leg was amputated at the hip.
"How can you bike with only one leg and with such elegance and speed?"
you ask him. His story is like a fairy tale.
Dedan was a street beggar as a child and teenager.
But a car ran over him when he was still a young child begging in the
streets and his right leg had to be amputated.
Dedan then had to learn to survive in the streets with only one leg.
I first met him in 1994 when he was 14 years old. I talked with Dedan
and his friends every time I passed them at the Kenyatta Avenue
roundabout downtown where they used to beg from motorists.
Dedan finally agreed to go to an informal school to learn how to read
and write. However, Dedan was a difficult student and often ran back to
It took a lot of convincing and counseling to keep him in school even
for a few weeks at a time.
When Jamii Bora
started as a Micro Finance institution in 1999, Dedan and his friends
formed a small credit group called the Uhuru Highway Self-Help Group.
They were all young beggars in the streets of Nairobi and, like Dedan,
many had severe physical handicaps.
Dedan tried to start several small businesses with loans of Ksh 1,000,
Ksh 1,500 and then Ksh 2,000 (about US$12-25).
Sadly, all his business attempts failed and Dedan kept slipping back to
But the Jamii Bora staff never gave up on Dedan and kept encouraging
him to try again.
They feared he would be one of the few Jamii Bora members who never
worked themselves out of poverty.
Then one day Dedan came to the Jamii Bora office on a bike!
He wanted to see me and show me a prize he won in a recent small
We were all stunned but happy to see him so proud and even organized a
little ceremony to celebrate his success.
After that day Dedan came often to get help to buy bicycle spares or
just to talk about his new dreams.
Then a few weeks later Dedan returned with his bicycle and proposed
that Jamii Bora employ him as a messenger.
That would help us in Jamii Bora, he would have some income and at the
same time he would spend his days biking and developing his strength
and skills as a cyclist.
As Dedan was already so well known and so well liked in Jamii Bora, we
agreed to his surprising and innovative proposal.
So Dedan became what is likely the only one-legged bicycle messenger in
Nairobi and possibly worldwide.
Dedan is now a skilled, reliable and fast messenger as well as a proud
and charming member of the Jamii Bora staff.
Today is another big day for Dedan and Jamii Bora.
This evening Dedan is leaving Kenya to fly to Colombia and participate
in several international cycling competitions in order to qualify for
the Paralympics in China next year.
Dedan and his friend Ibrahim Wafula aim to represent Kenya in this
prestigious global competition.
So yet another Jamii Bora member has proven that not even the sky - or
having only one leg - is the limit for what our members can achieve.
Dedan, you are already a hero among the youth in Jamii Bora. We are
really proud of you.
Go for gold and then come home to inspire thousands of other youth
throughout our country to leave the streets and instead use their
talents to build a better life for themselves and their families.