We had the opportunity to meet James Ouma for an interview. Check out this interview to learn more about stories of transformation through Lifesong Kenya.
Tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is James Ouma and I’m good at doing four things. First, I’m the Magical King who helps male teens to find clarity and discover their treasure so they can live fulfilled lives. Secondly, I spend my time breaking boys out of prison through Lifesong Kenya, an organization that I founded in 2013. Thirdly, I develop WordPress websites and lastly, I write content.
When I was growing up, I wanted to become a writer who writes stories that inspire male teens to discover and use their treasure. I thought this would happen after studying and earning a degree in journalism. After failing to join college, I thought I had lost my opportunity to live a purposeful life.
Then in 2012, I met 100 male teens at the Nairobi Remand Prison and my life changed for the better. Each of the 100 male teens was looking for an adult male role model who could invest and believe in their dreams. Since it was the same I had grown up looking for, I wanted to make an about turn and run in the opposite direction.
But I am glad that I answered the call because through Lifesong Kenya and working with exceptional young men, I am living my purpose.
What are the fundamental values and beliefs that guide Lifesong Kenya?
At Lifesong Kenya, we believe that male teens deserve our concerted efforts towards transforming their lives, environment and life situations. This includes your son, nephew, brother or the troublesome boy in your neighbourhood. When it comes to incarcerated male teens, we believe that they too deserve a second chance.
The fact that incarcerated male teens deserve a second chance doesn’t exempt them from taking full responsibility for their crimes and offences. That is why our approach focuses on restorative justice that brings three parties together.
Restorative justice has the potent power to make a person be what the community never thought possible. Restorative justice enables a person who did wrong to make amends for their wrongdoing. It teaches, informs and empowers a positive outlook and healing to the soul of a wrongdoer.
Restorative justice connects incarcerated male teens with their families and brings healing. It helps reconcile and build bridges between the offending party and the person who has been offended.
By doing so, the lives of the offending party, their family and the person who has been wronged goes through healing and reconciliation that helps in restoration of ruined relationships in the community.
As a result, the prospect of a male teen exiting prison no longer causes fear to families and the community. Instead, it creates limited opportunities for the whole community to grow and thrive together.
Can you share a story of an individual whose life has been changed because of your organization?
Let me share what happened to me when I was 20 years old first. I was in Form Four when I met a retired teacher who changed my perspective in life. This retired teacher showed me that I had the potential to achieve the dreams that I had.
Our daily engagements enabled me to dream about the possibilities that lay ahead of me. He taught me how to be courageous, compassionate and creative. He had a green Raja bicycle that he allowed me to use after I had weeded his coffee farm and earned an income.
Now allow me to share about an individual whose life has been changed by Lifesong Kenya. Teddy could not get access to the justice that he deserved. After getting arrested while playing video games on a stolen phone, Teddy was charged with robbery with violence. Each time he came back from court, he saw his chances of getting out of prison grow slimmer by the day. Then, he joined our REAM Program in 2019.
After enrolling for our Computer Classes, we begun the process of reconciling him with his family. One morning, I made a trip to Huruma Estate where Teddy’s family lived. When I arrived at the house, his dad was in bed. I told him who I am and what my visit was about.
“Why do you bother with my son when I have given up on him?” he asked.
I told him about the retired teacher in our village and how he didn’t give up on. I shared about the green Raja Bicycle and the valuable lessons I learned during time spent with the retired teacher. Then I asked him where he comes from.
What happened next?
“I know the place you are describing,” I said. “Your dad is the retired teacher that I told you about. Do you remember James Ouma?” I asked.
“Yes, I do!” he replied. “I was told by my mom that he went to stay in Mombasa.”
“I am James Ouma and your dad helped me become the man that I am today,” I said, smiling.
“Wow!” he said, “let me change and accompany you to prison so I can meet my son!”
After calling one of his daughters, the three of us went to prison together. A few days later, we made a series of trips, back and forth, to Huruma Estate. We had an opportunity to meet and have a conversation with the arresting police officer. Afterwards, we met the man whose phone had been stolen and eventually, the case was withdrawn.
Teddy and his dad are examples of individuals whose lives have been changed through our programs. I also believe that even the police officer is probably treating male teens differently by giving them a second chance after having an encounter with us.
Lifesong Kenya offers an opportunity for the community to experience restorative justice at its best. All our activities aims at restoring relationships that are ruined when offence and crime happens. We enroll 25 male teens into our program and work with them for a period of 3 months. This means that we are able to transform the lives of 100 male teens, their families and the people they have wronged in a year.
Of course, it is not as easy as it sounds. However, seeing just one male teen gain skills and get reconciled with his community is life-transforming. Seeing the healing and transformation that happens in the life of a male teen that has been written off by their family and community is inspiring, fulfilling and rewarding.
What is the importance of the program for incarcerated male teens in Kenya?
Lifesong Kenya initiated a reconciliation process that enabled me to exit juvenile prison, much earlier. Because of this, I was able to reconcile with the person I had wronged and my dad. Thank you Lifesong Kenya!”
The program gives purpose to the lives of male teens who are in contact and conflict with the law. They find new meaning, healing and redemption. I am always moved by the response of families, the police and the people who have been hurt when they offer to give our boys a second chance.
One thing I have witnessed after a family visit has happened is that many male teens blossom like a rose flower. Their eyes and hearts open up. They become like a new creation that is capable of compassion, care and love.
Suddenly, they look at the skills training, the character formation and life skills they are going through as opportunities. They do everything with renewed purpose. On the other hand, their families and those they had wronged, long to see receive them back with open arms.
All this happens because families and the community do not consider our boys as threats but young lives that needs to be cultivated, nurtured and empowered. This shows that our program is helping male teens to find a purpose for their lives.
We hope that as many people out there will join us in making restorative justice a reality for male teens exiting juvenile prison. By supporting our efforts, you will join a community of wonderful individuals who are helping us to empower loving, carious and courageous young men in our society.
What are your plans for sustainability?
Male teens in prison are already paying for their offences, wrong doing and crimes. They need restorative justice instead of retribution and stigma from the community where they belong. Our duty as a society is to increase our capabilities to provide access to restorative justice. Incarcerated male teens need access to skills training, psycho-social support and spiritual nourishment before they exit prison. After exiting prison, they need after-care services that includes further education, jobs and transitional housing in order to lead crime-free lives.
We would love to partner and collaborate with individuals and institutions who will invest into our business ideas. Our goal is to be able to grow businesses that can absorb male teens exiting prison into the work force through content creation, developing WordPress websites and making delivering on bicycles.
This will enable us to empower more male teens in – and outside – prison. That is why it is important to invest in Lifesong Kenya so we can offer restorative justice to help male teens become strong, courageous and compassionate young men who are able to treat girls and women with respect, honor and dignity.
Are you eager to help Lifesong Kenya to reach its goals, overcome the challenges incarcerated male teens face and run a consistent program? Learn more about our projects and mission by getting involved today, or make a donation today!