From street boy to United Nations diplomat

Thursday February 01 2018

Peter Chege , 69, once lived in the streets of Nairobi but rose to become a UN diplomat. PHOTO| COURTESY


Peter Chege was 17 when he ran away from home after a disagreement with this father.

“That was in 1965. As a teenager from the village, I was looking forward to that comfortable city life, away from herding livestock and tilling the farms in Kianyingi, Murang'a County.”

Life in the city was good for a short while but little did he know what fate had in store for him.

"I had never seen so many cars, multi-storey houses and so many busy people as I found on my arrival in the city of Nairobi in 1965. I faced my new surroundings with apprehension and uncertainty."

Initially, he stayed for a short while with his sister Jacinta and her husband at Shauri Moyo Estate.

“My brother-in-law paid for my school fees to join Form One at the Pan Africa High School. I later joined my mother in Eastleigh where she was living. After a disagreement with my father, she had also run away to the city. Life became hard when she gave birth and lost her casual job.”  


His mother was the sole breadwinner.

"Basic food became a rare commodity in the house and I had to walk long distances to and from Eastleigh to go to school bare foot on the hot tarmac roads. Things became so bad that I spent the

10am school break-time begging for money from motorists in the parking lot next to the Pan African High School complex. With the little money I managed to get, I went to City Market, the main

wholesale market, and bought green maize cobs which I roasted and sold in the evening by the road side at Eastleigh. I gave all the proceeds to my mother for procuring food."

This saw him spend his late teens as a street child in Nairobi.

He vividly remembers sleeping hungry, sometimes being naked because did not have clothes and being lonely when he led life in the streets.


Luckily, a local charity came to his rescue a year after living a difficult life in the streets.

“St Vincent de Paul, a local charity helping poor families, rescued me from the streets. The charity placed me in a Save the Children funded orphan institute, the Starehe Boys’ Centre and School in

Nairobi. It is this centre that, with resources provided by Save the Children Fund, helped turn my life around giving me a home to live in, love and an education that has sustained me to what I am today.”

The 69-year-old says that it was this act that restored his faith in humanity.

“From there on, I believed in myself and the fact that there were still some good people in the world.”

Chege, who is now a dad and a grandfather, reconciled with his father and says they are great friends today. His mother passed away ten years ago.


Peter Chege visiting his dad in Murang'a with his son and grandchildren in April 2017. PHOTO| COURTESY


In 1976, he enrolled at the University of Nairobi at the college of adult education in Kikuyu campus to pursue a Bachelor of Arts in adult education.

Later in 1981, he enrolled at the Hull University in the UK where he studied a Master of Arts in organisation and management.

Over time, he also underwent specialised training in the use of social communications as a tool for promoting social development.

The voluntary work that he did while at Starehe Boys’ Centre set off his diplomatic career at the UN as he gained contacts with UNICEF and later went to work for the organisation for over 28 years.

“While working with UNICEF and like-minded partners such as Save the Children, I took lead in the establishment and running projects focusing on child health, community regeneration and education across the world.

I have had the privilege and great honour of working for the promotion of wellbeing of children and families initially in Kenya, the Sudan, Swaziland, South Africa (during the dismantling of apartheid), Zambia and Ethiopia, the Middle East - in Jordan, Oman, Syria and West Bank/Gaza, the Caribbean and South America -  Barbados, Suriname and Guyana, with the British National Health Services (NHS) in the UK.”

Now retired, Chege recently came back to Africa where he’s now working in Tanzania as a Project Coordinator with Voluntary Missionary Movement (VMM-UK).

His role entails working with poor families and communities in addressing issues to do with eradication of hunger and extreme poverty.


Despite his achievements, Peter does not feel he has accomplished anything extraordinary.

“Even though I may not have accomplished extraordinary things in my life, I believe that children are the most precious assets that the world has. Pursuant to this conviction, I have been driven by

great desire to help improve the life for children by providing them with opportunities similar to those offered to me as a youngster, begging on the street almost 50 years ago.


Peter Chege with UK's Princess Anne at a Save the Children Compton Park in Warwick UK in October 2012. PHOTO| COURTESY

I therefore consider my modest and humble contribution to the projects I have worked in to have been an opportunity for me to return kindness to the society, organisations and individuals who supported me at the hour of my need and in turn transformed my life into a success story.

Peter is working on a book to tell his life story. He plans to use the proceeds of the book, which will be titled From An Urchin To A United Nations Diplomat, to raise funds for Save the Children and Starehe Boys’ Centre.

“I urge not just young people, but everyone out there regardless of their age that, they have something to offer to humanity. Get going and be aware of what is happening around you. You will soon find out that there is something you can do even today and make a positive impact to deprived members of the society.”


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