Journalist who beat the odds to shake off Ghetto narrative – The Star, Kenya

•Tom was born at Pumwani hospital in Nairobi’s Eastlands area.
•Apart from the un-accommodative streets of Kayole, Tom says he struggled through his education owing to his poor family background.
Growing up, life was no cinch for Tom Mathinji, a renowned Swahili prime time news anchor at Kenya Broadcasting Corporation.
At times, Mathinji had to take the rough with the smooth, an unsaid rule for Dandora residents.
Born with a ghetto tag hanging conspicuously on his back, the 40-year-old knew it was the extra stride that would get him a life he so much desired.
“Being raised in Nairobi’s Eastland does not make you any less of a person or a criminal by default,” says Mathinji. 
Mathinji was born at Pumwani hospital in the early eighties in Dandora area, commonly known as “Dando”.
His parents relocated to Kayole Estate, when he was about to start school. He went to Imara Primary school in Kayole’s Soweto area.
He says his primary school life was not easy at all.
“You know life in Kayole was not easy, especially in the ’90s. The streets were not accommodative for young men who chose the education path. It was relatively easy to be infiltrated into criminal gangs,” he said.
“The criminal gang groups such as Mungiki were after us, drug dealers as well, that was the era they were recruiting young men like me to join them,” he added.
Unfortunately, most of my friends were lured into joining those groups and perished at an early age.
He says he survived through primary school because of his family’s religious background as well as the strict upbringing of his parents.
Apart from the unaccommodative streets of Kayole, Tom says he struggled through his education owing to his poor family background.
“Our family was not financially stable and most of the time, I was out of school for lack of school fees. The situations almost led me to join criminal gang groups, but by the grace of God, I managed to clear my primary school journey,” he said.
He later joined Kayole Secondary School, now known as The Komarock School, where he sat his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination.
He says his life through secondary school was made possible due to the menial jobs he engaged in after school.
“Kayole Secondary School is a day school. I would sell charcoal in the evenings and also work in shops in the neighbourhood to earn some coins. I used the few coins I earned to pay my school fees and also buy some food for my other siblings,” he said.
Tom says he was almost giving up and decided to join his friends who were doing well in those criminal groups, but some of them were stoned to death, others burned alive, while others were shot dead under his watch and that’s when he vowed not to follow that route.
After secondary school, he started working as a casual labourer at Mombasa Road near City Cabanas, and it was when he saw a newspaper advert on Kenya Institute of Mass Communication announcing new admissions.
“You know I wanted to be a journalist since I was a child. The advertisement itself gave me hope, but deep within, I knew I was not able to raise the kind of school fees that was required then, but I applied anyway,” he said.
About two or three months later, Tom says he received an admission letter through his church and his aunt offered to pay his school fees but only for the first year.
It was during his three- months on industrial attachment at Kenya News Agency (KNA) that his love for Swahili news was moulded.
He attributes this to one of his instructors from Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), who he says that he noted his passion for news and gave him another opportunity as an intern at the state corporation.
He was assigned to do agricultural stories, which he says he did with passion and that is how he found his way to the airwaves.
He was later assigned more duties at the broadcasting house at various departments, where his talent was nurtured to become who he is today.
Currently, Tom Mathinji is a prime time Swahili news anchor at KBC’s Radio Taifa and also a Swahili writer at Radio Taifa’s website.
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