Mike Wanjeng’u of Kenya on the words of his father

Angela Santillo
Dec 11, 2019 · 28 min read

This is a transcript from episode 42 of the podcast And Then Suddenly.

This episode is part of And Then Suddenly; Rising Voice(s). This special series features conversations with partners from Voice. Based in Africa and Asia, these individuals -often leaders of organizations or small groups- are working tirelessly to ensure that their own voices as well as those they represent are at the table and not on the menu. The moments they share are their very own and the conversations are impromptu and candid.


Angela Santillo
They say you can’t judge a person until you walk a mile in their shoes. But the Dalai Lama has another phrase, which is, “Love is the absence of judgment.”

This is “And Then Suddenly,” the podcast about the unexpected moments that turn our lives upside down. I’m Angela Santillo and welcome to the show about big life moments and I don’t know what my guests are going to talk about until we meet. There you go, and welcome to the third installment of my special series with Voice, “And Then Suddenly; Rising Voice(s).” This is episode 42. Welcome, 42 is a great number. Episode 41 featured conversations with Ou Vanda from Cambodia and Rizal Balatbat from the Philippines and episode 38 featured a conversation with Anan Bouapha from Laos. So, when you’re done listening to this one, go check those out. And just to recap, “And Then Suddenly; Rising Voice(s)” is a special series featuring partners from Voice. These guests are from Asia and Africa. They’re often working with organizations who are working to make sure that their voices along with those of their communities are at the table and not on the menu. And Voice, they are an innovative grant facility that promotes diversity and inclusion in 10 countries in Asia and Africa. They are on a mission to amplify and connect thus far unheard voices in an effort to leave no one behind and they are financed by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and executed by Oxfam Novib and Hivos.

So that’s where you are and this week happens to be- well, not this week, October 10th, which happens this week is World Mental Health Day. That is observed every year and the objective of this day is to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilize efforts in support of mental health. So, you’re going to hear a conversation with Mike Wanjeng’u from Kenya about this. And I thought a little bit about if I wanted to share my own story about mental health, but I say why not because this is hopefully raising awareness. This year has been a big mental health year for me. If you’ve heard other episodes, you might know that my “and then suddenly” moment or my general history includes a lot of medical trauma. And that all came to a head about this time last year when I had my first real big bout with depression. And I judged myself a little bit for that and then I realized I needed help. And luckily, I know some health care professionals who work in mental health. And they connected me with a therapist, and I’ve been going once a week ever since dealing with those issues and doing a lot better. So, I hope you do too, if you’re facing any issues like that, and this conversation with Mike covers a different realm of mental health. I learned a lot from talking with him and it just really reminded me that there’s still so much we all need to understand about not only our own mental health needs, but about those around us. So, I feel very fortunate that I got to talk to Mike via Skype telephone call. He was in Kenya, I was in New York City. And that’s what you’re about to hear. So, let’s do this.

Mike Wanjeng’u
Okay. Yes, I am Mike Wanjeng’u. I am from Kenya and I am a member of Tinada Youth Organization. And apart from that I’m also a recovering addict, who is now three years sober and continue to fight the journey of recovery. Each and every day as we wake up, it’s a battle to finish the day strong. And thankfully, I am doing it and through God’s help and grace, I’m making it through. So Tinada is an organization in Kenya, whereby we help people who have mental health issues, and we help them by giving them the support that they need, and also by advocating for their rights and advocating for the access to services- to medical services that they need. And also advocating for them to be treated with dignity as they’re being treated, and also for the policymakers, for our politicians, and we encourage you to make laws which will protect the people who have mental health issues. So that is Mike and where I come from.

Angela Santillo
Alright, so what is one moment that changed everything for you?

Mike Wanjeng’u
Okay, so the moment that changed everything for me was one night, we’re having an argument with my parents, and it had become a norm because of my addiction. And each and every time we would argue, and we will talk and they will try to tell me that what I’m doing is wrong and that I should stop it. But each and every time it resulted in us going our separate ways and not talking to each other. So this one night as we were arguing, my dad had reached a point where he was fed up and he just told me that, “Mike, when I wake up tomorrow morning, I don’t find you in my house. I will never give birth to a son, I never had a child, and that I only had one child,” who is my sister. And that I should go get out of his house and when I died just come and collect my body, bury me and then be done with it. Good riddance, buddy. So that moment, it really hurt. And it really it really had a sting in my heart. But being that I was in addiction, deep in addiction, the next morning I just woke up, took my things and went away, thinking that now I am in a position where I don’t have to answer to anyone. And that now I can do anything that I want, I can now do the drugs the way I want to do it.

And so that trend continued for a while, but the good thing is my mother never gave up on me. She trusted me and tried to connect, and she was always checking up on me. And one day she convinced me to come meet her. And when we met, she told me about how I can get help. And she convinced me also that I should come and check into a rehab and see if it would work for me. So, I checked in the rehab because of my mom and while in there I started realizing that I was in the wrong and I needed to change my life. I needed to change my priority and I had to change what I give attention to my life. And slowly the journey began, and I started reforming and staying away from the drugs.

And in the course of that journey, I reconciled with my parents, with my dad and we had a very emotional conversation, whereby I was asking for forgiveness for being arrogant and trying to do things that are not tried. And he forgive me, he forgive me for what I had done. And we reconciled and actually he promised to help me in this journey. And we are better with him now, for the past three years, and I’m talking about…he’s been a pillar in life, he has been holding my hand. He has been giving me advice and telling me that the path I’ve chosen is the right one. And so that moment is what really changed it all because the pain I was feeling from those words, is what I was using not to go back and to have a change of what I was doing. To change my lifestyle and to choose a better way to leave past that.

Angela Santillo
So, I have some questions about your dad. You mentioned that after he said that, you left and in the state of mind that you were in, you realized- or you believed that now you could just do what you want. That you didn’t owe anybody anything. How long did it take you to really accept how hurtful or how strong those words are that he told you?

Mike Wanjeng’u
As an addict, I would say immediately he said those words, they pierced my heart. But I just chose to ignore them and decided that now he has told me that, now I can just leave. But even when I went away, I would think about that moment and it’s really hard and sometimes even I will do- I will do my drinking. I would drink more because of those words. And so, it took me about two months to fully come to understand that that was causing pain and that is the time that now I chose to turn my life around.

Angela Santillo
Yeah, cause those seem like- those words are so powerful, it seems like it would take a lot to deny that they happened. I don’t think you can, obviously, like successfully do that, you know, especially with your parents. What was your relationship with your dad like before your addiction really took over?

Mike Wanjeng’u
Yeah, we were kind of close, especially when I was a young kid. Because that is the time when he would spend most of the time with me, especially in the evening after work. We would find things to do, sometimes he would even take me in sometimes as he was going to do his business. But slowly as I grew up, I think we drifted apart because I went to boarding school very early. And I spent the whole of my life especially from my fifth grade up to my formal education, which is the old level in Kenya, I spent all the time away from home in boarding schools. And so, we were apart. The distance was not that much, it was more or less the relationship perspective because he was disciplinarian. My dad was very strict, and it was more of “I fear you” kind of relationship. And I think because of that it had a toll because now when I was out there on my own, I felt that now I had the freedom that I didn’t have to do what I wanted to do. So, I thought I was expressing myself and trying just to be me.

Angela Santillo
And how long were you having substance abuse problems until this moment?

Mike Wanjeng’u
Until this moment? Till the moment I got clean, I had been having substance abuse problems for over five years.

Angela Santillo
And you mentioned- now, I’m not sure if I heard this correctly. This started off as like having fun, right? Like experimenting with boundaries and freedom. Is that how this all started for you?

Mike Wanjeng’u
Yeah, it all started like that. So, I would say it was more of trying to fit in with my peers because all the way through my education until I finished my formal education, I had never touched drugs. I had never done any drugs. But now after my high school, and I was now out there not having so much to do and having these new friends and trying to fit in with them. And so, I think I was trying too hard to be part of that clique. And I ended up now doing anything to fit in. So that’s how I think I started my addiction, my journey to addiction because now I would go out with them and I would want to do exactly what they’ve been doing. Not realizing that they’ve been doing this for longer, but I just wanted to be doing what they were doing.

Angela Santillo
Yeah, so just kind of like snuck up on you because you’re comparing yourself to others and I think like most things you don’t realize that it’s taking over until it’s a little too late.

Mike Wanjeng’u
Exactly. Totally.

Angela Santillo
Were you aware of how much control this was having over your life before this moment? Or were you aware that like things were becoming very problematic and that you needed help?

Mike Wanjeng’u
I was aware. Before this moment, I was aware that things are getting out of hand because I had dropped out of school because my addiction. I had just got into university and I couldn’t cope with university studies with my addiction because most of the time from morning to evening, I was in a drunken stupor. So, most of the time, I really didn’t have time for classes. Like in a whole semester, you’d find that I would ghost class during exam. So that really, really couldn’t work so I had to drop out of school. And I decided to go into business. And I started doing business in Kenya. And for a while it went well, because it was the initial stages when I was trying to- working hard and trying to make sure that the business picks up. But after business had peaked, I started now drinking even the money that was meant for business. So, I drank, I drank my whole business down and those moments had- but now they added to my reasons why I wanted to drink. Not these are the reasons why I need to stop drinking, I use them as more reasons now to drink even more. So, there are some moments when exposed to pain, I felt I needed to stop but I just couldn’t.

Angela Santillo
Because isn’t it true…Now, I know, some people who have addictions. I never know what to do around them. But would you say in your experience, especially working with Tinada, is addiction a sign of-I think it is but get your opinion on this. Addiction is a sign of other problems, right? That you’re using something to cope instead of directly dealing with things that might be a little bit more serious?

Mike Wanjeng’u
Yes. In my experience, yes. That is truly the case because most people use drugs as an escape route, an avenue to escape from the most serious problems or most serious issues that they don’t want to face. And so, they indulge in alcohol and because the problems don’t go away with the drugs, now it becomes a habit and now it comes to a point where they overindulge. So, looking back even to my own life, I was also trying to run away from the hard truth that I needed to face in my life. And that running away is what drove me wow the point also of addiction. So, I determine people use it as a means to escape, it’s a result of trying to keep your reality and what you need to face. Yeah.

Angela Santillo
So, after this happened you know, your mom is definitely another critical part of the story. You were denied by your dad and she came around and she convinced you to find help. When was that moment with your mom-like how long after your dad said what he did was your mom able to convince you to go to rehab?

Mike Wanjeng’u
So, my mom, it was like about two months after. Two months after the incident is when because she had kept on constantly following up on me. Constantly checking up and just a call sometimes, just a call to see how I’m doing. Just a call to ask, “How you’re doing? How are things?” But now, sometimes she would ask me if we could meet and have a conversation. But mostly I would avoid that. But this time after two months, I decided to go and hear what she had to say.

Angela Santillo
Why do you think you were finally ready to listen to what she had to say?

Mike Wanjeng’u
I was ready to listen to what she said because in the moment- in the moment after the incident happened, I would find myself having my own moment whereby I would think about it, and it really hurt. And I really see the sense of why I needed to stop, why I needed to change my life around. But because I just didn’t want to have that moment, I thought…it was pride actually. I thought that, “Man, I should walk with my head high. I should not stop me because whatever they’re saying is true. I should find my own truth.” So, I was trying to fight it. But eventually I came to a point where I realized that there’s nothing that I was gaining. Taking stock of my life, especially because in the last month, I’ve been trying to take stock of my life, trying to see how much I had achieved with what I was doing. And I realized that I had done nothing. So, I thought that I really needed to try a different way out, try something else. So, I think that’s why I chose to take this test and going meet my mom.

Angela Santillo
What surprised you about going to rehab?

Mike Wanjeng’u
What surprised me about going to rehab was actually me. Because going to rehab, I really didn’t think that I would be able to go sit in a place for a period of time just being taught or being kept away from drugs. I thought I would have found a way to really, really get out of that place and go and look for those routes I used to use. But I surprised myself because the more I was being taught, the more I was being counseled, the more we were sharing with my peers who were in rehab, the more I realize that we are all reading from the same script but we’re just in different chapters. Some are ahead, some are behind. Just like a journey, a journey towards a destination and we’re all at different points in that journey. But the destination is the same because I met peers who had lost it all, totally lost everything to addiction. And looking at the trend, the way that their journey unfolded, being at the pit stops they had, I was just seeing my life. Just like they were living my life. And now I knew that if I do not have a turnaround, then that will be my final destination.

Angela Santillo
Yeah, that’s interesting because I would imagine being an addict, you know, obviously it impacts the people around you. But it seems like a very singular or lonely experience. And it must be very interesting then to be in a group of peers who you can identify with and realize, “Oh, I wasn’t alone in this experience.” Is that true for you? I mean, that’s what it sounds like.

Mike Wanjeng’u
It’s very true actually. You know, what I’ve realized about addiction, mostly it’s a disease people don’t understand. Especially someone who’s not affected by it, or who is not suffering from it. Because people look at you and just think that you just can’t control yourself. You just drink too much, or you just want to drink too much. But they don’t understand that addiction is just a disease. And the moment you have it, the moment it affects you, then you are at its mercy and there’s nothing much you can do about it. Unless you are helped, unless help is provided for you, that is when you can have a turn around. And also, being an addict now, it’s a very lonely experience because most people will alienate you and think ill of you, unless they are the people who take the drugs. Those are the people whom you find that you agree and who understand you most of the time.

But also coming into this at a rehabilitation center and meeting people who understand what I was going through, and what I had gone through also, and they are trying to get their lives around, it was an eye opener for me. Just because the company also it made it possible for me to have the turnaround because we would encourage each other, we would share experiences. And till now we still keep in touch with some of my friends, who we were with and we continue to encourage each other as we continue to fight on this journey.

Angela Santillo
And I’m assuming having that community is really important for that fight. You know, to be able to connect with people who are also dealing with those same challenges and just to find strength in numbers. Just because you mentioned people having a hard time understanding the disease of addiction. I definitely would say I’m one of those people. You know, I’m a very organized kind of Type A person. I like very calm things. So, when the addicts I know in my life, it kind of freaks me out how chaotic their lives are. What would you recommend for people-like what are the best ways to talk to people they know in their lives who have addictions? Or what are the best ways to deal with people who have this disease? What advice would you give?

Mike Wanjeng’u
So, the advice I would give to talk to these people, the very first thing I would say is just show them love. Love is the key actually to unlocking that decision to change. Because looking at most people who I’ve interacted with both in the rehab and outside the rehab who have turned their lives around, the key factor in their lives was that people-there was someone who didn’t give up on them and showed them love. That love, the kind of feedback you will get at the moment you’re showing it, sometimes they might act like they don’t see that love that you’re giving them. But deep down, it stays with them because even the people who I met, they would give instances of when someone showed them love while they were intoxicated because that left a mark in their heart.

And also as addicts, we also strive to get out of this situation because of that love that we are shown because we realize that someone else cares about that. That we are not alone. And so as much as we are fighting for us, we’re also fighting for them to show them that they didn’t love us in vain. So, the main advice I would give- the biggest advice I would give is always show them love. Don’t alienate them because they drink too much. Yes, they might be sometimes chaotic, sometimes they have some issues but try to handle them with love. Show them that love and that concern, that is key. The moment they see that and understand that, then you will have a way through to them.

Angela Santillo
Yeah, that makes sense. Because then you know, also I feel like when you support people through love- you can feel bad about yourself and you can hate yourself but if someone you respect is saying, “Well, I love you anyway,” it makes it hard for you to really see yourself as a bad, hopeless person. That you are being shown like, “No, actually there’s something good about you and you should be aware of that.”

Mike Wanjeng’u
I think that’s very true because sometimes, you know, the funny thing about being an addict is that we are blind to the obvious truth before us. So we don’t feel our value but if someone else recognizes the value that we have and keeps reminding me that you have some value, you have value in this life, then we tend to pick it from them, then picking it ourselves and run with it.

Angela Santillo
Yeah. And I would assume, with like any disease, when you have a disease, it’s something that you’re focused on. Your day to day is kind of structured by that disease. But as you’re getting control over this through rehab, and through recovery, how did your outlook on life start to change? Because I’m assuming that it allowed you to start seeing things differently, because it no longer was consuming you the way that it used to.

Mike Wanjeng’u
Actually, my outlook towards life really changed because there was some key things I was not seeing when I was in addiction. Number one was family. I didn’t really see the value of family; I didn’t respect family. But now looking back at the moment as I am, having recovered from addiction, I see family as the greatest asset anyone could have. Because they are the people who stand by you no matter what, no matter what happens, no matter what you do, and no matter where you are, these people always stand by you. So, my outlook, my perspective towards family has really changed and now it’s something that I really, really treasure. And I really value in my life.

And also, apart from that, having experienced addiction, I now am experiencing life without the use of alcohol. And it has opened up perspective towards my goals. That I can achieve what I wanted to achieve, what I had planned to achieve, what my purpose to achieve, I can now reach my goals. Also, it has helped me to see the perspective that I can enjoy life without drugs. There are very many things out here that you can enjoy doing without necessarily having to be drunk or maybe to be stoned or being high on marijuana. So, my perspective towards life has really changed and also my perspective to the people who are going through what I’m going through. And that’s why I committed myself and to say that as much as I’ve seen the light, I need to help someone else come and walk the journey and overcome what is affecting their life, especially addiction.

Angela Santillo
And is that what led you to work with Tinada?

Mike Wanjeng’u
Yeah, that is that exactly. That is what made me work with Tinada. Because they are doing, they are empowering the community, and empowering people who have mental health issues and addiction being one of them. They’re helping people to come out of addiction and to live better lives and to reorganize their lives and focus on their goals. Yeah. So it was one of the key things that led me to work with Tinada.

Angela Santillo
So I’m curious, you know, you’re talking about you found a bigger mission with wanting to help people and wanting to be advocates for them. You found greater understanding and appreciation of family. So how has your relationships with your mom and dad changed as your outlook changed and you started this new career path?

Mike Wanjeng’u
That relationship has really changed because previously while I was in addiction, I would spend even close to six months- three months without even having any contact with my parents. Not even you knowing how they’re doing, what they’re doing, and them not even knowing how I’m doing. Sometimes they would call me, and I would ignore their calls literally just looking at it and letting it ring until it goes off. And at the moment now they’re- I cannot even finish our whole two days without having communicated with them. They call and ask me, “Hey, how are you doing?” Sometimes I accomplish something and the first person I want to share it with is my parents. I called them, I take my phone and call them I tell them, “Here. Decent news happened and I’m very happy about it. And I think you should share also in that happiness and know that this has happened.” So that’s really changed because at the moment we are really in a good place whereby we talk openly and they even consider my opinion when they’re making family many decisions, which before was not was not there. They would sometimes want to make decisions with the family, but they will not involve me. But now when we want to make decisions of the family, they have to give me a call and ask me, “When you’re coming home?” or “What’s your advice on this? And this and that?” Yeah, so it has really changed for the better.

Angela Santillo
Yeah. And to be respected in some ways seen as- I assume when your parents call you and ask you your opinion, they’re treating you have been as an equal. You know that you are just as important as they are and that’s always a very fascinating shift.

Mike Wanjeng’u
Yeah. Totally.

Angela Santillo
Especially when you’re talking about a parent who is stricter, who was very much about the rules, they are so much in power and then to be seen as they’re equal, that’s great that you’ve been able to get there. With those people that you knew from rehab, the community that’s helping each other and supporting each other, I’m curious if your positive family relationship is a common story. Or are you one of the lucky ones who is able to re-patch things with their family?

Mike Wanjeng’u
Truth be told, I am one of the lucky ones. Because you find that not everyone is understanding. And that’s why I’m very much happy and grateful to God for the parents He gave me because my parents were more understanding. Because I have a close friend who went to the rehab and up to this moment, they’re really not patched up things with the parents. The parents don’t believe that he can change, that he has chosen to lead a different life. They only assume that if they give him a chance it will go back to the same old, same old story. So, I would say I’m one of the lucky ones but we are a number of us because I also have another good friend of mine, he was also actually chased from home by the mother. The dad died unfortunately, but the mother now, being a widow, she was trying to take care of him and his other sibling and she had gotten to a point where she was fed up. And so she chased him away, and told him just to go away. But now at the moment, even looking at how his relationship with his mother, I also appreciated the relationship that he had because there’s really been a turn around and it’s just been a complete do over of that relationship.

Angela Santillo
Yeah. And now in Kenya, are people aware- because I feel like in America, seeing addiction as a disease is something that’s been, I feel like the last few years really, really articulated through the media. And is a bit of a way a new concept that people are still understanding. Do people in Kenya understand or are aware that addiction is a disease?

Mike Wanjeng’u
No doubt. Actually, that’s part of the work that we’re doing. We’re creating awareness. You find that people who are in addiction are mostly stigmatized and that pushes them away farther. But it’s also a new concept in Kenya because people see alcoholism as a lifestyle choice. They don’t see it as disease, they just see it like someone has chosen to do that, and the person can stop but doesn’t want to. So, they don’t understand it as a disease, that maybe you get in but it’s very hard for you to get out. So, it’s also a new concept here in Kenya, and we’re trying to create awareness about it. And also, it is being added to the media, and we are grateful for the steps that we have taken so far.

Angela Santillo
I would assume it’s really important for everyone to see that because when you do start to see yourself becoming addicted, that you are aware that this is something out of your control. You know, if it’s in common knowledge that this is a disease, I would assume that would be helpful if you’re starting to be affected by the disease that you can think, “Oh, you know, this, this might be bigger than me.” But maybe not. Maybe the act of denial and escape is too prevalent for addicts. I don’t know. Do you think it helps addicts to understand that it’s a disease?

Mike Wanjeng’u
Yes, it does. Because sometimes even someone who is clearly addicted, if you try to tell them that they are an addict, they will refuse and they will refute that and tell you that, “You don’t know I can control this. I’m in control of my drinking.” I also said that one too many times. I said that I’m in control, that I’m controlling my drinking, I am not an addict, and I’m not affected by alcohol. But truth be told, if this information is put out there, just as someone will maybe- like here in Africa, we have a disease called malaria. And someone just feels the symptom, whatever you’re feeling, and you know that I need to get help. I need to get help because I’m not feeling well. The same is what needs to be done for addiction. Because if the information you put out there, then people will now start to notice this trend in their life and know that at this point, they really need help. And they will maybe cry out for help or seek that help themselves. Yeah. So, I think it’s very important. That’s why I like the work that we’re doing at Tinada because we are creating this awareness and putting this information out there, that people are affected by addiction and it’s a disease, not a choice.

Angela Santillo
Can you talk a little bit more about how you guys are spreading that message? How are you doing that?

Mike Wanjeng’u
So, we are spreading our messages through various means. But the one that we use the most is the media. Because we realize that through the media, both social media and the other conventional types of media, we find that we reach more people and we get the information out there. Like we do a radio talk show whereby we educate the public about matters of addiction, and more. And also, multiple mental health aspects because we give you a comprehensive view whereby we divide it into topics and we talk about the mental health condition, and addiction is one of them. So, there’s also a serial that we do on addiction and we put that information out there for people to understand.

We also try to involve the community because we work hand in hand with people who work in the community, even the community health volunteers or the gatekeepers at the community level. And we hold educational sessions with a community when they’re having their get togethers, their meetings, they invite us and we give talks, and we educate the people about matters addiction and matters of mental health in general. So those are some of the means. We also target the policymaker. Those are our politicians and those in authority. We hold whole stakeholder forums whereby we get them to sit down and we explain this concept them, so they can understand this so that even when they go out there in their political rallies, they can have this message and give it to the young people out there.

Also, the other avenue that we use to get this message out there is we do posters that have this message. And we put them all around in the community in the different parts of the county that you work in, so that people can read them, can get that method, and get understanding. We also do stickers, the one that you can stick on your car. So that if you’re interested in having the sticker, you can put it at back of your car, and you drive around people can see it and get this message. So those are some of the means and also through social media. We try to get this information out there and use people who have really gone through the experiences to be the peer educators to people who are undergoing the same challenges. Yeah.

Angela Santillo
So yeah, attacking from all angles. So, you’ll see it on the car, you’ll see a poster, just keeping it in dialogue and making people aware no matter where they look. Wow. That’s great. And clearly, you know, you’re very excited when you talk about this. I mean, that’s what it sounded like to me. When you look at your future and what’s coming up, like, what are you excited about? What do you want from your life now?

Mike Wanjeng’u
The thing that I’m excited most about is that as we are continuing to put this effort in getting this message out there, we are seeing results. and we’re seeing more people people calling our numbers and asking that I have this problem. How can I get help? And the more that people receive, the more that I know the work that we’re doing is not in vain in so the person who will we have helped, more people who are facing the same issues with that, and helping them overcome the issue. And that will be my greatest joy. And it will be-I will feel like I’ve accomplished something when I have. Even if it’s not, I don’t want to say that I want like 1000 people. No, just 10 people who have gone through this and have successfully turned their life around. I will take that because those 10 also will bring another 10 and the other 10, another 10. So, I think that in the near future, what I see is that we will have a very big impact on our people and the community around us. We will have changed the opinion about matters of addiction and matters of mental health. And they will do this as something that can happen to anyone of us and they will afford the care and the love that he or she deserves.

Angela Santillo
Amen. That’s great. Well, is there anything you wanted to add or anything that you haven’t been able to say that you want to?

Mike Wanjeng’u
I think I’ve said all I wanted to say, but I would just want to repeat that people out there need love. People are going through many challenges and sometimes the challenges that people go through, they use the drug as an avenue. So actually, I’m now remembering something that I forgot to say. And what I forgot to say is that as we are helping people, we’re also offering counseling because we understand that some people are facing major issues out there. And sometimes the drinking part of it is just the smallest bit of the problem. And so, finding real problem ailing them inside.

What’s interesting about them through counseling, that’s when now we know that we can help a person to overcome everything. Because if we treat the symptom and don’t tend to the disease, then the disease will still crop up again. So, through counseling we offer comprehensive care to the person and also counseling not only about addiction matters but counseling on his life in general. And just trying to understand the whole aspect of the person’s life so that we can help them if they’re facing any difficulties. And trust me, the response that we’ve been having from some people is amazing because you realize that people are having issues and the moment you care enough to ask them about it, people break down and show with your stories that you never think that someone going through that. And through those experiences, I really like the approach that we’re giving a comprehensive look, not just from the perspective of the problems, but looking at it from a wider angle.

So that’s what I forgot to say now I as I finish, I just want to say show people love. Humanity is about love and we should spread the love around. Don’t judge someone because of what he or she is going through or what he or she is showing, because you never know what that person is really, really, really going through and what the real problem is. But through love and through that care, you can get to help each and every person.

Angela Santillo
Now, after my conversation with Mike, I stopped recording the interview, and we kept talking and we ended up getting onto the subject of world Mental Health Day. And the focus for that day this year is on suicide prevention. And he wanted to add some thoughts about that. So, I started recording again.

Mike Wanjeng’u
Yeah, so this World Mental Health Day, theme is suicide prevention and suicide affect mostly the youth, 15–29 years of age. Even here in Kenya, we find that the youth are the ones who are committing suicide at the highest rates. And an interesting bit about this also that the males are committing suicide more than the female. And if you look at addiction also, you find that it affects more men than women. And in saying that, I would say that suicide prevention is all about understanding what someone is going through and giving them that love and that care because depression hits you and sometimes you don’t even know you’re hit by it. You just think that another dull day that I’m having, another difficult day, I’m not normally like this. You know, sometimes you get so used to those symptoms that you think that they’re part of your life, but you don’t realize things are getting bad and something needs to be done. So in line with this theme, let’s help each other, let’s talk at people, and let’s show each other that love. Because through love I think we can address the issues of suicide and we can identify our fellows who are undergoing depression and get them the help that they need. We need to be our brother’s keeper and being a brother’s keeper, I also mean our sister’s keeper.

Angela Santillo
Yeah.

Mike Wanjeng’u
Yeah. So that we can be on the lookout for each other and prevent suicide because every forty seconds, someone loses his life. It’s a big thing.

Angela Santillo
Wow. Is that an international statistic or is that a statistic for Kenya?

Mike Wanjeng’u
That’s an international statistic because annually we lose about 800,000 people to suicide and calculating that it goes to about every 40 seconds someone could take his life.

Angela Santillo
Learn more about Tinada Youth organization, visit to tinadayouth.wordpress.com. And you can also follow them on Facebook and on Twitter. And you can check out Voice at Twitter, Facebook and Instagram or at their website voice.global. “And Then Suddenly” is on Facebook and Instagram. Follow me there and check out my website andthensuddenlypodcast.com. I thank you so much for listening and I guess my final word is love.

Angela Santillo

Written by

Writer | Corporate Storyteller | Host of the And Then Suddenly podcast

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