Hey there, I'm Franco, and I want to share my journey with you. I come from a place known for its struggles, a place called Kibera, one of the largest slums in the world. Life there was far from easy, but I held onto a dream that kept me going.
As a kid, I dreamt of becoming a pilot, soaring above the challenges that surrounded me, and giving my family the life they deserved. Hope filled my heart until I reached my adolescent years. That's when the world seemed to change, and so did I. I was a target for bullies who teased me relentlessly. They called me names like "lips red person" and "Big Charcoal" due to my dark skin. Their words chipped away at my self-esteem, and I struggled with confidence.
But then, I discovered something that became my sanctuary – dance. In those moments, I felt invincible. It didn't matter what anyone said. I was in my element. Looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. Little did I know that dance would both save and challenge me. When my father learned of my passion, he disapproved and wanted me to stop. I tried to comply, but it wasn't possible. In the end, my love for dance cost me my home, as my dad kicked me out.
Everything seemed bleak, and I questioned my purpose in life. Almost everyone turned their back on me, except for my brother from another mother, Collins, and my mom. Through the darkest times, I faced adversity, lost friends to violence, and felt like an outsider in my own life. Yet, once again, it was dance that illuminated my path. It gave me a sense of purpose and the strength to keep moving forward. I fell in love with it all over again; and this time, it transformed my life into a beautiful, albeit challenging movie.
Dance led me back to school and ignited a fire within me. I founded the ChezaCheza Foundation to empower children and youth in my community and beyond. Our message is simple: "You Can, You Will. You Have Greatness Within You." We emphasize self-belief, the importance of the right people around you, discipline, consistency, and reaching your full potential.
Through ChezaCheza, we've impacted over 1500 children and young people. We have been blessed with incredible opportunities because we believed in ourselves and knew we had something to offer the world. At the same time, we have been blessed to meet wonderful and inspiring people who are helping us bring our vision to life. One of these partners is Crossing Thresholds – an NGO building and equipping schools in Kibera. Meeting Crossing Thresholds and some of the individuals behind it (Wanjira, Faith, Carter and Jimmy) has been an absolute game-changer for all of us at ChezaCheza.
It all began when Wanjira Mathai, daughter of the late Wangari Maathai, introduced me to Faith at our inaugural fundraising event. Faith, recognizing the potential in ChezaCheza, facilitated a meeting with Jimmy, and ultimately a new door opened for us to run our programs in schools operated by Crossing Thresholds. This not only expanded our reach but also enabled us to generate more employment opportunities for the youth in Kibera. As positive feedback poured in, more schools sought our services, and today, we are present in over 35 schools across Nairobi!
The support from Crossing Thresholds has been unwavering -- extending beyond the immediate partnership to include exciting connections like Broadway Dreams. Bi-annually, Crossing Thresholds also brings teams of volunteers who offer the gift of love and encouragement. This gift has instilled in me the importance of surrounding oneself with the right people. Every day, I convey this wisdom to my students—be sure to attract those who believe in your dreams. Thank you Crossing Thresholds for helping us to transform lives.
My message to every child facing vulnerability and self-doubt is this: You have everything you need inside you. Trust your instincts, work on yourself, and become a blessing to others. By doing so, we build a better "me" and "you," which ultimately creates a better "us." That's how we change our communities and the world. Remember, great things can emerge from the least expected places. So, keep pushing, keep believing, and never underestimate the power within you. Your journey may be tough, but it can lead to greatness beyond your wildest dreams.
Co-founder of ChezaCheza and member of CT's Kenya Advisory Council