For some people, a chance encounter can change their lives forever. That was the case after Wanja Mwaura found one of her old friends from school living on the streets. And following that meeting, Wanja decided that she would try her best to help her former buddy turn his life around.
A resident of Kiambu County, Kenya, Wanja was heading towards a local market in October 2017. And on her way there, someone caught the nurse’s attention by calling out her name. However, not even Wanja could’ve predicted what happened next, as a figure from her past appeared before her on the sidewalk.
The 32-year-old nurse had come face-to-face with Patrick Wanjiru, one of her childhood friends from school. Wanja didn’t immediately recognize him, though, since his disheveled appearance had thrown him off. Then Patrick re-introduced himself – and left his old acquaintance speechless.
“Patrick, or Hinga as we called him, and I had met at primary school in 1992,” Wanja recalled to BBC News in 2017. “Hinga used to be a great soccer player all throughout school. We nicknamed him ‘Pele.’” Unknown to the nurse, though, her old friend had subsequently spiraled into a lifestyle that had left him devastated.
Still, Hinga had initially showed a lot of promise, scoring high marks in his primary school exams. After that, he joined Uthiru High School in a bid to continue his education. Hinga’s life ultimately began to unravel, however, when his friends introduced him to drugs.
“It all began with cigarettes,” Hinga told the Kenyan newspaper Daily Nation in February 2018. “Before we knew it, we were smoking bhang [cannabis]. I gave in to drugs because of peer pressure.” And as soon as Hinga’s teachers discovered his new-found habit, they expelled him.
Hinga was then admitted to another high school; his drug habit caused problems again, though, and he ultimately left. At that point, his mother Nancy decided to take action. After receiving some advice from the school, she took her son to the hospital for an evaluation.
And following a couple of referrals, Hinga eventually ended up at Mathari Hospital, a psychiatric facility. The doctors there concluded that the drugs had made an impact on his brain and accepted him as an inpatient – but things only got worse from there.
Hinga left the facility on a number of occasions, unhappy with how he was being treated. “He complained a lot and said all they did was give him medication and treat him like a mental patient,” Nancy told The Standard in March 2018. “Yet he was not mentally ill, and that is why he kept running away.”
“But when [Hinga] was out of the hospital, he would walk around the neighborhood completely naked,” Nancy added. “Or he would rummage through garbage.” However, Hinga’s issues didn’t end there, since he also became addicted to a drug known as Attain while at the facility.
With the situation showing no signs of improvement, then, Hinga eventually ran away and remained on the streets. At that point, the drugs really took hold of him, as he subsequently spent over a decade on his own. Despite all the problems he faced, though, he was troubled by one thing in particular.
“What pained me the most was that my siblings were at home with my mother, safe and sound, yet I was [on] the streets,” Hinga recalled to Daily Nation. “That was really depressing for me.” However, everything changed following the chance encounter with his old friend Wanja.
After meeting Hinga, Wanja then bought him some lunch, having recalled his meal of choice from their time at school. And when he finished eating, she implored him to stay in touch. “I gave him my mobile telephone number and told him to call me if he needed anything,” the nurse told BBC News.
Seemingly touched by the gesture, Hinga stayed in contact with his old friend for a few days and revealed his determination to beat his addictions. And at that point, Wanja made a pivotal decision. “I decided then that something needed to be done to help [Hinga],” she recalled. This wouldn’t be easy, however.
Indeed, as Wanja explained to BBC News, “Rehab here is very expensive, and I had no ways of raising funds on my own.” She continued, “We set up a crowdfunding page, but we only managed to raise around 41,000 Kenyan shillings ($400) initially. However, the cost of nine days’ rehabilitation at Chiromo Lane Medical Center in Nairobi was more than 100,000 shillings ($975).”
Despite falling short of the required amount, Wanja still took her friend to the rehab facility, and officials admitted him. From there, Hinga underwent a nine-day detox program – with immediate results. He visibly gained some weight, for example, while his mental faculties also noticeably improved.
Unsurprisingly, Wanja was delighted with Hinga’s progress, leading her to share his story on her Facebook page. “A week ago, Hinga and I couldn’t hold a normal conversation without me trying to hold his head up with my hand in order for him to concentrate,” she wrote. “Today we can have a normal conversation with him confidently looking at me.”
Then, after reading Wanja’s post, Fauz Khalid, a businessman from Mombasa, Kenya, shared the story on Twitter. Not long after that, the tweet went viral, earning over 100,000 likes and more than 50,000 retweets. And with Hinga’s story gaining traction around the country, his treatment at the rehab facility was then made free of charge.
Then, after a lengthy period at the Retreat Rehab Center, Hinga was a man transformed. The 35-year-old looked incredibly healthy, in fact, and a far cry from when he and Wanja initially reunited on the streets. “I feel like I am a new man,” he told Daily Nation.
The money that Wanja raised to get her friend into rehab, meanwhile, was diverted into setting up a business. Named Hinga’s Store, the shop was run by Nancy during her son’s treatment. “People say I changed Hinga’s life, but he changed mine too,” Wanja added to BBC News. “I realize now that a small act can change a person’s life.”