Dorcas Rigathi: Why the boy child must be empowered

Kenya's Second Lady Dorcas Rigathi during the interview with at DP's official residence in Karen, Nairobi on Tuesday, September 12, 2023. 

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • A chance encounter with Nairobi street boys marked the beginning of Dorcas Rigathi's  urge to address the plight of the boy child.
  • The he Second Lady says her campaign’s objective is to save a generation the country could lose due to alcoholism and drug abuse, if nothing is done.
  • The campaign targets to reach 12,000 young men across the country by the end of 2023.

One evening in the 1990s while driving home from work, Dorcas Rigathi recalls an incident where street boys stopped her along Nairobi’s Uhuru Highway.

She did not think twice, she just stopped. In those years, Nairobians feared street boys due to their bad behaviour. They would harass residents while demanding money or food. Those who refused to comply would be smeared with human faeces.

When Ms Rigathi stopped and rolled down her car windows, the young men were shocked, she says.

“The boys literally froze…they didn’t expect me to stop. When I asked them why they seemed shocked, they said they had never experienced that before,” she tells in an interview at the Deputy President's official residence in Karen, Nairobi.

They told her they just wanted food because they were hungry. Touched by their plight, she gave them two loaves of bread which she had bought for her family’s breakfast the following morning.

As she drove home, she pondered about the ordeal. This marked the beginning of her urge to address the plight of the boy child.

And so when we meet with her this bright Tuesday morning, she is upbeat to share what she is doing to empower boys.

At the gate to the official residence are dozens of hawked eyed police officers. They take us through security checks before letting us into the compound.

Inside the neatly kept compound are several palatial mansions which we later learn include the main house and office blocks for the deputy president and his spouse.

Lush gardens characterised by well-kept lawns that are surrounded by beautifully trimmed flowers and trees catch the attention of the eyes.

Next to the main mansion is a huge swimming pool with a gazebo .It is captivating to the eye. In front of the house is a lovely water fountain.

It is around 9am in the morning.

Ms Rigathi walks briskly but confidently to her seat from the main mansion. She takes her time to greet us before taking her position.

Our interview with Kenya’s Second Lady is cordial. She responds with eloquence coupled with an infectious smile and gentle voice.

She has in the recent past shot to the limelight with her boy child empowerment program, which is focused on the rehabilitation of young men lost to alcoholism. She is spearheading the campaign under the Office of the Spouse of the Deputy President (OSDP).

Ms Rigathi says her boy child  empowerment campaign entails a rigorous screening of the addicts and taking the most deserving to rehabilitation centres.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

Her vision is to have a dignified future for vulnerable populations grounded on chaplaincy and family values, with the main focus groups being the boy child, widows, orphans and persons with disabilities.

The Second Lady tells that her campaign’s objective is to save a generation that the country could lose due to alcoholism and drug abuse, if nothing is done.

Alcoholism has become a major issue in Kenya. A survey by the National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada) released early this month showed alcohol is the most abused drug in the country.

Most deserving

The survey, Status of Drugs and Substance Use in Kenya, 2022, showed that one in every eight Kenyans aged 15 - 65 years, a population of about 3,199,119 people, currently use alcohol. The majority are men.

A former banker and a trained teacher, Ms Rigathi says her campaign entails a rigorous screening of the addicts and taking the most deserving to rehabilitation centres.

“Apart from rehabilitation, the young men are also taken through Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) to equip them with skills that will help them secure jobs or employ themselves, freeing themselves from chains of alcoholism and drug abuse,” she says.

Among the technical courses the reformed addicts are undertaking include plumbing, beadwork, hairdressing painting, masonry, carpentry and agribusiness among others.

Already, some reformed addicts are involved in the ongoing national tree planting and housing projects spearheaded by the national government.

“So far, we have several groups engaged in tree nurseries. They currently have 500,000 seedlings, which is an economic activity that they are undertaking,” she says.

To make the campaign more effective, the Second Lady reveals that plans are at an advanced stage to set up health villages in different areas across the country.

The health villages, which will be established in partnership with major hospitals and the counties will entail a wellness camp, an inpatient rehabilitation for the addicts. While in the health villages, the addicts will also be engaged in sporting activities and mentorship from a pool of mentors.

Currently, community-based rehabilitation of addicts is ongoing in Kiambu, Mombasa, and Bomet counties.

The journey to reform the young men has not been a bed of roses as Ms Rigathi reckons. She identifies stigma as one of the major problems affecting addicts, which has resulted in them being side-lined and victimized by their families and the society.

Kenyans, she opines, need to support alcohol and drug addicts by showing them love in order to help them recover.

Lack of adequate resources to undertake rehabilitation, she says, is another challenge. So far, the campaign has been relying on well-wishers. She, for example, says that the cost of taking an addict through rehab for one month ranges between Sh150,000 to Sh350,000 a month, depending on the level of addiction.

Ms Rigathi interacts with the youth in Nairobi's Eastlands during a feeding program of the boy child at PEFA Church, Donholm on May 12, 2023.

Photo credit: Photo | OSDP

To deal with the lack of resources, there are plans to have Parliament anchor the campaign in law, so that the government funds it. This, she observes, will help her roll out the program to the 47 counties, which is her long-term objective.

The campaign targets to reach 12,000 by the end of 2023 through preventive, curative and community-based rehabilitation programs across the country.

So far, more than 1,000 youth have been screened out of which 533 are set to be taken for rehabilitation. The first cohort of young men who have undergone rehabilitation under the program, graduated two weeks ago.

The graduation was a culmination of a three-month inpatient rehabilitation for the addicts in Meru and Nairobi counties. A total of 85 young men graduated.

One of the reformed addicts Godfrey Mwago, an Economics graduate from the University of Nairobi, cannot hide his joy after getting a second chance in life.

“When I joined the rehabilitation centre in Timau, Meru County, I came to realize that I was powerless and my life was unmanageable. Drug addiction is a disease. I am now a reformed person and ready for the job market,” Mwago tells in a phone conversation.

The campaign has also come up with a preventive boy child program targeting male students in high schools. So far, it is being undertaken in conjunction with Nacada at Dagoretti High School in Nairobi, Tudor Secondary School in Mombasa and Kagumo Boys High School in Murang’a. The idea is to enlighten students on the dangers of alcoholism and drug and substance abuse.

Ms Rigathi is challenging the church to stand up and be counted saying it has a big role to play in moulding and mentoring the boy child.

“Religious leaders and the church have a duty to preach the word of God to boys and young men and offer them mentorship. Addiction has no boundaries; we have the demon of alcoholism ravaging through many homes. The church has its job well cut out,” she says.

While championing the welfare of the boy child, Ms Rigathi is quick to point that she is in no way advocating against girl child empowerment.

The mother of two adult sons tells the boy child has been neglected for years as efforts were focused to empower the girl child.

“The boy child is now where the girl child was several decades ago. All I am rooting for is gender equality. It is paramount to also empower the boy child to help him cope with the empowered girl child,” she observes.

She blames the rampant alcoholism and drug abuse in the country to laxity among the various agencies charged with fighting the menace.

To deal with it, she is working on sponsoring a law in Parliament to impose punitive measures on culprits aiding the menace to flourish.

As a result of her boy child campaign, she recently received an award during the Africa Public Sector Awards and Conference Awards (APSCA) 2023, held in Nairobi.

She received the ‘Outstanding Catalyst in Vulnerable Empowerment Award’, following her work with the boy child, widows and orphans, and people with disabilities in Kenya.

The organisers of the ceremony, led by the founder and CEO of ‘Instinct Wave’, Akin Naphtal of APSCA, applauded her for continued efforts towards empowering the boy child and making it a national conversation. The awards recognized individuals, departments and ministries in the public service that have worked selflessly for the betterment of society.

Born in Ndunyu ya Chege village, Gatanga in Murang’a in 1965, to a peasant farmer, her childhood was riddled with suffering and pain.

Losing her father while young negatively affected her life. After his death, the family relocated to Kiandutu slums where she was brought up.

She attended Mugumo-ini Primary School in Thika, before proceeding to Alliance Girls High School for her O-levels, and later St Francis Girls Mang’u for her A-levels.

She later proceeded to Kenyatta University for a Bachelor of Education degree. After university, she worked for one of the country’s leading banks for 15 years before quitting to venture into business.

Apart from the boy child program, Ms Rigathi has another initiative supporting widows. It entails empowering them to start soap and uniform making businesses.

Ms Rigathi with her spouse Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua tour the Vatican City in Rome Italy on July 26, 2023. The Second Lady describes her husband as soft and loving.

Photo credit: Photo | DPCS

On balancing her personal life with public duties and engagements, the Second Lady reveals that it has not been hard on her. The advantage, she says, is that she has two grown-up sons and a working husband.

Every morning, they go to the gym together as a family and have dinner together at least once a week. She describes her husband of 35 years, as soft, loving and caring and who is always available for her and the family.

“The media at times projects him as an abrasive man. He is just a simple and outright man who talks the truth. For sure, he is a loving husband and a good father. He was there when the children were growing up. He takes good care of me and is a good husband and father,” she says.

Being a person who loves privacy, she acknowledges that her new office and status has exposed her to the limelight. She is, however, happy that the office has given her the opportunity to serve Kenyans.

“Sometimes I am not able to interact with a lot of people and go to some place I would love to due to security arrangements,” she adds.

Ms Rigathi advises Kenyans not to shy away from extending a helping hand to their fellow countrymen undergoing various challenges.

She says the country and the world at large will be a better place if people respond to the problems and injustices in society.

The Second Lady particularly calls on the private sector to join in the fight for the boy child, saying public funds are not enough to deal with the drug menace that has affected the nation for decades. The boy child champion is fully behind the implementation of the two-thirds gender rule, saying women leadership is a good thing for a country.

She, however, adds that it would be better if the women in political leadership are elected by the people, since nomination slots can at times be manipulated.

She is advocating for a robust sensitisation campaign to educate women on the importance of electing fellow women, in order to achieve gender rule among elected leaders.

During her free time, she loves preaching, dancing, singing and walking. Last year, she received an honorary doctorate in Divinity from Breakthrough International Bible University in 2021. She is a member of the House of Grace Church, Nairobi where she started serving as an usher in 2002, before later being ordained in 2011.