Whenever anyone mentions slums, stereotypical images ranging from constant waves of crime, an unclean environment and rampant robbery – are bound to spring up in the minds of most people.

These are just a tip of the iceberg among other vices often associated with congested and temporal shack ‘houses’ in most shantytowns or ghettoes in urban areas.

And yet despite growing up and being raised in Nairobi’s Mathare slums, enterprising actor Joseph ‘Babu’ Wairimu. Joseph rose above numerous odds to nurture and pursue his creative abilities.

The rise to the silver screens has been a long and winding journey. His interest in the arts blossomed while in primary school, upon realization it required determination to improve the status of his life.

Almost over a decade later, his latent on-screen talent was spotted at a pre-auditions workshop for the ground-breaking Kenyan movie Nairobi Half-Life.

The film’s casting director Kamau wa Ndung’u singled him out and proposed his name while still at the stage of developing the script.

He would be cast as Mwas – one of the protagonists. This stint among lead actors led to subsequent roles in other productions such as Kibera Kids, Ndoto za Elidibi and Ni Sisi movies.

Nairobi Half Life was submitted for Best Foreign Language at the 85th Oscar Academy Awards – first time a Kenyan film debuted in the category but did not get on the final shortlist.

Back in the ghettoes, he learnt to steer off self-destructive habits prevalent in shanty- towns. This entailed choosing friends wisely and engaging in constructive activities.

Alongside some of his peers, they formed a group, meeting regularly to exchange ideas hopeful to change perceptions about life in the slums.

“We came together; encouraging youths to join clean-up our immediate environment. During our free time, we also rehearsed educative and entertaining skit performances,” recalls Wairimu.

And within months, his interest for drama grew and became obvious. “I realized I enjoyed acting and thereafter, started looking out for books on theatre,” he adds.

An encounter with books penned by renowned Kenyan scholar and playwright Ngugi wa Thiong’o, gradually offered valuable insights.

Starting off the group was not easy, owing to minimal support structures within the community. They also faced ridicule from peers, particularly those involved in shady dealings.

Their determination to push for change against all odds bore fruits with self-effort and good work being gradually appreciated in the community.

Eager to nurture his performing arts interest, he reached out to Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA). Their group was later enlisted in drama training sessions run by MYSA.

His efforts paid off, and for two years he was nominated as the arts chairperson, thus opening up more growth opportunities.

An invitation to participate in the Safe Kenya’s Sponsored Arts for Education auditions conducted at the Dandora dumpsite marked a significant turning point.

He was among those short listed, securing a chance to perform varied character roles for schools set-books productions staged regularly at the Kenya National Theatre.

His Nairobi Half-Life role earned Wairimu the Best Actor accolade at the 33rd Durban International Film Festival and the 2013 Africa Movie Academy Most Promising Actor award.

The actor also bagged varied nominations for the Best Actor Kalasha Awards [2012] and Best African Actor at the International Film Festival Awards [2014].

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