Now imagine running into your old childhood friend many years later and suddenly not able to recognize their face. It feels as if your old happy memories and the person who stands before you are two separate thoughts. That’s just what happened to Wanja Mwaura of Nairobi, Kenya. One day she was just walking to the market in a nearby town. As she completed her normal routine she ran into a disruption that would set her world on an entirely new path.
Wanja had recently taken a break from her full time nursing job to maintain a freelance schedule. She would only take specific cases and treat people on a need basis. She saw firsthand the struggles with getting help for patients in Kenya. There are still stigmas against substance abuse victims and mental health issues and the government does not invest in nor provide treatment programs for their most vulnerable. So when she ran into her old childhood friend, Patrick “Hinga” Wanjiru, she knew she had to help him. Hinga was one of her closest childhood friends but here in front of her wasn’t the same boyish, sweet, clean boy that he used to be. His skin was blemished and his teeth were mostly missing. He told her that he spent his years since school homeless and addicted to illegal substances. His clothes were tattered and he hadn’t showered in some time. Wanja was heartbroken. She knew she had to do something her old friend.
This is the incredible story and transformation of Hinga. Wanja helped give her friend a new lease at life and the new Hinga is an incredible sight to behold. His transformation is so dramatic in fact that after the story went viral, many believed that the Hinga in the before pictures was a different man than his after pictures. His metamorphosis is truly an amazing one. Check out the incredible story of Hinga and Wanja, the devoted friend faithful to getting her friend cleaned up.
Just a normal day
Wanja Mwaura was heading to the market near Nairobi in her home country of Kenya as she always does. It was just a normal trip for the usuals: bread, milk, eggs. She was a longtime nurse who specialized in rehabilitating patients who suffered from a number of substance abuse issues and mental health problems. Although she only works freelance for special cases, she is devoted to helping the most vulnerable in Kenya get back on their feet.
On her way to the market she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned around and saw a man in front of her she didn’t recognize. He introduced himself: Patrick “Hinga” Wanjiru. “It’s me, Wanja,” he said to the unsuspecting woman. “It’s Hinga from childhood.” It took her a moment before she realized that this was Hinga, her old friend she used to play with as a young girl. She took in his face. It wasn’t the same.
Not the same Hinga
Wanja was shocked by what she saw. Her old childhood friend looked weary, brittle-boned, with bulging eyes and he was wearing dirty clothes from head to toe. His appearance brought tears to her eyes. Gone were the happy memories of two innocent friends playing sports outside together and hanging out after school. Here in front of her was a new man who so clearly faced some demons after their time at school. She couldn’t believe her eyes.
Wanja learned of Hinga’s struggles with illegal substance abuse that spiraled out of control. He had traveled down a dark road for years. He was no longer the seven year old with wonder in his eyes. Hinga opened up to Wanja about his struggles for all of these years. His mother tried to help him while he was still in school finishing classes and living with his grandmother in a squat. After his grandmother died he was out on the streets on his own with nowhere to go.
Helping a friend
Wanja listened to him intently and with a broken heart. She saw how life had done its number on Hinga. Memories flooded back to her. “[He] used to be a great soccer player all throughout school,” she told the BBC. “We nicknamed him ‘Pele’.” She decided in that moment that she was going to help her friend. No longer would she allow the hardships of life take him down. Wanja got herself together and she set out to work.
Road to recovery
Wanja took Hinga to a rehab facility nearby. She worked with the doctors to tell his story, describe his experiences, and detail his progress. During this time she reached out to his biological mother who was so happy to reunite with her son. “I was known as the madman’s mother,” said Nancy Hinga, the young man’s mother. It sure wasn’t going to be easy but Wanja was committed to helping this man get his life back together.
Taking the cause online
“I decided then, that something needed to be done to help him,” Wanja said. There was one problem, however. The cost for rehab wasn’t cheap. It would require months of treatment from some of the country’s best addiction doctors. She turned to her social media pages and set up a crowdfunding page. She urged everyone in her community to give what they can and help him as much as possible. Before she knew it, the money began to pour in.
Wanja’s Facebook plea for funds caught the attention of Mombasa businessman Fauz Khalid. He was touched by her heartfelt post urging others to help her friend come clean. He posted her message to his Twitter page. It was reposted more than 50,000 times and was liked by more than 100,000 members. It went certifiably viral. Newspapers in Kenya reached out to Wanja for comment on stories they were working on. She describes the wave as a total “blessing”.
Start from the beginning
Wanja finally made enough money to send Hinga to rehab. Things were rocky at first. He suffered withdrawals and depression. His body was weak and the doctors told Winja that the frequent years of substance abuse took a massive toll on his body. They warned her that the road wouldn’t be easy. He would need to stay in the rehab facility for awhile. She made another Facebook post asking the public for prayers and hope to come Hinga’s way.
Little by little
Slowly Hinga began to regain some of his strength. During this time Wanja visited him frequently and updated the public of his status on her Facebook page. She attracted tens of thousands of people all over the globe interested in hearing how Hinga has been doing. She took the opportunity to draw their attention to the serious lack of any government-provided rehabilitation facilities. “Unfortunately, there is still great stigma around drug abuse in Kenya,” Wanja said.
Making a plea
Wanja and Hinga’s story travelled far and wide. She started to receive invitations for radio interviews and for newspaper comments. Because of all the attention she received, she decided to write Kenyan President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta a letter urging him to open government funded rehab center. “This is a disease that as a team we can make our brothers and sisters overcome and become better people in the society,” she wrote. He has yet to respond.
Becoming an activist
It is estimated that more than 55,000 Kenyans are addicted to the most dangerous illegal substances. For that large sample there is no government-backed rehab program. Wanja says that the government is not interested in supplying help for their most vulnerable. She has received an outpour of families calling for Wanja to help them with brothers, sisters, daughters, and sons. She is calling on the government to help these people. She says that the government can’t sleep on their citizens anymore.
Here is Hinga and Wanja together after five weeks in rehab. He regained much color to his complexion and was able to move much quicker and form more difficult sentences. Gone was the staggering and distracted man who tapped Wanja on the shoulder that day at the market. He was far from cured but he was doing much better in such a short time period. She was a called a “mashujaa” (hero in Swahili) by many online.
Live on the air
Wanja and Hinga’s story continued to go viral. She was invited by KTN News, one of the leading TV news programs in Kenya, to tell her story and to continue spreading the news. She described how the community was reluctant to embrace Hinga’s journey at first. He was still on the streets and they were hesitant to believe that he would be receptive to help. “At first the contributions were a bit slow but I kept carrying on,” she said. “I just kept posting and posting and posting.”
Hinga became addicted to a drug called Attain. It’s a difficult drug to find and doctors are hesitant to prescribing it to patients. It’s a highly addictive painkiller used to treat the most extreme forms of pain. “It isn’t supposed to be used daily, but because it got him high, he got addicted,” said Nancy, Hinga’s mother. “It was only Sh2 (a few cents) per tablet. He even stole prescription papers and got them from chemists.”
A generous community
Even with all of the press and viral posts, rehab was expensive and Wanja didn’t raise enough money to send Hinga to a full treatment center. She didn’t know what to do. She continued to push for help on Facebook and through Whatsapp groups. She contacted local newspapers and spoke on air again. All of her efforts seemed fruitless until one very special day. She received a call that the rehab center saw her speak on the news and decided to waive the entire bill. Wanja couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
After ten weeks at the rehab center, Wanja planned a special thanksgiving dinner with classmates and family to celebrate Hinga’s progress. He dressed in his best ironed button-down and tie, ready to grace the world as a new man. She invited to general public to the event and the Facebook invite was liked by more than 1,700 people. She held the thanksgiving event at the local church and couldn’t wait to see how it would turn out.
The public was so excited to see Hinga’s transformation. He was full of life at the celebration, laughing and eating with old friends and new friends who donated for his cause. He says that part of his healing process was turning to the spirit world for guidance. “I feel like I am a new man,” he told Daily Nation. “I pray daily, asking God to deliver me so that I am not pulled back to that life of drugs.”
As for Wanja, she was so inspired by the journey to help Hinga she decided to continue being a voice for the voiceless. She continues to receive an outpour of stories of those in need, whether it be victims of substances or abuse. They tell her their stories and she turns to her now popular Facebook page to share their stories and ask for help. She has dedicated her life to helping those in need and getting them financial and medical help, just as she did with her childhood friend.
Where they are now
Hinga is far from recovered. He continues to get better at the rehab facility and Wanja says, at the moment, he will remain there for the foreseeable future. Doctors expect him to make a full recovery and that Hinga is committed to getting totally clean, no matter how hard the road will be. He has plans on opening and running his own business someday and Wanja says she will help him set up shop when he is good and ready.