Hometown: Dagoretti, Kenya
Class of 2010
Philosophy, Class of 2010
International Marketing, Class of 2013
Michael Mungai's journey to Hawk Hill began in Africa with a photo of a snow-covered Barbelin bell tower. Along the way to graduation, worked to found both Harambee, a student-run group promoting awareness of African culture, and Dagoretti4kids, an educational outreach program for homeless Dagoretti youths, and has been involved with other international advocacy effortsreach program that now provides housing and schooling to more than 30 street children.
When Mungai was just 14 years old, he left his home to live on the streets of Dagoretti, Kenya to help ease the financial burden on his mother, who cared for Mungai and his three siblings as a single parent. Living as a Dagoretti street boy, Mungai experienced great pain and hunger, but his selfless decision showed his charitable nature, always looking to give even when he, himself, had nothing.
“She was struggling to feed us and I wanted to help, so I said ‘I’m going to be a man’ and went out on my own,” the economics major said.
While living on the streets of Dagoretti, Mungai met Christof Putzel, a visiting American filmmaker from the University of Connecticut. At the time, Putzel was filming “Left Behind,” a documentary on the country’s AIDS orphans and street children. Mungai built a close relationship with Putzel, acting as his guide and translator.
Before leaving Kenya, Putzel introduced Mungai to Bonnie Graboski, an Allentown, Pa., woman volunteering at an orphanage. Graboski took Mungai off the streets and encouraged him to return to school, which he was forced to leave due to his family’s financial difficulties. Graboski funded Mungai’s education through the end of high school.
“She is the most important woman in my life after my mother,” Mungai said. Together they enlisted the help of volunteers and sponsors to form Dagoretti4kids (D4K) in 2003, an outreach program that now provides housing and schooling to more than 30 street children.
Mungai was introduced to Saint Joseph’s University by Mark Orrs ’03, who had seen Mungai in Putzel’s documentary and sought him out while volunteering at an African orphanage. The two quickly became good friends, and Orrs suggested that Mungai consider attending SJU.
“I remember seeing St. Joe’s for the first time on Mark’s computer and seeing Barbelin covered in snow, and thinking that I wanted to be there,” Mungai said.
Orrs was able to secure a full scholarship for Mungai from University President Timothy R. Lannon, S.J. But like many international students, Mungai faced difficulties in assimilating to American culture, improving his English and making new friends as a freshman. That didn’t stop him from getting involved, however.
“I looked for people I could identify with, but there weren’t many people who knew much about my country and its culture,” Mungai said. “That’s when I decided to start Harambee to spread awareness and address the lenses of misconception people see my country through.”
In its four years on campus, Harambee has worked to educate the university community about the African continent through events such as African Awareness Week, which included a food-tasting event that allowed students to get a “taste of African culture and African food,” according to Mungai. The organization also works to raise money to fight the HIV/AIDs epidemic in the country by selling necklaces and bracelets made by HIV-positive women. The money is meant to help them afford food and medicine. Harambee also works to support D4K.
Following graduation, Mungai hopes to have a career in social justice and is considering graduate school, where he would work toward a master’s degree in international marketing.
“There was a time when I thought social justice could be achieved through aid and intervention, but I’ve learned from my classes that sustainable social justice is related to the overall economic welfare of a country and that it is a product of that market,” Mungai said.