HOW DID WE COME ABOUT?
This is our story as told by our co-founder Oneko Arika
Growing up in Nairobi Kenya in the 80s I was exposed to a very dynamic and colorful environment that had a lot of cultural music and sports (like boxing) which was always connected in some way to entertainment. Like so many other places in the world, there were also the "bad boys" in the same hood. Many friends I grew up with ended up dead or wasted away from drug abuse and crimes that they graduated into with time, mostly due to being idle and watching the behavior of the older kids. I once got out of a bus in my neighborhood to sounds of gunshots at my primary school. It was at that moment that I knew I had to do something to change the sound. My idea was to drown out the noises of violence with the sound of drums. Then I saw an article in a local newspaper that had the headline "Dying Young In Eastlands" where I could identify over 15 young men's photos who I knew involved in armed robbery who were killed by the police. It's that background upon which I felt the need to stop the spread of the criminal mentality and show kids at a young age that they don’t have to follow that same path. I was a product of that exact environment but was able to overcome a life of crime by focusing on sports (boxing) and music (drumming). Before long, I was a drummer/percussionist performing with artists around the world. I started using my little income as a performer to get kids in my neighborhood to just come and drum with me. Just like that the idea of Marching Forth was born.
In 2008, the name “March Forth Kenya Kids” was conceived and we officially became a 501c3 non-profit incorporated in Los Angeles, CA. We teach music and different forms of art and movement (including yoga), to help give young people a positive path to focus in life. We do our work mainly in the neighborhood where I grew up, but also hold workshops for young people in America. In Kenya, we have drumming, dancing, and yoga classes every Saturday and have organized several large scale events in Nairobi. We have hosted reggae concerts in the community giving our students the chance to curtain raise for big stars who they look up to. Some of our past special guests include Tippa Irie (UK), Dr. Ring-Ding (Germany), Rocky Dawuni (Ghana) and Gilah Yelin Hirsch (Los Angeles). We do all of this for free to uplift the community as the people we work with live in a very economically challenging environment. We have some amazing success stories of young people growing up and now earning a living through what they started with us, not to mention the significant increase in test scores we have seen with students participating in our programs.
Meet our team!
Co-Founder and Director of Programs
Oneko Arika (Jahneko) is a world-renown percussionist, music teacher, DJ, and lover of all things music. Born in Nairobi Kenya, Oneko has been performing on stages around the world for the past 25 years playing many different styles of percussion with musicians from several different countries. His personal style is deeply rooted in Afro Cuban and Reggae beats, but he has performed with artists of all genres. He has had the honor of performing with headliners at festivals around the world including the North Sea Jazz Festival (Rotterdam), Sauti Za Busara (Zanzibar), Creation of Peace Festival (Russia), and Reggae Pon The Mountain (California) just to name a few. He has shared stages with many musical greats including Pato Banton, Rocky Dawuni, Toots Hibbert, and several others. Oneko is also a DJ. He has a weekly internet radio program called "Africa Reggae Road" on LockdownRadioUK. He also regularly hits the decks at events in the Southern California area. In addition to performing, Oneko is the co-founder and Director of Programs for March Forth Kenya Kids. He handles all communications and program development. He also teaches drum classes when he is in Kenya. His love of teaching and youth empowerment has lead him to conduct music and art workshops for people on multiple continents. He also enjoys imparting his craft on the drum in 1:1 lessons.
Co-Founder and President
Lynn started her career in the health care industry, but music and culture is her passion. A lover of all types of music and the arts, Lynn has taken her business acumen and moved into the world of music management and nonprofit development. Her first experience in Kenya was taking care of patients who had limited access to healthcare in very rural parts of the country. She has volunteered with multiple global health organizations including the IU-Kenya Partnership and the Paul Chester Children's Hope Foundation (PCCHF). Lynn immediately fell in love with Kenya and quickly made the decision that she would continue to work with her new friends and chosen family halfway across the globe. As a clinician, Lynn is scientifically minded. It is very rare that someone like Lynn can also have a passion for the value of the arts and such a personal connection to the non-medical needs of a foreign culture. Lynn understands how to help treat those who are already ill but she also sees the bigger picture that by educating youth today we will spend fewer resources later. Basically, stop the increase of HIV/AIDs cases, criminal activities, and drug use at its source by using music and art as the detour. It is Lynn's goal to recast the conversation about Kenya to one of rich diverse culture and joyfulness vs one of poverty and tragedy.
Ken grew up in the outskirts of the Mathare slums, the youngest of four. As a child, he had dreams of becoming a pilot. But the arts kept calling him. Around Class 6, he was part of a newly formed drama group at school where he trained in dance, drama, poetry, and acrobatics. He started learning musical instruments by watching his elders, and just listening and playing. He used to hire drums out because he didn't have his own and repairing them was costly. I took my broken drum to my friend to repair, and he told me "you can't know how to play drums and not know how to repair them.”￼￼ So he taught me how to do that. Those words were like a bomb blast and made Ken realize there are no shortcuts￼. From that point, he started a business of making and repairing drums for others￼. Shortly thereafter, Ken started performing at weddings, funerals, corporate functions and festivals. He has since moved into teaching as well. Ken teaches in all levels of schools, as well as churches. He has really honed his teaching skills with March Forth Kenya Kids, as he has been with us since 2012. Ken is great with our students and it gives him great joy to see them practicing their art years later and becoming stars for their talent. He is proud to share his knowledge of traditional Kenyan instruments and music, as it unites people from all tribes and from all over the world.
Sammy began his yoga career as a teacher in 2019. After attending a series of yoga classes, his desire to transform his life and live healthy became a passion. Sammy earned a scholarship to train with the Africa Yoga Project (AYP) in Kenya. Since becoming a certified yoga teacher, he has been practicing and teaching yoga in his community. He has completed YOD Level 1 training. He is also a wellbeing leader within his community offering mindfulness practice to all ages. He is a child safe guarding champion with the AYP. He is very passionate and loves working with kids. He believes nurturing young minds will make the future brighter for all beings under the sun. Sammy is an art enthusiast when he is not teaching or practicing Yoga. His artworks have featured in several art exhibitions within Nairobi and abroad. Sammy started working with MFKK in February 2020.
Ben Kilonzi, aka "Adui", is well-known in the neighborhood and has been a friend and supporter of MFKK from its inception. He is a long-standing shop owner that serves a large part of Nairobi with basic wares, foodstuffs, and basically anything you might need. He has become a household name in the neighborhood. His shop caters for the population's unique needs to allow people to afford daily groceries as a low income population. He is willing to sell even sugar by the teaspoon. He currently stores all of our March Forth equipment, has served as our on-the-ground accountant, and provides the snacks we give to students after every class. We have been working with Adui in this capacity since 2010.