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A stranger in Nairobi 'sowed a seed of kindness' that he carries with him today

Biar Kon hopes to one day start a non-profit to provide housing and social support for people living on the streets.
Biar Kon
Biar Kon hopes to one day start a non-profit to provide housing and social support for people living on the streets.

This story is part of the My Unsung Hero series, from the Hidden Brain team. It features stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else.

Biar Kon grew up in a refugee camp in Kenya, after his parents were forced to flee the war in neighboring Sudan. When he was 17, he moved to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, to attend school.

Once he arrived, he needed to get some documents from the Sudanese embassy. But when he went looking for the embassy, he couldn't find it. He asked a few people for directions, and no one knew where it was. Then an older woman tapped him on the back.

"She's like, 'Hey, my son.' That was the first word," Kon recalled. "She said, 'Hey, my son, how you doing?'"

The woman told Kon that she had seen him asking questions of multiple people as they passed, and she wondered if he needed money for food, or a place to stay. Then Kon realized that the woman thought he was homeless.

"Because in Kenya, it's very common," Kon said. "Kids at 17, kids at 15, kids at 12 – kids of any age can be on the street looking for survival."

They cleared up the confusion, and the woman was able to give Kon directions to the embassy. Then she told him about the deeper reason she had asked if he needed help: because of her experience as a mother.

"'I wouldn't want my child to be on the street,'" the woman told him. "'And anytime I see a child on the street, I feel like I have an obligation to help.'"

The woman's generosity left a deep impression on Kon. And it inspired him to pay it forward, five years later, when he moved to Boston, Massachusetts.

When he arrived there, Kon expected that everyone he saw would be well-off and successful. So he was shocked at the number of homeless people he encountered on the street.

"It kind of hurt me," he said. "Because having lived in a refugee camp, I know what it means to go to bed without food. I know what it means not to have a shelter over your head."

One day, outside a coffee shop, he observed an interaction between a young woman and a homeless man that troubled him.

"This homeless man asked her if she could spare change. And she said, 'Why don't you go look for a job?'"

Kon reflected back to that moment five years earlier, when the woman in Nairobi had mistaken him for a homeless person. Kon was still touched by her kindness. So he went up to the man, to see what he could do.

"He told me why he was on the street — because he made a mistake when he was in high school, and he couldn't get a job now," Kon recalled.

Kon bought the man some breakfast, and gave him a little bit of money. Today, it's an encounter he reflects on often.

For him, it was a reminder that you never know what people are going through unless you make a point to talk to them — the way the woman in Nairobi made an effort to talk to him.

"[She] kind of sowed a seed of kindness in me. And every time I see somebody who's going through something, I always reflect upon that and try to help."

Kon is now a student at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He hopes to one day start a non-profit to provide housing and social support for people living on the streets — an idea partly inspired by his unsung hero.

Listen to All Things Considered each day here or on your local member station for more stories like this.

My Unsung Hero is also a podcast — new episodes are released every Tuesday. To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laura Kwerel
[Copyright 2024 NPR]