When dark falls in slums to some it become a source of worries. For small businesses selling vegetable and shop operators this means they have to close early. For the women, darkness is associated with insecurity. But with time, the government has tried to light the slums through the Adopt A Light. High masts fitted with powerful bulbs have been erected in some parts of Mathare. In locations where the lights have been erected, businesses have increased while insecurity has greatly reduced. -Simon
I am not an expert of the topic of poverty but I am an experienced expert in living with the poor and poverty for 40 years in Mathare. Looking at different projects that have been initiated in addressing poverty, very few invest in poverty according to the basic definition of what is poverty. I am student of development studies at Kampala International University and listening to my lecturer at the campus, I have come to note that many projects do not genuinely address poverty in slums. The basic definition of poverty is a situation of lack of or limited access to basic human needs. While communities struggle to empower themselves, expert do their best to investigate best practices to address poverty.
A very good example is the innovation and creativity of vendors in Mathare, Korogocho and Kibera who started selling small amount of sugar and maize flour for shs. 5/- to Shs. 30/-. With time, the corporate sector was forced to adapt to the changing times and reality in slums after investigating the buying trends in slums. We now have Blueband Kadogo. A spot check on various menu in hotel revealed that people operate on small budgets. When it comes to water and sanitation, people will try and look for a house near toilet blocks or water points. House next to these two areas is considered to be expensive.
On the financial front most people operate on informal financial systems. Groups meet once per week to repay and take loans. No money is ever taken to the bank. This system is very popular in slums since most needs are urgent. The banking and micro-saving institutions take long to process loans. While formalizing this kind of system, people prefer where they can access their money without difficulty. – simon
Rhema Slum Transformers Organization is situated in mathare north area three and it was started in the year 2007 with focus to work among the HIV and AIDS-affected people in mathare due to early death and stigma of parents out of the same scourge of HIV and AIDS. Rhema Slum Transformers Organization was founded under the leadership of Rev. Simon Owino Ogolla in collaboration of like-minded people.
On realizing that his HIV status was actually positive, Rev Simon attended several seminars and courses on HIV management and awareness through which he was inspired to come up with a forum on how to fight the spread of the same in his area and other regions within reach. He then started organizing seminars in mathare, huruma, kayole and mukuru Kwa njenga to train both the affected and the infected on HIV prevention methods and management as well. Through this, we managed to train many HBC/ home based care givers, who went around helping terminal patients in their homes. We also provided food, soap, detergents and clothes to victims in areas such as jangwani slums in mathare north and kiamaiko, huruma and john saga.
- In the process of our determination to assist the victims we have encountered several challenges, such as stigmatization: 79% of employers nowadays do not want to give employment to those who are infected with HIV and AID’S
- Donors who want to help the victims have also landed in greedy hands, that have always withheld help from the right people
- Other smaller organizations that are willing to help genuinely have no access to sufficient funds to do the job of helping affected people. This therefore has enhanced acute poverty among the victims.
Rhema Slum Transformers Organization has therefore thought of ways on how to come up with a special forum on how to get loan funds from willing partners, to provide means of starting some small scale business among the victims to approach NGO’S and the government to assist in the area of establishing some micro finance projects.
Rev.Simon Owino says that he has realized that this kind of operation will really help us to eradicate poverty, rather than just receiving food from well wishers. 68% of victims are young parent with children go to school and families to take care of; therefore, they need sustainable income-generating projects. Statistics of the infected people in mathare show that out of every 10 adults 3 are infected and in every one year 20 children become orphans.
Rhema Slum Transformers organization therefore target
- To train more HBC providers to work in homes among the victims, since most of victims are left alone by the relatives to die
- Establish micro finance systems to help generate funds among the victims since many are out of work
- Conduct more seminars and courses on preventive and management measures
Many young people living in mathare north are not involved in governance, but are usually used as tools for decoration by those in leadership
George Omoro, project manager mathare youth development organization, says that bad leadership creates policies that are put in place by the policy makers but do not favour youth empowerment in mathare. These policies hinder youth development as most of them are always working against the expectations of the youth. Kenyan politics is now left for the rich to an extent that the youth who are talented and capable cannot win parliamentary seats. The community’s attitude of relying on MPs is a major challenge to young political aspirants who can’t “untie’’ the constituents (Kasarani)
Some leaders give handouts to youth to fight those who do not support the dominant part. Young people are used by politicians for campaigns, religious leaders for crusades, and after elections, some leaders instructed youths to fight each other on tribal lines. Youth are used in demonstrations, placards, advertisement, billboards, and pimps for the system “youth are a sleeping giant’’
Manipulation of voters by the leaders due to lack of empowerment is a challenge in mathare north since you find out that most people are ignorant of issues, therefore, becoming a major problem when it comes to election because they go by the majority say or decision.
Poor policies are a result of not involving everyone in decision-making, and lack of accountability from the policy makers and political manipulation in making these policies.
When the government invests, the investors come up with their own policies that do not favour the youth at all. There are also some contractors who do not perform to the expectations of the people hence producing shoddy work. This is because of the public not being in apposition of bring the government to task on what they feel it should a priority, especially on important issues like infrastructure development.
George Otieno, aged 25 years, has been living in mathare north for the last sixteen years and he says that most of the young disabled people living within mathare north face all challenges identified by their peers but are further constrained by being stigmatized. They believe that they cannot compete fairly with those without disability, even when they have the qualifications.
Many disabled people have very few jobs in the formal sector, Otieno says. The majority are self-employed in carpentry, tailoring, dressmaking, and knitting and continually point to their abilities through their active participation.
In addition Otieno came up with this poem:
Disability is not inability
Disability is not separation
All of us can make it
Disability is not tribalism
Disability is not illiteracy
All of us can make it
Disability is not violence
Disability is not poor health
All of us can make it
Disability is not corruption
Disability is not unemployment
All of us can make it
Disability is not inability
All of us can make it.
At twenty six years old, David* is now a jobless man and much poorer than he ever was before. David was a barber, operating in Nairobi’s mathare north and in a normal working days he could make ksh500. But during bad times, he made less than ksh250. That was before the Kenya power and lighting company (KPLC) workers moved in swiftly in his neighborhood, accompanied by city police and cut off his power supply and arrested him. “They accused me of tapping power illegally from their sources and claimed I was a mungiki adherent. I spent two harrowing days in the Muthaiga police cells before I was charged at the Kibera Law Courts. The magistrate handed me a ksh20, 000 fine or 6 months imprisonment in default. My family had to organize to a fundraiser to bail me out,” explains David. But like everyone affects with the power disconnections, David pleads his innocence. Of course there is no such thing as illegal connections: “The same KPLC officials connected my power and would pay something like Ksh300 per month. We slum people don’t have rights. We are always harassed by such corporations as KPLC since we can’t stand for our rights’’ he laments.
Just behind the place where David’s barber shop once stood, a little, dilapidated mabati pub leans weakly threatening to collapse anytime as strong wind blows by. On its door is a conspicuous sign reading, ester’s keg parlor. A seemingly underage girl sits inside it. Her name is Judy*. And she too, like David, has a story to tell: my mother owns this pub she was arrested by police, accompanied by KPLC workers, after being accused of illegal power connection. She was fined ksh2000 which we couldn’t raise. She is now serving a six month jail term in lang’ata women’s prison. Judy explains, adding I have to make sure the pub runs since it is our source of livelihood.
* Names have been changed.
Isaac Owino, a man in his early twenties, is usually up by 5:00am, a time when most of his peers are still tossing and turning in bed. The mathare resident is determined to make a living off of the car wash business. Immediately after clearing high school in 1996, he secured a job at industrial area where he maintained hydrolysis machines. But, as fate would have it, necessity is the mother of invention. He cleans cars, carpets, and sofa sets at Nairobi’s’ mathare north market.
But the beginning was never smooth given that he did not have sufficient funds, let alone customers. But due to his determination, he has made the best out of the business and does not regret taking the risk. Asked about his earnings, Joshua says: “my job is unpredictable but when things are good I pocket more than five to ten thousand monthly. This is enough to cater for my needs.” Isaac’s determination attests to the struggle by the youth to eke out a living in the face of employment. But why did Joshua opt for the car wash business? His answer leaves no doubt on the status of unemployment in the country: “I saw that there was no white collar job I could get since I was not educated to college level. In country where even graduate remain unemployed for years, I saw car wash as the only option.”
Most of the youths, however, remain unemployed for long periods due to the misconception that only a white-collar job pays well. Many are the youths who let their talents go to waste as they wait to be employed. It does not help matters that the government does not offer enough support to the youth to enable them engage in gainful employment. A number of youths have skills such as Isaac but have a problem accessing funds to enable them realize their dreams. Their talents therefore remain untapped and therefore remain in poverty and don’t hit the international limelight. Take, for instance, Tegla Lorupe, who came from a humble background and is now an international support figure. She owes her success to humility, patience, hard work and team spirit. If youths could realize their talents like the renowned international athlete their lives would be full of success and glamour.
Isaac thinks that if only youths could gain financial support through the government they could better their lives and excel in their various careers. But more importantly, the youth should always strive to nurture their talent even in the face of hardship. The smile in Joshua’s face is that of a man who knows where he comes from and where he is headed. Behind the smile is a young man whose mind is taking him far, if only to escape the harsh realities of employment. Though many people have despised his work in the past, he has demonstrated self-confidence and continues to earn an honest living while some of his peers have resorted to criminal activities. Isaac is a testimony of how far youths can go with determination.
Growing up in Mathare in 1980s one would meet Nairobi City Council workers cleaning the the toliets every morning including Sunday. But somewhere along the way, the council could no longer cope with the population demand. The culture of land grabbing also became habit among the village elders. Even the spaces allocated for public utility were grabbed while the administration watched.
The public toliets in Mathare were used by community to described exact location where one lived. Our house was between toliets 115 1nd 116. But they were demolished and the land sold to a mosque through irregular means. My family had lived on this land for 30 years.
But Rotary International, Rotary Foundation, Rotary Club Edina and Rotary Club of Nairobi District (District 9200) Lang’ata has teamed up to restore some of the remaining toilets. I am impressed with the initial plan and how they involved a local community group, Mathare Association. Compared with other projects working in Mathare, this has been more of working and impact to the community than workshops and talking. Many NGOs working in Mathare are famous for many workshops and seminars than real work on the ground. I believe other projects working in the area of water and sanitation should learn a lot from Rotary Foundation.
The project has gained the support of local youth groups which is a very difficult group to reach in slums. I salute all Rotarian allover the world for the good work in places like slums and community in general. – Simon
The next war in slums will be about access to water. Can you imagine 5000 residents with only one water point? While in the neighbouring estate one household has more than 5 water points. And not forgetting that we all get water from the same company. As we celebrate the World Water Day, my hearts goes to all residents of Nairobi who are willing to pay for the service but they can’t still access it. In 1975 I remember as small, our house in Mathare Valley was surrounded by six water points and the vendors would pay Nairobi City Council. Currently there are very few points than in 1975.
In slums, women are known to carry their dirty clothes to the nearest water point. Across the valley next to Utalii Hotel, one will see men bathing. One day while travelling to Thika, there was a big traffic jam near Utalii Hotel and people were bathing upstream while down women were washing clothes. Passengers inside wondered why people would bring a whole family to river.”they should be arrested for being nude” one passenger shouted.
This is the reality today in slums. Access to adequate water is an issue which has not been addressed. In Mathare Village Two and Three, one will be met with ‘stalled’ water kiosks which has taken long to implement despite a colourful launch last year. Women walking from one water point to another is the order of the day. Women bears the greatest brunt of water shortage in slum.
Today millions of shillings will be spent in World Water Day, but how many water tanks have been set aside to harvest rain in Kenya given that rains have started?- Simon
Strolling in small paths between houses in Mathare Valley, one will notice exposed water pipes and most are always leaking. If you following the water pipes, you will again note that the pipe either runs over or below an open drainage with dirty water mixed with raw sewer! One does not need to be a scientist to know what would happen in case of disease outbreak. The improvement of proper water distribution and repairing the broken water pipes coupled with constructing good drainage system, is the key to fighting common illness in the slums. All NGOs working in the water sector are in a hurry to facilitate access to water in the slums forgetting about the safety and costs which might result because of not putting proper safety measures and structures. Access to clean water and proper sanitation is a right and it is only achieved when the targeted user access it safely. – Simon