The slums in Kenya are among the largest and most impoverished in Africa. While the East African nation of 40 million is a stable democratic government, the unemployment rate is approaching 40 percent, and 50 percent of the people live on less than $1.25 per day.
In addition to extreme poverty, tribal divisions and disagreements over land have periodically flared into conflict, most recently following the disputed 2007 presidential elections. GPF has worked in regions that experienced some of the fiercest tribal violence, such as the Rift Valley and the Nairobi slum of Kariobangi to advance a sense of Kenyan citizenship, moderate identity-based conflict, and provide opportunity through education and entrepreneurship.
GPF Kenya first conducted a needs assessment in the community in May 2011. Over a four-week period, GPF surveyed 248 local residents to identify overlapping issues and solutions perceived to be critical to improving the quality of life. Three major issues for the community were identified: peace and security, jobs and opportunities, and health and sanitation. Among other interesting findings from the survey, some 70 percent of respondents anticipate that their children will face these same problems; 59 percent do not trust the government to solve these problems; and 87 percent believe that character education would help fight corruption.
GPF’s work in Kariobangi is called “community driven development” (CDD), a model promoted by the World Bank as the most effective form of development. CDD is different than typical types of charity work because, as the name implies, it is a bottom up approach that gives control over planning decisions and investment of resources to community groups and local area government administrators. The program operates on the principles of local empowerment, community ownership, participatory governance, administrative autonomy, greater downward accountability, and enhanced local capacity. GPF’s role in this process is as a convenor, a facilitator and a mediator between the community and various partners.
One challenge that GPF faced was gaining the trust of the community. Residents of Kenya slums report that many NGOs pop in and out for a project; they take lots of photos for their websites and fundraising efforts and are never seen again. GPF’s Character Development Initiative at North Kariobangi Girls School and other activities demonstrated consistent engagement and ultimately gained the trust and support of the Chief, the government administrator of the Kariobangi area, who in turn introduced GPF to the leaders of the key community organizations.
The community next formed a CDD Committee comprised of local youth leaders, religious leaders,women and business community representatives.The CDD committee will identify projects relating to priority needs, provide tactical guidance, and oversee implementation.
A CDD Council of corporate representatives, government officials, and faith leaders was also established. The Council provides direction and leadership, and works to build partnerships to obtain resources and expertise to implement community development projects.
Addressing community needs
The first issue that GPF tackled was health and sanitation, of which there are three components: removal of garbage, closing open sewers and getting access to fresh water. Garbage in the slums is an overwhelming problem, so much so that cars no longer navigate the streets of Kariobangi. The Nairobi City Council, which is responsible for collecting trash, refused to collect the trash because the residents of Kariobangi would not deliver the garbage to the proper pick up points.
GPF has worked in regions that experienced some of the fiercest tribal violence, to advance a sense of Kenyan citizenship, moderate identity-based conflict, and provide opportunity through education and entrepreneurship.
After clarifying the problem, GPF Kenya facilitated a two-day capacity-building training at the Kariobangi North Girls Secondary School for fifty youth representatives from Kariobangi community. The training under the theme “Our Community: Our Responsibility”was aimed at empowering youth leaders on proper waste management skills and responsible citizenship. On International Volunteer Day GPF gathered five hundred and fifty participants from the Kariobangi community in a clean-up and tree planting program.
Based on this initial step, the Nairobi City Council was willing to discuss a permanent solution, but any solution needed to ensure that Kariobangi residents deposited their garbage in the appropriate pickup locations. Through meetings between GPF and the community youth leaders a creative solution was developed. The young leaders agreed to start a recycling business: they pick up the trash from the residences, sort it to remove the recyclables, and then drop the refuse at the designated pickup sites. A problem was solved and a new business was created that could provide a profit for the young people in the community.
In many slums sewage flows through the streets in the channels meant for rain water runoff. The entire community, especially children, are exposed to this extreme health hazard. Based on the success of the garbage removing program, the Nairobi City Council was also willing to address this problem. They closed all open sewer pipes based on the condition that the community would police and do their best to prevent further vandalism to the pipes.
The final health issue that GPF is working on in Kariobangi is access to fresh water. GPF met with community leaders and determined the four best locations to drill boreholes, install pumps and make water towers. GPF is currently seeking partnerships to finance borehole drilling at two sites.
Opportunity and security
The second major issue that the community survey highlighted was jobs and opportunities. Poverty in Kenya is a serious and perplexing challenge. To approach this problem GPF created a small but effective model. GPF’s Global Peace Youth Corps has partnered with a lender called Equity Bank to provide microfinance loans ($500 each) to a small number of residences in Kariobangi. GPF’s role was to identify fifteen women from the community to take a six-week course on starting and developing a small business.
In addition GPYC gave presentations on what is needed to run small businesses, addressing a variety of issues ranging from the attitude and discipline necessary to be successful to building confidence, self-esteem and determination to see it through.
The final issue highlighted by the Kariobangi survey was peace and security. GPF has approached this issue principally through sponsoring a community forum in Kariobangi, “Securing Peace in our Community.” Some of the outcomes of the forum were to identify early warning signs of conflict, to enhance collaboration among community members, and to help residents realize that they are the stakeholders in the community and that conflict only hurts them.
I joined a number of community leaders to pay our respects to the Chief and was struck by one of his comments one afternoon. The Chief said that GPF was doing great work in Kariobangi. He said that the programs of GPF are “changing the attitudes and behaviors of the people.” Traditionally, people have always thought that only their own tribe offered security and protection. But through participation and involvement in improving the living conditions in their own community, the Chief said “people are now thinking that ‘I’ am my security and that ‘the community’ is my protection. People are now willing to fight for the larger community and work hard to keep peace in the community.”
Because of GPF’s collaborative approach (some might call it an “open tent”) and commitment to build true partnerships, the projects are self-sustaining and present a model of community driven development that can be adapted in other communities facing the challenges of poverty, poor sanitation, and lack of opportunity.
Mike Sommer recently visted Kenya on a fact-finding tour for GPF.