The three youth interviewed here are residents of Kibera, the largest informal settlement in Africa and one of Nairobi’s poorest neighbourhoods. They are participants in the Youth Empowerment Programme (YEP) in Kenya. An initiative of UN-HABITAT, YEP began in 2008 following a catalytic donation by Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. The fourth interview is with a resident of Mavoko who works in a support role to the first phase of the YEP taking place in her neighbourhood.
The YEP aims to provide youth from Nairobi’s slum areas with construction and business-related skills, so that they can take advantage of the building industry boom in Kenya by starting their own construction businesses. As part of the programme, UN-HABITAT provided technical assistance to the approximately 250 youth in forming a Society, which the youth have dubbed the “Construction Brigade”. With help and support from subject-matter experts at UN-HABITAT, the youth intend to run the Brigade as a governing body for their business ventures.
All four interviewees were in the final phases of an ICT and Life Skills programme hosted by the United Nations Offices in Nairobi from August to September, 2008, and spent some time sharing their thoughts on the YEP, their ICT training programme, issues facing youth, and their ideas for Kenya and Africa’s futures.
Douglas Blasio Namale – from Laini Saba Village, Kibera – 24 years old
My involvement with the Construction Brigade so far has been in mobilizing youth from Kibera to join, raising awareness about the project and having input into how the project can be made sustainable.
I believe that the future of the Brigade is very bright indeed – it has a great deal of potential. What the youth in this new organization need to focus on is cooperation, internally. If we can truly institutionalize that, then we will be on our way.
In terms of my home community, I reside in Laini Saba location in Kibera. It is unique in Kibera in that it borders the once famous Nairobi Dam, and is relatively secure compared to other areas of Kibera. I find that people here are very friendly and caring towards each other, and have really done away with the issue of tribalism. What I would love to see change in my home is the lack of access to decent sanitation, proper housing, transportation networks and good schools. These are scarcely available to my community right now.
I remain optimistic about my community’s future, and I am very active in community development. I helped to found a locally based media outlet, the Kibera Journal, and we run a website and publish a weekly paper covering both local and national issues. I believe that an informed community will make the best decisions for their own future, so it’s a project I’m very passionate about and continue to dedicate my time and energy towards.
There are definitely pitfalls in community development. Any time there is a failure to communicate, or information does not flow in both directions, people are prone to losing trust in their leaders. They assume, based on past experience, that they are being cheated or misused for other ends than development or improvement of their lives. I feel strongly that leaders of development initiatives need to adopt strong mechanisms to ensure community involvement at every step of their projects to eliminate such doubts, because those doubts can really divide and derail even the best projects. It’s also often the case that without direct community involvement in the planning of projects, organizations go ahead with things that have not really been validated by the people they are trying to assist. It takes the involvement of ground-level slum dwellers to really inform any given project properly as to the needs and concerns of those in the community itself. No matter what, though, the huge potential of the slum population can really only be tapped once the people work together – that is also the responsibility of the communities themselves to achieve.
If I had to give some advice for the betterment of my country as a whole, I would want the government to start with reviewing the education system. It would be ideal if Kenyans finishing secondary school could be ready for the job market, without having to seek tertiary education or vocational training. To achieve that, the curriculum needs to be adjusted significantly. As in Europe, specialization could begin early to aim for work-ready competence levels in school graduates.
I do believe that Kenyan youths are generally smart in their thinking, but that current political structures tend to marginalize them and their efforts. I personally call upon my fellow Kenyan youth to become active and join their peers in constructive collective action to get involved in changing this state of affairs peacefully. Only as one team can we bring sustainable positive change to our world. I particularly encourage young people to aim for the best, to remain optimistic, and to trust in God. All things are truly possible, and I would love it if more young people shared my vision of a vibrant future for our country – a thriving economy driven by young people like ourselves, self-reliant and motivated, educated and able to transform Africa into a new paradise.
I also hope that youth here – and across the continent – will take charge in shaping policy and stop waiting for someone to do it for them. Age should not bar anyone from achieving his or her objectives, and young people in Africa need to get involved and start creating their own better future.
Johnstone Otieno – Lindi Village, Kibera – 22 years old
I heard about the Youth Empowerment Programme through the mass media, and then through youth coordinators from various Kibera-based youth groups and NGOs. Since getting involved, I have participated in an exciting training programme called Reach Up!, with Digitial Opportunity Trust and Environmental Youth Alliance. We have received guidance and training on ICT and had the chance to use the top-quality computer facilities at the United Nations complex.
YEP and the Construction Brigade are exciting because they offer youth the possibility of gaining and using entrepreneurial and trade skills they can use to improve their own economic and social status. It’s important for young people to have guidance and opportunities to adopt sustainable, focused lifestyles that can help them enrich themselves.
My home is really “home”. I am proud to be from Kibera – I think that God placed me here so I could have the opportunity to be involved with making it better for all of my many fellow community members. It is an opportunity above all.
I love the fact that people in my home village are united. They work together on so many projects that aim to improve and help the wider community. It is very selfless. The things that really need to change, and which the community needs greater support for changing, are the housing situation, the roads, and the schools.
I am very much involved in projects that I feel will help my home community, and which also connect to my love of music. I opened a recording studio for the growing number of local musicians who are incredibly talented but are unable to get their music to larger studios due to their financial situation.
I plan to start a music school as well, to train interested and talented community members in playing various musical instruments. Longer term, I also want to run a hiring centre that offers reasonably priced rental speakers, staging, microphones, tents and even musical instruments, to help talented youth earn an income from their music through live performance.
I have seen the value of youth working together in our community first hand. The rate of crime in our area has reduced noticeably where really meaningful and engaging projects have succeeded. Youth who get involved and really own projects also are able to create income from them in many cases, which is very encouraging.
What political leaders need to know about youth from slums is that they are in great need of opportunity to apply their energies and talents. There needs to be a system of allocating job opportunities and such to offset the relative disadvantage of youth from informal settlements, to help them access livelihoods so that they can play a greater role in the improvement of their own communities.
I also think that the government should set up special outreach and rehabilitation centres, where young people in slums can go for support and training in transforming their lives. This should definitely include education and awareness raising regarding the laws of Kenya that directly affect them, so that they become informed, engaged and empowered citizens.
I would really like the world to know that Kenyan youth are hardworking and innovative people. If their energies are tapped they can surely have a great impact on the world. My vision for Kenya’s future is for us to be bright and full of love for each other, to be the leading country on our amazing continent. Africa is special – we are the ultimate homeland of all the races, and we are incredibly rich in resources. I believe that we can become a peaceful superpower in the world. Youth are the majority of the population in Africa, and we have a great part to play in that future. With focus and determination, young people in Kenya and Africa can overcome any obstacle.
Kennedy Odongo – Katwekera Village, Kibera – 28 years old
I heard about the Youth Empowerment Programme through UN-HABITAT, and have been lucky to be part of the group doing life skills and ICT training this past month.
The long-term prospects of the Construction Brigade are interesting, and they really depend on ongoing followup on the project to keep skills sharp, as well as on the formation of effective groups within the organization with clear terms of reference and roles.
My home village of Katwekera in Kibera is special to me because it is where I was born, where I have grown up, and where I have learned so much. What I love about my community is how receptive people are to development possibilities. We definitely struggle with issues of security and lack of infrastructure. I would like for people to be able to live in well-made housing at low cost. I also think there is real need for peacebuilding programmes, and for the support of endeavours to create peaceful processes for conflict resolution.
I am involved in community development efforts aimed at sensitizing youth and raising their awareness of sustainable development initiatives. I volunteer in the planning and carrying out of events that involve the community in improvement projects. One particular initiative I am a member of is the Kenya Red Cross, which does a lot of work in my community.
When youth in my community work together, we can achieve great things. Some successful initiatives have seen young people get involved in sports, modeling, singing and other arts.
What leaders need to be aware of when they make decisions on slum development is really that the community has to be involved, fully, from the inception of the project. They need to own it if it is going to be a success.
Young people in Kenya, particularly, need to be fully empowered in order to be a resource for development of our own country. We can help realize the goals of our country, to be an innovative leader in Africa’s bright future.
Judy Mboo – Mavoko – 28 years old
I see the concept of Youth Empowerment in Kenya, broadly, as an initiative taken by the Kenyan government and non-governmental organizations to create civic and social awareness in the young generation, and to enable them take charge of their livelihoods. The youth make up a large percentage of the Kenyan population and need to be utilized as national resource holistically.
I heard about this particular Youth Empowerment Programme through the NTV station when the Ministry of Youth affairs was rolling out their youth fund to help young people start income generating activities. In Mavoko, the Sustainable Neighborhood Programme (SNP) has begun a construction skills training programme for individuals aged 18-35 who are housing cooperative members. They have yet to mobilize the youth to form groups to access the fund, which I think is a critical next step.
There is currently no construction brigade in Mavoko, but the one in Kibera is underway. The construction industry in Kenya today is very marketable and competitive, with proper marketing and organization the brigade concept will definitely work and give employment to our youth. In Mavoko we are considering the idea of a housing trust that will enable all the cooperative members have proper access to housing units.
I was born and brought up in Mavoko. I have seen the small town evolve to its current situation. Mavoko is unique in its livelihood standards. People will always find something to do and have food at the end of the day. Farming along river Athi makes availability of vegetables easy, though it does not produce enough to meet the demand. The funny thing about Mavoko is that when people who are born there end up successful outside, they tend not to return home. They forget their backgrounds and their success is taken elsewhere.
I have worked on HIV/AIDS projects in Kibera (KICOSHEP), and on children’s rehabilitation with Homeless Children International and Child Welfare Society of Kenya. Currently I am working with the UN-HABITAT on slum upgrading in Mavoko as community coordinator, supporting the Mavoko-based initiative of the YEP.
I believe that youth are very influential in the society and in projects. I have seen community mobilization work in the hands of youth. I have seen civic actions taking place where youths refused to sell out their voting cards when bribes were attempted, resulting in the corrupt politician being publicly identified.
Leaders of today need to really understand how much of society is comprised by youth. Sometimes those in power make decisions that seem to overlook this fact, and fail to take youth numbers and their huge needs into account in their training budgets and other financial decisions. Young people in informal settlements have a lot of potential that needs be exploited for national development. The current economic status of the country has turned a few youth to hooliganism, but a majority are turning into creative work like art, mechanics and tailoring.
The world should know that Kenyan youth have great ideas on how to address the issues of our country. Youth here are very creative and optimistic. To survive in such a tough economy you have to be skillful in many areas. I am personally a social science graduate from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. I have worked in a salon, a hospital, a children’s home, I have worked in the college cafeteria, and I have worked as a food vendor – all my efforts have been turned towards earning enough income to better myself. So too my fellow Kenyan young people have been struggling to earn a living any way they can – they are not lazy, but they do need a hand to start up and ramp up their livelihoods.
With the current bill in parliament that presidential candidates should be below age 65 yrs, Kenya seems to be looking at a shift in age groups in power, albeit gradually. We do have many young people taking up leadership positions in civic and other organizations. Youth today speak in “sheng” [a combination of Swahili and English that is a lingua franca] and do not fall under the sway of tribalism nearly so much as our parents’ generation.
The future of Africa is a long road – it is hard to predict. There is a lot of chaos (politics, hunger, clashes, illiteracy and disease) and very little development actually realized yet in terms of education, technology. When youth come up to address all these problems and take collective action, then we can have a better continent.
There have been a number of enlightening campaigns for youth by youth. Urban agriculture, condom use to curb HIV/AIDS infections, youth funds to start income generating projects, constituency development funds to address community needs such as sanitation, free primary and secondary education to increase literacy levels, civic education on sustainable neighborhoods and a few other programs unmentioned here are all happening in Kenya but on a small scale. They need to be scaled up in order for their impacts to be truly seen and felt.