Traders shouting for attention of passers-by, loud music blaring from tin-shack bars, drunken men staggering on the roads and rivulets of raw sewer flowing in every direction are easily evident as we make our way through the densely populated Nairobi’s Mkuru Kayaba slum.
The noise and chaos outside, however is a sharp contrasts to the silence inside one of the rooms constructed a top a concrete block housing a community toilet and water kiosk.
Here, members of the Jitegemee Kenya Pamoja Youth Group are undergoing a training session on value addition for farm produce offered by the Ministry of Agriculture. Victor Obote, 22, the organizing secretary of the group says they have been practicing urban farming in the slum and are learning about rabbit rearing and making fruits jam. Victor’s past life reflects that of many youths in the group – it is a story of street life characterized by drug and substance abuse, crime and hopelessness.
“I dropped out of school after sitting for my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education ( KCSE) examinations due to lack of school fees for secondary education. Life became worse when my parents relocated back to our rural home leaving me with my cousin who didn’t have the means to provide for our needsand was forced to join a group of boys in the streets.” Says Victor.
Like his friends, he would walk through the slum and nearby industries collecting waste materials like empty cans, plastic bottles and scrap metals for sale to dealers at KES 2 for a kilogram. On a good day, they would make up to KES 50, which they spent on food, industrial glue which they used to sniff, marijuana and cigarettes. Today, Victor is lucky to have been rescued from the streets after he joined the Jitegemee Kenya Pamoja Youth Group.
The group practices urban agriculture that include poultry and rabbit projects as well as engaging in performing arts which they use to raise awareness on various issues affecting their community as well as to improve livelihoods of unemployed youth in the Mukuru Kayaba informal settlement. Through the group, Victor got a sponsorship for his secondary education and sat for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) in 2013.
He is now fully involved in the group as an official and an employee under the urban farming project. “I am in charge of the feeding, slaughter and sale of the rabbits which earns me an average of KES 6,000 per month which I spend on house rent and other basic needs like food and clothes.” He explains.
The group is a beneficiary of a project dubbed Mtaani Initiative which seeks to create sustainable income generating activities for unemployed youth in
Viwandani (an informal settlement scheme around Nairobi’s industrial area).The initiative, currently in its second phase, is managed by U-Tena Group - a KCDF partner.
U-Tena works with 20 youth groups, which they engage by linking them to entrepreneurship opportunities. The groups are also assisted to register and meet other legal obligations for doing business as well as being trained on financial literacy, entrepreneurship and leadership skills. Project’s officer, Mr Peter Mokaya, says through a grant from KCDF, U-Tena has connected a number of groups, including Jitegemee Group, to markets by creating linkages between the participating groups and other institutions who provide training on value addition.
Through the linkages, they are now able to sell rabbit meat to high-end hotels in Nairobi like Ole Sereni with plans on course to open their own
butchery to serve a growing demand for rabbit meat to local residents within the slum. The chairman of Jitegemee Kenya Pamoja Youth Group, Mr Peter Machoka, says through Mtaani Initiative, the group’s entrepreneurial activities have steadily grown as a result of mentorship that they get from successful entrepreneurs.
Machoka says in the past, the group operated without a bank account but they are now able to accumulate savings and apply for loans from government sponsored funds such as Uwezo Fund to expand their income generating activities. The group has also benefited from the Njaa Marufuku Kenya programme, which was aimed at improving the livelihoods of young people through capacity building and provision of cash-grants to enable them to fully participate in income generation activities centered on agricultural production.
“We have benefited from very many initiatives by the government as we are now able to demonstrate capacity to run projects as opposed to the past where we would get money and share it among ourselves instead of putting it on the intended uses,” Says Machoka. With membership categorized into gold, bronze, diamond and silver - Jitegemee Kenya Pamoja Youth Group is able to cater for several interest groups in the slum, with each exploiting talents in various projects.
One such group comprises single young mothers who are engaged in hair dressing, cyber café and moulding energy saving briquettes for sale. Mukuru Kayaba has one of the highest numbers of single mothers, majority of who do not have enough capital or basic entrepreneurial skills to run their own business or requisite certification to get decent jobs.
“Poverty has seen a rise in teenage pregnancies in our slum and many of the single young mothers tend to indulge in drug/alcohol abuse, crime or prostitution in order to earn a living. We thought it wise to come up with activities that would help them earn a decent living,” explains Machoka.
The group plans to start a Savings and Credit Co-operative society (SACCO) and a micro-finance institution to provide members with credit facilities to run individual income generating activities. The group is currently exploring on a mobile phone application platform to give loans to the members.
As for U-Tena, Mokaya says the partnership with KCDF has enhanced its capacity to manage projects and mobilise resources after their staff were trained in financial management, fund raising, proposal and report writing. He says the grant they received from KCDF increased the organisations visibility in the community as they have been able to work with a number of youth groups to undertake various activities that have touched lives of many people in the slums.
“The youth in the slums see U-Tena as an important source of information not only on market opportunities but also various issues that touch on their lives,”says Mokaya.