Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Day 3 – Ngei Youth Development Project

Mosquito bites: 0

Interesting fact: recycling is likely to be higher in Kenya than most European countries – but for economic reasons rather than to be green (collectors are always looking to buy recycled goods)

Day three saw the beginning of our scheduled visits to projects the Foundation is supporting. First on the list was the Ngei Development Youth Group (DYG), which is based in Huruma, one of Nairobi's slum areas. It was established in 1997 by a group of young people in response to high rates of poverty and unemployment, and the resulting crime, drug abuse, teenage pregnancies and littered, unhygienic environment.

The group's vision is of a society in which young people are empowered, self-reliant and actively involved in community development. Over the past 10 years, Ngei DYG has developed a range of activities and services which include waste collection and recycling, water and sanitation, transport services, art and crafts projects, social and entrepreneurship advice and guidance and a community resource centre. In order to tackle the problems of safety and security it runs an initiative to encourage the community to build relations and work closely with the police.

As we approached the Huruma Township the poverty was evident: ramshackle huts, emaciated looking donkeys struggling to find vegetation on the dry, dusty roadside, homeless locals shuffling along or comatose on the side of the road. As we entered the slum and parked up by the Ngei office, it happened that the children were just coming out of school. The effect was immediate: what felt like a hundred excited kids immediately formed a crowd around us, waving and shouting. The noise was deafening and their smiles from ear to ear – especially when they spotted our camera woman Rachel, who was filming from the van. They were equally intrigued by digital cameras and begged to be photographed, the resulting pictures inducing peals of laughter.

What immediately strikes you about these kids is that despite their poverty they’re beautifully turned out and those attending school wear smart uniforms. Of course there are also many grubby, desperate looking children – one in particular sticks in my mind as he followed us around for the whole two hours we were there. He looked about three years old and didn’t seem to have any family or friends. He was big into shaking hands so we did our best to indulge him every time he was brave enough to come close (I’m planning to throw away a few pairs of flip flops to fit him in my suitcase along with the baby elephant). The beaming smiles of the children and the general friendliness of everyone we met made a lasting impression on us all. Despite the unlucky hand they’d drawn in life they just seemed to be getting on with it and at the risk of sounding clichéd or horribly twee, it was inspiring and in fact awe-inspiring to see (oh god, I'm sorry - just re-read that back and it does sound horrendously cliched and twee. Going to leave it in though as it's true!).

Back to the project: once inside the offices we all sat in a large circle and the structure of the group was explained. It is made up of about 40 members, all of whom live in the slum. Each pays a small monthly subscription and are given welfare benefits from within the group in return. If a member needs a loan to set up an enterprise the guarantors come from within the group. One member, for example, took out a loan to set up a playstation business. Another benefited by using the money to help a sick parent, who is now well. None of the members are very educated but all are committed to improving the general living conditions of the slum in which they live. One member told me that he used to have problems with drugs, theft and violence and had served time in prison. He is now Vice Chair of the group and his pride in what he and his colleagues have achieved is plain to see.

It has been established that the high rates of unemployment and crime among the Huruma youth are due to a lack of livelihood opportunities. Local authorities and the City Council are reluctant to provide basic services for slums, so this makes groups like Ngei crucial if there is to be any hope for the future. Examples of the income-generating activities the Ngei YDG have developed so far are: jewellery-making (I had a quick go but my butter fingers didn’t impress the pros much); recycling (they are currently serving 600 households in Huruma); garbage collection (in the poorer areas of Kenya there is litter everywhere); and water provision (they are currently providing up to 1000 residents with drinking water and shower facilities). The camaraderie within the group was evident, and as one girl explained, ‘work must be fun when you are in such challenging conditions”.

The group work hand in hand with the locals and although they admit it’s not always easy, their dedication shines through. They were eager to show us how each activity worked so we traipsed up to the top of a housing tenement to see the rubbish bins they had provided, were taken the see the showers they had built, and shown the garbage truck used in recycling and rubbish disposal.

It is vital for the group to establish income-generating activities so that they can be self-reliant – although they are grateful for donations from outside sources, they want and need to own the process. In 2007, Skillshare International (the Foundation’s charity partner) placed a development worker as a programme adviser to support the group's environmental and economic initiatives. Once the development worker has completed his placement, the Ngei members will then manage and further develop both the infrastructure and income generation activities, which will enable long-term sustainability.

I could go on and on about what we experienced in this visit but I’m conscious this has turned into a bit of an essay, it’s way past my bedtime and we have a very early flight to Uganda tomorrow. Suffice to say it’s an experience I’ll find hard to beat and at the risk of repeating myself, it’s been incredible for all of us to see for ourselves where the Foundation’s money is going. I’m a few days behind but will record our other project visits during the first opportunity I get – the days are long and exhausting but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Until next time then...


  1. Cat I'm really enjoying your blogs. Sounds like a really inspiring day! Regards Andy Field

  2. Hi Cat

    Your trip sounds amazing and is such a powerful endorsement of the commitment of the local communities, Tribal Foundation and Skillshare in making a positive and sustainable impact on people's daily lives.

    Look forward to hearing about Uganda!

    PS How many flipflops have you got left?

    Sadie & the team

  3. I'm really enjoying the Big Cat Diary from East Africa

    Looking forward to seeing a new "Out of Africa" look when you get back