KENYA: Inspiring Young People in Slums

Posted on 27 September 2007. Filed under: Development, Politics |

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Willis “Booster” Mbatia, 27, who hopes to become a councillor in Mathare

NAIROBI, (IRIN) – Kenya’s general elections in December hold special promise for Willis “Booster” Mbatia, a resident of the sprawling Mathare slums, one of the largest informal settlements in Nairobi.

Mbatia, 27, hopes to be one of the local councillors: “It is about time the youth, especially those in the slums, had one of their own in a position of leadership.

“I have successfully been a head boy and a youth leader. I do not see why I cannot represent the rights of the youth as a councillor,” Mbatia, a primary-school graduate, told IRIN.

“I would address the issues of insecurity, access to healthcare and a clean environment, ethnic division, and the lack of education opportunities because most of the crime is due to this,” he said. “I would also ensure that the beneficiaries of bursaries are the genuinely needy, not those related to the leaders,” he said.

“My lack of higher education does not discourage me from vying for political office,” he said. “There are many professors in Kenya, but the country is still not developing as it should.”

With most youth in the slums often lacking the opportunities for a good education and training, programmes run by or targeting young people are filling an important gap – providing skills and hope.

Vocational training

Mbati, a freelance estate agent, has been a leader of various youth groups in the slums. “When the people have a problem, they send me to talk to the local councillor,” he said. “I owe my leadership skills to having joined the Mathare Youth Sports Association [MYSA] instead of being idle at home.”

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Mathare Valley slum in Nairobi, one of the biggest slums in Africa

MYSA, created in 1987, has 17,000 members from 16 slum areas in Nairobi who are involved in its various programmes, including vocational training, environment clean-up campaigns and awareness-raising of children’s rights, HIV/AIDS and reproductive health.

“I joined MYSA after completing primary school,” said Mbatia. “I was the coach of the under-12 and under-18 football teams. We were also trained in socialisation and leadership skills.

“As an individual youth in the slums, it is hard to get recognition for your efforts but being in a group provides more opportunities to improve one’s life,” he said.

He said most youngsters who joined the association with him now had jobs or were playing professional football.

According to John Ndichu Ng’ethe, a former chairman of MYSA, direct involvement of the youth in the programmes either as peer counsellors or participants gave them a sense of ownership over the projects.

“Engaging the youth in such activities gives them hope,” Ng’ethe said. “The youth are empowered with decision-making skills.”

Facing discrimination

Sarah Odeke, one of the beneficiaries of such a youth initiative, said the youth in the slums would have an even greater chance of success if they faced less discrimination.

“If you are a youth from the slums you are either viewed as a prostitute if you are female, or a thief if you are male,” Odeke said. “It is about time people put an end to this stereotyping.”

“Discrimination against people from the slums should stop. We are like everyone else only that we do not have similar opportunities,” she added.

Odeke, who is a member of a women’s football team, has also benefited from training on HIV/AIDS behaviour change.

Her friends, however, have not been as lucky: “Most of my friends in the ghetto are dying of HIV/AIDS or are on their way towards being infected by engaging in prostitution,” she said, “Others have gone abroad with tourists for the same thing.”

A community-based organisation sponsored Odeke’s secondary education. “I am viewed as a role model by the other children in the slums,” she said, “I feel honoured. My mother, who is jobless, is also very proud of me and I am glad I am able to help my family with the money I make,” she said.

In addition to a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working with the youth, the Mathare valley slum has four youth groups involved in HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns, environmental hygiene, education, children’s rights, and drug-abuse awareness that use video, theatre, music and photography to convey the message.

People power on the airwaves

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
Martin Ndungu (right), the financial manager of KOCH Radio, and Abdi Hussein, the deputy human resource manager, hosting “Wasanii Panel”, in Korogocho, Nairobi

In the neighbouring Korogocho informal settlement, 10 youngsters established a community radio station known as Koch FM in 2006 to enlighten slum dwellers on how they could improve their lot.

The radio station, whose motto is ‘Educating through Entertainment’, is run by 23 volunteers who produce programmes showcasing youth talent on governance, gender and children’s issues.

According to Martin Ndungu, the financial manager of the station, who also doubles as presenter of a popular show, “Wasanii [artists’] Panel”, people in the slums are often ignorant of issues of importance to them.

“For example, they are not aware that the national budget also affects them directly,” Ndungu said. “There is a need to break the ignorance.”

Koch FM, which broadcasts to an audience within a 2km radius, reaches at least 200,000 people in Korogocho and neighbouring areas.

Some local leaders were against the idea and its founders had to lobby for support from the provincial administration. Others wanted the radio to promote their personal interests, according to Ndungu.

To raise funds he sells souvenir T-shirts and greeting cards. “We are able to pay for electricity and maintain a stand-by generator,” he said.

“It is sad to see most of our friends using drugs when one can see their immense potential,” he said. “We need to reach them with a message of hope. We are also looking for support so that the community radio project can become more sustainable,” he said. “We do not want our dream to die with us.”

Mbatia said young people from the slums who had succeeded in various fields served as an inspiration to others.

“There is a wealth of talent in the slums but leaders have failed us. Funds allocated to benefit the youth do not easily trickle down to the slum youth who need them most,” he said.


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7 Responses to “KENYA: Inspiring Young People in Slums”

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You are right Phil there is wealth and talent in the slum. Leaders have neglected them; only NGOs and International bodies are concerned and have initiated projects to help people in the slums. KOCH fm is a good initiative for Korokocho and the neighboring. I wonder if there is one in Kibera slums.

People in the slums have urge to change their lives, if given the opportunity they can do a lot. Politics in Kenya is mainly a preserve of the rich but I believe things are changing people know the leaders who are truly concerned about the poor and so may be Mbatia will have a chance of being elected a councilor. I wish him the best.

Yes there is Sue. Its known as PAMOJA FM. Check my story “New Community Radio Station for Nairobi’s Kibera Slum at this link: If you visit Kibera often, you can call on them at Ayany Estate near the railway bridge. You can actually see their satellite dish as you drive by at that multi-storey building.

my friend mbatia the vision that you have must be fulfill never be silent,remember that God will help you for what you have in your heart,take time an ask favour for God,this is our time as young people our time has come,our communities are looking 4 us,mbatia never give up,go ahead

may god bless you( booster) you are such a great man to be hoped for real change .i come from sides of gitugi mathioya and i will still be running for the same seat just like you please help me with advice as i would like to meet you in my case people call me the future obama or (bidii)

please tell me the qualification for become a councillor under the new constitution

it is because of hunger and few grazing lands and lack of water so they fight for

i would very much like to work and help the society .am training to be social worker at nairobi aviation college.i have passion of helping other people.

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