Cross posted from the Muungano blog.
By Shadrack Mbaka and Eva Muchiri
Slum dwellers share a whole lot in common with citizens of war torn countries. There is civil strife, and the most basic infrastructure is non-existent, interrupted or destroyed. As a result, most slum dwellers are forced to adapt to the existing situation or improvise just to have access to food and shelter. Unlike people affected by war, who can look up to the future to rebuild their country, slum dwellers are often forgotten and left without any means to address issues like lack of access to services and infrastructure.
Many innovative urban planning ideas have been tested in Kenyan cities and towns. But these ideas fail to be implemented at scale. It is obvious that slum dweller communities are often ignored in the planning and implementation of slum-upgrading projects. In Muungano’s experience, better results come about when slum dweller communities are empowered to develop their own ideas and shape them into realistic and measurable plans. The key to these solutions rests with the young people of these informal settlements.
Over the last couple of months, young people from informal settlements in Nairobi, Thika and Machakos have had the opportunity to be trained in various skills such as data collection and management, mapping, advocacy, and documentation. These are skills necessary to build powerful sources of information used to engage local governments on service and infrastructure delivery in slums. Trainings revolved around youth and community media, includes research, advocacy, and development initiatives around youth and digital technology. Through these combined approaches, federation youth have begun creating outlets for the voices and experiences of youth, to cultivate revolutionary possibilities of youth activities in the digital space, while also addressing the genuine concerns that come with living in the slums.
In a recent campaign organized by the youth within Muungano wa Wanavijiji to mobilise youths in Nairobi, Machakos and Thika, we got an opportunity to speak to one of the federation youth members, Kevin Kinuthia, who hails from Mukuru Kwa Reuben settlement. Kevin gladly shared his perspectives with us.
“Having been raised by a single mother in the slums has really taught me a whole bunch of things and critical lessons in life. My mother always took it upon herself and reminded me how hard I need to work to avoid living in the urban sprawl all my life. She would also often challenge me to strive to be selfless and conscious of the power I have to change the lives of others.
Urban renewal depends on reformation of institutions, especially the county governments mandated by the Kenyan constitution to provide services to the people, especially the poor. It is essential for governments to involve affected communities in upgrading or development projects. Once people living in informal settlements are provided with the opportunities and informed of the importance and benefits of formulating ideas to combat their challenges, they can create the change they want to see in their communities.
As a federation, the advocacy approach is to encourage members and the larger constituency of slum dwellers to promote a change in mindset by encouraging critical thinking, creativity and innovation. If disenfranchised people can transform their beliefs and attitudes, I believe they can be powerful agents of change for their communities,” concludes Kevin.
Empowering the youth is vital. Giving them the time to develop their own ideas and providing a platform for them to showcase those very ideas is not only beneficial to their communities, but can promote social innovation, offering local solutions to local problems.