One street at a time
A city is said to be healthy if it provides its residents with a clean, safe and thriving environment in which they can grow individually and develop as a community. Although cities fundamentally provide spaces for people to be born, to grow, learn, work, live and die, such benefits do not ring true for every urban dweller.
The benefits of urban life, particularly for the urban poor, have been gravely under-explored. In areas like Nairobi’s Mathare Informal Settlement, youth struggle with high unemployment, insecurity, food insecurity and lack of basic water and sanitation infrastructure among other needs. Such an environment is usually inadequate in its capacity to support any breakdowns in the system.
The city needs a way to permit the flow of sustenance, be it basic needs, or much higher needs as the exchange of ideas and interconnectedness with the outside world. Allowing people of differing cultures and experiences to experience one another is a first step towards repairing the dysfunctions of urban living.
In an experiment to enhance inclusivity and support marginalized communities reap the benefits from the fabric of urban life, I mobilized a team of MasterCard Foundation Scholars and alum from University of California Berkeley to facilitate a day of community outreach in Mathare. Our goal was simple, to connect with peers and youth from Nairobi’s second largest informal settlement to share experiences.
The logistical planning phase offered as much learning as the core activities themselves. We printed communique and distributed them across the community, inviting youth to spend a day with us. A number of young people reached out to us, wanting to get involved more actively in roles such as emceeing and refereeing for the football matches we had planned.
The turnout was better than we expected! Over 600 people arrived at the Msedo grounds in Mathare 4B where the event was being held. We heard several reasons for their attendance, but one thing that resonated with most participants, young or old, was the need to connect with others.
“I have a business of my own. This is a good space for me to market my services,” confided Juma, a twenty-one year old resident running a new household garbage collection business.
Others came to offer some things to the crowd — like acting and dancing skills. Or make an announcement of an upcoming community activity. But also excitingly, they were interested in our Berkeley experiences.
What I hold most dear was my interaction with school-going girls, aged between seventeen and twenty-five. The girls form a seventeen-member football team from Msedo Secondary School. The coach says that football for them is a lot of things. It is a stress-releasing activity as a well as a positive distraction from plenty of negative vibes that happen in their community. “It is also their future. For some, the only (positive) future!” he remarks.
My team and I held a closed-group heart-to-heart chat with the girls about their dreams and how they could accomplish them. They were a fun group, joking about their everyday predicaments like they are nothing. Such a positive outlook on life.
This doesn’t end here. There’s so much work to do to support the residents of Mathare. Plenty to do in Nairobi alone. And yet all growing African cities face similar challenges. I hope to grow my team, to carry out more outreach activities across the communities that have the greatest need.
If you want to join us, or have ideas, do reach out to us.
Special thanks: Mcedo Secondary School, Joseph Ouna Agutu, Evans Oyugi, Jane Kaara, Akol Akol Juan, Monicah Wambugu, Linda Kinya, Fanice Nyatigo, MC Dantez and everyone else who made this a success!