Today marks exactly four years since my social enterprise, Oasis Mathare, was formed in Mathare Slums, Kenya.
The idea for Oasis Mathare was born while I was working as a youth leader with DOT Kenya. As a youth leader, I was helping marginalized youth gain access to 21st century digital skills and learn how to start or scale their businesses.
I have always wanted to be a social entrepreneur — to give back to my community, create change and make it a better place. However, I didn’t know where to start, and I believed running a social innovation project required a lot of resources. This belief was challenged after I trained a young man who started a business without capital, because of what he learned in DOT’s programs.
Most of us are held back by the monetary resources required to run a social impact project, and we forget that an idea is a seed in itself. It is not always about having a deep pocket to change lives. As long as you have the community support and their best interests at heart, you will succeed.
Six months after scraping through, I launched Oasis Mathare. A small team of volunteers and I managed to equip over 180 community participants with digital skills, and hundreds of pupils accessed our community library. Youth would share whatever books we had managed to collect from friends and well-wishers and even left some of their own behind to help others.
Our impact was being felt, lives were transforming, and you could feel and see that the community wanted this to succeed as much as I did.
Our first ever donation was from the great people of the Mathare community; they organized a fundraiser and bought three computers for our centre. Four months later, DOT Kenya’s Country Director, Ms. Eunice Maranya, personally donated six modern-networked high-speed computers complete with comprehensive one year insurance, books and toys for our child-friendly zone.
One of the main contributors to the high poverty levels in Mathare Slums is a high unemployment rate, which is fed by high illiteracy levels. Most of the young people in Mathare do not complete formal education, and majority of those who manage to complete their formal education do not achieve good results because of the challenges that they face while learning.
I know this first hand, having spent more than half of the school year out of school when I was young.
The days that I was out of school, I was completely detached from the education system; I did not have books, a clean quiet spaces where I could study or any meaningful activities to ensure learning continued. Whenever I resumed classes, however briefly, I was always playing catch up.
The challenges I faced, mostly lack of school fees, still exist. Young people in my community experience a lot interruptions in their learning schedules.
Because of their living conditions, young people in Mathare are not able to study at home even if they had textbooks. Oasis Mathare seeks to address this by providing a convenient space and learning material for them.
The challenges we face in the slums are interwoven. For instance, young girls not going to school will probably have to babysit their younger siblings and are unable to study. We decided to ease this burden by setting up a children’s play center. Girls are now able to come with their siblings, study, and spare an hour or two to learn the basics of computing. Our goal is to provide practical solutions to help reduce illiteracy and poverty levels in Mathare using different approaches, all based on a deep understanding of the challenges that affect the youth and children within this community.
About Oasis Mathare
Oasis Mathare (OM) is a grassroots community based organization that empowers marginalized children, youth and women from Mathare Slums, in Nairobi, Kenya with;
· ICT skills;
· entrepreneurship & life skills;
· mentorship; and
· access to library services.
OM runs the above four projects concurrently in an effort to tackle the spiraling poverty levels in Mathare Slums. Community participants gain relevant IT skills that they need to run their businesses and access to personalized, and group coaching to assist them realize their life goals. Fully cognizant of the life situations in Mathare slums, OM has set up a library and children’s play area which gives these young boys and girls the opportunity to read and play as their mothers, elder brothers and sisters are engaged in other different activities.
In the past six years, over 1400 young men and women benefited from Oasis’s ICT and entrepreneurship trainings. Due to limited resources, we have built strategic partnership with local and international organizations and most importantly, the community within which we operate to ensure success.
Oasis Community Centre now has multiple locations, and continues to expand its services. The centre runs a mobile library on weekends and school holidays, and has partnered with two low cost private primary schools in the community to offer ICT and library services.