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  • Writer's pictureMayuri

Life in a Nairobi Slum

During my recent trip to Nairobi (April 1-13), I had the opportunity to visit the work being done by The Zuri Initiative in Nairobi and to assist them in implementing the SoCCs initiative that FrauenPower is supporting (see above). I managed to attend 4 sessions of their ZIWEP training programs (also mentioned above) that they hold at schools on the outskirts of two large slums (Kibera and Ngong-Mathare).

The women taking part in the training program (who are also become sales agents for Zuri hair-care products) all live in the slums, have had limited education opportunities, have married young and have a couple of children. They are mostly single mothers, unemployed, casual labourers or volunteer in their children’s schools (if they cannot afford to pay the school fees). Most women live on less than $2 a day. Therefore it was not surprising to see that most women undergoing the training program were keen on learning something new and on improving their economic situation (partly through the commission made on sale of hair-care products).

After the training programs, I also had the opportunity to venture into 2 of the most notorious and dangerous slums in Nairobi. We wanted to see where the women taking part in the course live and come from. This was an eye-opening venture. I have been to slums in India, South Africa and elsewhere but these are “fairly good” compared to those in Nairobi. Almost half of Nairobi’s population of around 2.7 million is said to be living in slums, as there is no affordable social housing and/or people cannot afford rent that is at times as high as in Western developed countries. The slums consist mainly of “displaced people” who either lost their homes after racial/tribal “disturbances”, or of migrants who have moved to the city in search for work. Far-reaching problems with ethnically divided politics, corruption and economic disparities have caused violent outbursts of frustration in these “hot-spot” slums, as the basic needs of citizens remain unaddressed (whilst the rich corrupt politicians get richer).

A 2 x 4 meter corrugated shack with no water, electricity or toilet costs around 20 EUR a month to rent in one of these slums. I saw families of up to 4 people living in this small space. If rent is overdue by a day, the mafia that control these slums can throw out one’s meagre possessions. People have to buy water to drink and wash, and carry it a long way to their shacks. Lack of toilets means the small alleyways between the shacks are used as toilets, largely out of desperation. People talk of shit flying around (bags with shit are hurled in the air). The conditions are even more precarious during the rainy season. Next to both the slums I visited are garbage dumps where Nairobi’s trash is dumped and burnt; mountains of it. The slum dwellers and their children inhale the toxics released from “rich-men’s trash”! (Kenya has taken the step to strictly ban plastic bags since last year but there is a long way to go).

The shacks where the slum dwellers live are not safe either. They are easily broken into and the meagre possessions often stolen. Women and children are not safe living in these places either. Rape is very common, even that of small children. Single mothers, who are desperate to go out working to support their families, often have no choice but to leave their children, some even very young, on their own in the shacks. I heard stories of how some mothers tie their small children in the room so that they don’t wonder out! Many of these women have no extended families or grandparents in town to help them raise their children.

There are a few schools that support mothers to look after their children so that they can go out to work. I visited a day care centre and school, Jukumu Letu ( that helps take care of around 140 children from the slum, even during school holidays to ensure that the children are safe in the school whilst their mothers are out working. Due to lack of funds, this school cannot take on more children. However, the children who were at school appeared to be very happy, being fed on 5 meals a day and feeling protected in the secure environment. If you want to help any of these children, please check out the above website or contact me.

I hope that with the work we are undertaking with The Zuri Initiative, we can empower a few women, give them and their children a better future, and hope that they may (one day) be able to live away from the terrible conditions in the Nairobi slums.

Best regards,


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