6th February 2015.
My First Week of Training - Beginning at the Beginning
Having spent most of last month meeting some of Compassion's local partners and groups and reading the training manual provided by an MBA team from the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, I've been pretty excited to start on the training,
We started very locally with representatives from three groups. After consultation, we had realised that training the whole group wasn't totally in their favour as some had work, others had families to look after.
So they decided the best way to do it was to send a few members (representatives) from each group to the training sessions to take notes, get ideas and generally discuss things. Then these members would go back and tell the rest of the group, thus sharing the knowledge (and knowledge is power) without having to negatively impact anyone's income, which is of course the opposite of what we want to be doing.
The first three groups were: Inukarunda Flower Growers Association, and Blessings Women's Group, and a group of women who have a sort of sewing co-operative - all of whom are based in and around Githogoro.
As I hadn't formally met the sewing group I am less clear on what their group is all about but this will come, as I will be writing profiles on all the partner groups to go on Compassion's amazing website!
The Inukarunda Flower Growers started after three women flower growers asked Evanson Njeru (Compassion's founder) for advice on how to get a group together to support each other. They now have fourteen members, men and women, to pool their skills and allow them to do more with what they already have.
They are also dedicated to conserving the environment that they depend on for their livelihoods.
Blessing's Women's Group is a group of women who came together to help each other and the community.
They run a day-care centre where, for 20 Kenyan shillings a day (about 15 pence), women can bring their children to a safe place while they go to work. This has a huge impact on the women of the community as it gives them the chance to go out and earn their own money, empowering them.
They also run agricultural projects for the benefit of the members - when they have free time from their work, each member helps out with the project. In June 2014, they were able to secure a loan and purchase a greenhouse where they grow tomatoes, spinach, and kale, which they sell to provide extra income for the women of the group.
Learning a lot from One Another
One of the challenges for small businesses in the area is that, with limited resources, there a lot of people doing the same thing. So apart from having loads of competition, there is also the problem of knowing where to start.
As these first groups mostly already have individual and/or group projects, they were really keen to discuss marketing and diversification.
While business isn't my area of expertise, between the lot of us we managed to come up with ideas that each group hadn't thought of. For example, the flower group chose to get in contact with landscapers in the area, the sewing group decided to branch out to make school uniforms, and my personal favourite from Blessings: cooking their produce and thereby introducing rolexes* to Kenya!
Today was the end of our week with the groups and the last meeting consisted of helping everyone finish off their business plans and some frank discussions on personal safety and women's empowerment.
Not going to lie, I was a little worried about how a group of self-sufficient, adult Kenyans were going to take talking to a young, unmarried Mzungu on topics such as family planning and domestic violence - but it went really well and Evanson was always on hand to help with translations or when I got flustered.
Facing Reality in Nairobi - Slums, Wealth, and Desctruction
So while I was feeling good about the whole community-centric-development direction we were taking, I was rudely pushed from my happy place by the arrival of a new road straight through the centre of one half of the slum.
With no warning, diggers came in and demolished the buildings and businesses that, up until a few days ago, lined one of the main 'roads' through the side of the slum I work on. They then proceeded to dig up the incredibly worn out murram, seemingly ignorant of water supplies, and unearthing large amounts of rubbish from I know not where.
When I asked why all of a sudden they seemed to be putting down a new road in a slum when they haven't bothered where I live (which is sort of a suburb), I was informed that it is the new road to Runda so people going there won't get stuck in traffic on the bypass. So for the convenience of a few well-off people, many are now starting from scratch with their livelihoods destroyed - and not even a hint of compensation or alternative employment offered!
Oh, and to top it off, the road isn’t even tarmac - they’ve just dumped a load of stones on the earth and are calling it a road. Totally impractical to walk or drive on!
Runda is embassy central - a newish, well-off suburb consisting, from what I can see, of 'identikit' houses with many bedrooms and large lawns. It is one of those places that I can't compute. I understand that if you have money you want to live well, fair play. I am totally on board with that. I think I want that. But what I will never be able to get, is how you can live in your huge house, in your gated, utterly secure community and face the slums from your balcony and not think "Wow I am watering my lawn daily so it stays green and, while I drink my lovely cold drink up here, I can see people who have no running water, who can't afford to send their children to school, let alone by a fridge; maybe I should find a way to help!"
In reality I shouldn't have been so shocked - a few years ago they ploughed through the centre of the slum to make way for the nearly completed bypass that is designed to make the centre of Nairobi less jam-packed. Admittedly, it is a jolly useful road - I use it myself sometimes, but it has created a dangerous situation where people have to dodge a huge amount of traffic to get on with their lives - and of course a lot of accidents do happen.
Anyway, I am going to leave you on that note, relax, drink some tea, and hope that I never become one of those people who see poverty and think that it is acceptable.
Tune in next time for more news.
* Rolexes are a staple in Uganda and generally consists of an egg, tomato and onion fried together and wrapped up in a chapatti - delicious!
Linnet Griffith-Jones is a graduate in Politics from Lancaster University and has an MSc in International Politics from Trinity College, Dublin.
Linnet is currently carrying out an internship with Compassion CBO in Nairobi.