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Slum dwellers’ exodus to the promised land

By | Jun 8th 2009 | 4 min read

By Ally Jamah

A fluorescent tube, television set, mats, a tray of eggs and empty beer bottles are gently placed on well-worn seats. Then Mr George Gitonga motions his son, Duncan Mboi, 20, to lift it one of the seats and glide through a grey door to their new home.

There is a gentle smile playing on their lips no doubt from the joy having a place to call their own in Kenya’s latest and possibly most innovative townships in Kaputiei, just an hour south of Nairobi.

Gitonga is a taxi driver and Mboi, a student at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. Both are somewhat shy and reserved, leaving Ms Clarice Adhiambo, 53, to explain their feelings.

"If someone had told me then that one day I would own a own two bedroom house, I would have laughed dismissively," Adhiambo says and bursts into loud guffaws, as if mocking her own disbelief.

"I can’t believe I am living here. I have to remind myself everyday that I own this house," she says, breaking into prolonged laughter.

Critical mass

True to her words, the story unfolding in Kaputiei is the stuff made of dreams. For more than 15 years, Adhiambo, lived off the streets where she had been consigned after fleeing her home in Kisumu to escape an abusive husband.

But without a job, she begged in the streets, until she met a middle aged Swedish woman who kept begging her and her associates to save Sh10 every day and think of starting a business.

Adhiambo and 49 other beggars ultimately saved Sh8,000 and helped found Jamii Bora Trust that has, over the next 10 years, grown into a group of 230,000 members.

Last month, the group had disbursed Sh3 billion in small loans, most of which has been paid back, according to Ms Ingrid Munro, Jamii Bora’s founder and managing trustee.

The Kaputiei housing scheme is Jamii Bora’s latest project and is hoped to settle several thousand families from the slums.

"As long as you live in the slums, you will never climb out of poverty," says Munro, "Families, of course, need economic opportunities to rise out of poverty but what good are they if you are still living in hell?"

The ambitious project, which is expected to cost Sh1billion, is the first of its kind in Kenya. Initially 2,000 houses will be built on a 300-acre piece of land.

Ultimately, 10,000 people are expected to settle there when it is sometimes next year.

Construction started in June 2007 and so far, 700 houses have been completed and the first batch of families, including the Adhiambos and the Gitongas, has moved in.

Social amenities

Well-stocked grocery stores are already in operation, as is the Kaputiei Primary School, with about 200 pupils, most of them from the orphanage that Jamii Bora run in Kitengela, as well as the new settlers migrating from slums in Kibera, Mathare, Soweto or upcountry.

Still under construction is the town’s "Central Business District" that will house business premises, a police post, a health centre, a post office, a library and other essential social amenities.

Feeder roads connecting the new town to the Nairobi-Kajiado road as well different parts of the town have been done and await tarmac.

The town is divided into eight neighbourhoods, each with 250 houses that also have shops, playgrounds and worship places.

One of the significant aspects of Kaputiei is that it has integrated environmental management principles as its core. Central to this is a Sh3 million waste water treatment facility completed. It is meant to recycle water from the kitchen and toilets to be used for irrigating vegetable gardens as well as maintain a nearby recreational nature park.

The water will also be used to flush toilets, while the sludge will be treated to produce organic fertiliser.

Prof Elijah Biamah of the University of Nairobi who designed the facility said: "Since water is scarce around here, this hi-tech facility will enable the use of water efficiently and intelligently."

Some residents said previously they were used to seeing raw sewage in the slums or sharing dirty and overflowing pit latrines with hundreds of other people. Some said they used plastic bags to dump toilet waste, a phenomenon famously called "flying toilets".

Running taps

"I was used to buying water from a 20-litre jerrican but now all the taps in my house are running," says Santa Wanjiku, who was born and has lived in Kibera and has now resettled in Kaputiei.

Even though Kaputiei is built in a water-scarce area, with only seasonal rivers, it will never suffer water shortage or rationing as is common with other towns in Kenya.

There are no water or electricity bills for the residents as they use solar power for their houses while the water is from four high-yield boreholes that have been sunk strategically in different parts of the town and water supplied to each home.

‘Many blessings’

Biamah says water quality is Kaputiei is higher than in many parts of the country, including Nairobi, even though tests reveal a relatively high fluoride content. Excessive chloride consumption is blamed for browning of teeth.

The don says he plans to introduce technologies such as reverse osmosis to solve the problem. He says some water may eventually be bottled and sold, creating jobs for the residents.

The water is already benefiting many of people who live near Kaputiei town, including thousands of Maasai herders who previously had to walk long distances with their livestock to look for water.

"This new town has brought us many blessings including free water and we welcome it with open hands," says Naiseku Nashipae, who had lined up to draw water.

To reduce construction costs, an on-site production facility manufactures most of the required materials such as roofing tiles, and cement bricks. This facility mainly employs women living in the area.

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