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How man transformed slum into a decent, safe estate

RIFT VALLEY
By Yvonne Chepkwony | October 29th 2021
The two-storey building in Baringo's Bondeni slums is slowly transforming from a slum to a modern housing estate. [Yvonne Chepkwonyi, Standard]

Ten years ago, Bondeni slums, located 500 meters from the Baring County Government headquarters, was a no-go zone for strangers.

The informal settlement, home to 2,500 families drawn from the minority Nubian, Swahili and Tugen communities, was dreaded by many.

The crime rate was high, and teenagers smoked bhang in the open, while their parents drank illicit brew under trees and in shanties that dotted the slum.

The squalid living conditions and poverty was a sad tale.

For the residents, it was always a running battle with police, who suspected them to be criminals.

The residents were looked down upon, and many children from poor families dropped out of school. 

But today, Bondeni, which means valley in Kiswahili, is the envy of many, thanks to former media personality, Mustafa Ali, who has used his passion, skills, connections and experience to transform the slum into a safe haven.  

The 45-year-old, who was born and bred in Bondeni slums, works as the Secretary-General at the Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC). 

Ali’s dream was to offer Bondeni residents a decent life and true to his word, in 2012, through the help of well-wishers and community members, he began the construction of modern houses for the residents. 

Most of the newly built houses are brick-walled. The bricks, sand and cement are sourced locally and transported to the site by volunteers.

Abdi Ishmael, one of the beneficiaries outside his modern house in Bondeni slum, Baringo County. [Yvonne Chepkwony, Standard]

So far, his efforts have seen the construction of four houses and a two-storey building with 13 apartments. A mosque is also under construction and is being funded by the UMMAH foundation.

 “I encourage community members to pull resources together and build decent homes. I make some personal contributions, but I do not build houses for them from scratch,” he said.

Further, he has built rental houses for residents, who owned land, but could not afford to put up modern houses. “Most of the dilapidated homes were mud-walled. We demolished them, and with some little saving that some landowners had, we put up brick-walled houses.”

Abdi Ishmael, one of the beneficiaries, could not hide his joy. He is now an owner of a three-bedroom house. “I now live in a modern house, something I never imagined in my life. My children are yet to come to terms with the changes,” said the father of two.

Ishmael, 42, showed us some old pictures of his house that was demolished. It was a one-room muddy structure, with old doors and windows almost falling apart.

He inherited the old house from his parents, who died when he was young.

He recalls the days he would go for a call of nature in the bush near his home.

“My children and wife would collect the human waste in plastic bags and dispose of it along the streets due to lack of toilets. They are elated that they now have a toilet. If this is a dream, Allah, please do not wake me up,” says Ishmael, who is employed at Ali’s construction site.

Mustafa Ali, 45, a former journalist and philanthropist who currently works as the Secretary General at Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) spearheading the transformation of Bondeni Slums in Baringo County. [Yvonne Chepkwony, Standard]

 

Ali is also fighting crime, consumption and sale of illicit brew, bhang peddling and smoking through the Bondeni Renaissance Group, whose agenda is to rehabilitate youth.

“Bondeni was neglected and marginalised,” Ali says, adding that the journey to change Bondeni slums was not easy.

“There was resistance at first, with some locals sceptical about the whole idea. But with the support of the local administration and security officials, the community bought the idea,” he said.

He added that he wants to ensure that all children from the slum are enrolled in school to curb rape cases and give them a brighter future. 

Using local Muslim leaders, elders and the local administration, they have been engaging parents and educating them on the importance of good education and proper upbringing of their children.

“The poverty rates and violence against children were relatively high in the slum. Most of them were defiled and the cases would go unreported. We are changing this script. We ask the children to report any rape case to the Imam or the police,” said Ali. 

Ali says residents are appreciating his efforts, and some are supporting him by offering little resources to support the initiative.

 “We always meet the community at the mosque at the end of the year, where they share problems they encountered during the year and how they solved them,” he said.

Ali admits he faced challenges in ending the sale of illicit brews in the slum, especially from the brewers.

Musa Daudi, another beneficiary, says the community has been exposed to injustices for years, but through Ali’s efforts, their lives have improved. 

“We had been living in fear of the unknown, unable to do something that will help or support our families. We have no farms to cultivate. We lived like squatters,” Daudi says.

 Adam Yusuf, a member of Renaissance, says the two-storey building, is to spur economic activities. 

“We want to bring activities closer to the people by establishing shops, building a market here and having a one-stop-shop,” says Yusuf.  

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