Mombasa slum group beats odds to better life
| Aug 26th 2015 | 6 min read
KENYA: Two water vendors engage three youths in a bitter exchange of words at the Moroto Slums in Tudor, Mombasa County.
When push comes to shove and the situation threatens to degenerate into violence, the leader of the youths wearing black t-shirts emblazoned with the word “Samba Foundation”, intervenes.
A few minutes later and the water vendors are pacified. We are then able to take photographs and interview group members.
“We have faced a lot of opposition from various quarters but we decided a long time ago, that we will not relent in initiating projects for the common good,” says group leader Tobias Samba.
The group leader says the Tudor-based Samba Foundation has 50 youths who rely on their Sh1,000 registration fee and Sh500 monthly contributions, as well as funds from well wishers to make a difference in their society.
From their pooled funds, the group has so far bought and installed a 5,000-litre water tank, which it has set up at the edge of Moroto slum serving more than 200 households.
The initiative dubbed “Maji Fresh” has been well-received by women living in the slum who say they used to trek up to three kilometres in search of the precious commodity.
“They sell a 20-litre jerrican for Sh 3 and for us this is a great relief because we used to buy the same for Sh20. In fact, there were times I was faced with the hard choice of whether to buy mboga (vegetables) or purchase water,” says Mary Wakesho.
Rosemary Aoko tells us the water situation was so bad that one of her neighbours would sometimes resort to using sea water for household use.
Aoko says that while it is still a challenge to raise the Sh3, it is way better than the Sh20 demanded by water vendors. She credits the youth for saving them from this exploitation.
Because water is such a rare commodity in the area, it has now become the norm to see families who live in flats also lining up for water alongside slum-dwellers.
Sometimes, the tank goes a week or two without water and the residents are forced to look for the commodity elsewhere.
“The bad blood that existed between the two groups, emanating from differences in social status, has been bridged considerably thanks to these interactions,” Samba says.
However, as is often the case, every step forward has been met with some form of opposition. The group has had to develop a thick skin and stand against opposition predominantly from political leaders who view the initiative as a ploy to reduce their influence through addressing problems that they should have addressed in the first place.
“Here we are striving through thick and thin to make contributions for these projects, yet a good number of us have no formal jobs, and you still hear people saying we are being used by politicians.
“Lau wangejua tunavyofunga mshipi kuleta miradi (if only they knew the sacrifices we make to start these projectsO,” Samba says.
In October last year, the youths were forced to flee for their lives after quest to install a 5,000-litre tank within the area was welcomed with violence from a band of armed youths, allegedly acting at the behest of a local politician.
The violent youth however, later apologised to Samba and his colleagues while owning up to their gullibility.
“At first we were afraid and even contemplated abandoning the project till the opposition faded. But we realised that time might never come and we have to be steadfast in our vision.
After a lot of soul searching as a group, we thought it would be foolish to allow ourselves to cower from threats issued by youths who are our age-mates,” says Zahra Abdalla Mohamad, the group’s treasurer.
Moved by the plight of mothers, who would sometimes give birth before getting to hospital, an idea to contribute for a salon car to ease their movement was mooted. A feat, which the group’s treasurer says, left their purse completely drained.
Today, all a needy resident needs to do is call a cell phone number and the driver will be at their beck and call without any charges.
Records show the vehicle has so far ferried 50 people since it began operating in October last year.
“I vividly recall how the vehicle came in handy when my two-year-old baby fell sick in the middle of the night,” said Rose Njeri, a slum resident.
Apart from taking definite steps to transform their community, the group has also provided an opportunity for members not only to hone their leadership skills but also ward off stereotypes and bad habits.
It is the group’s strict policy that members must keep off drugs, while a look through its register reveals a striking diversity in religion and ethnicity of members.
“Before I joined this group, I held weird stereotypes about certain communities but I have been able to ward off these perceptions thanks to interactions with colleagues from different communities,” says 29-year-old Meshack Nyaberi.
Some members readily admit that involvement in the group has forced them to shed bad habits.
“I could not go a day without drinking alcohol but I am now on my way to becoming a teetotaler thanks to the group’s busy schedule,” says Daniel Maina, 37, who heads the group’s security docket.
The team also has a talent academy, which admits people as young as six-years-old to nurture their gifting be it in dancing, music, sports or the arts.
“Challenges I have encountered in my work, have helped me build confidence and hone my managerial skills,” says Faith Odhiambo, a mentor at the talent academy.
By the same token, the youths, through a campaign dubbed “going green” have already planted over 45,000 trees in local schools.
“We look forward to planting 500,000 trees by end of this year,” says Moses Aran, 26, the group’s projects director, while waving a certificate of recognition from the Mombasa County Education Director, Abdikadir Kike.
In recognition of the youths’ devotion, Mr Kike gave the youths the go-ahead to plant trees in public primary schools across the county.
In addition to stocking hundreds of seedlings at their offices in Tudor, Aran says the group will take advantage of Kenya Wildlife Service’s offer of free seedlings to fast track the going green campaign.
Unlike most foundations, which wait for funds from donors and philanthropists to initiate and fund projects, Samba Foundation members fund all their projects and also fund other groups within the area.
This they do by encouraging them to engage in, for example, goat and chicken rearing under agreement that the proceeds will support the foundation’s causes.
It is from such contributions that the group pays rent for their offices in Tudor as well as offsets other miscellaneous expenses.
The foundation started in 2012 as a community based organisation with the coming together of three groups: Girl Shift Africa, Youth Shift Africa and Young Christians - whose rivalry and physical sparring hitherto is still an open secret in the area.
Asked why the group bears the name Samba, the group’s leader replies: “The initial four group leaders had an easy time agreeing on the name “Samba” owing to our common support for the Brazilian national team,” he says smiling.
Samba says the group has dreams of spreading its wings across the country through working with other groups to transform as many lives as possible.
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