Kenya: Using market-trading skills to escape poverty
by Major Seth Le Leu
SALVATION Army community development staff from across Africa met recently in Nairobi, Kenya. At the end of the two weeks’ workshop the participants all returned to their homes with new skills for managing and implementing community development projects. Special thanks goes to the United States Eastern Territory for supporting this programme through its Mission Support funds.
Eastleigh children in their Sunday best
We found that the Kenyans are expecting the recently-elected new government to bring a return to development and honest government. The problems faced by the country are enormous and it will be a long process to bring real change to the people. In the meantime, local Salvation Army centres are doing all they can to improve the way of life for many poor Kenyans.
During the conference the group went to three poor communities in Nairobi – Eastleigh, Kibera and Dandora. In all three places the groups encountered the extreme harsh conditions of urban slum life. The group that I was with went to Eastleigh and we met some of the bravest Salvationists I have known. Three years ago a mob of Muslim youths returning from a demonstration in another part of the city attacked the Army hall. The Salvationists were inside at the time and they had to flee for their lives as their beloved hall was torched. There is no particular problem between Christians and Muslims in Eastleigh – they share each others’ religious festivals and use each others’ social services. But this senseless act of violence has left the Army with no place to operate from. When we visited the corps they were meeting in the baking sun, no shade was available but the soldiers will not be dismayed. They could go to other churches or Salvation Army centres but they are determined to keep a presence in the area. As we met with them in worship their joy and refusal to be dismayed by the conditions they face was a serious challenge to all the visitors. The majority of the people in Eastleigh are market traders. Their market is one of the largest in East Africa and Eastleigh Corps has been able to start some small business loans to help poor residents engage in selling onions and other vegetables. One of the residents I visited had a single room for herself and her seven children. Outside the door of her home the sewage runs down the path. Plastic bags and other rubbish litter the area. At the end of her street she has a small stand where she sells a variety of vegetables.
Salvationists in Eastleigh offer praise to God
I asked her if this was enough to survive on. She said on some days she does fairly well and there is enough, on other days all she has at the end of the day is sufficient funds to buy the next day’s supplies.
Our group returned during the week to meet members of the community and see if we could assist with some form of community development.
The people soon pointed out what the most pressing problems are. Eighty per cent of the people in the area live in bad housing, sanitation is very poor, clean water is costly, there is unemployment, the birth rate is high – as is the death rate – residents have little education and all suffer from poor health. When they were pressed to prioritise their greatest need they decided that their number one priority was to alleviate poverty.
Mama Eva from the community summed up the discussion. She said: ‘If we attack the poverty issue all the other social problems can be solved.’
The people’s experience in running market stalls means they have knowledge of trading and small business. As a result of our meeting, and with funds provided by The Salvation Army, they will now form a microcredit group to extend credit services to 100 participants from Eastleigh. The other groups who visited Kibera and Dandora worked with their respective communities and also came up with schemes to alleviate poverty.
a microcredit business
In Kibera they plan to enlarge their programme of selling charcoal, raising chickens and cooking potato chips. From the profits of this scheme the Salvation Army corps gives assistance to people living with HIV/Aids in the community. The Dandora group is going to bring electricity into their plot and use this to charge mobile phones as an income-generating scheme. The resourcefulness and resilience of these people living in extremely poor conditions is a real challenge to visitors from more affluent societies. The development staff returned home from Kenya equipped with new skills in poverty alleviation. It is hoped that the three Nairobi communities will also benefit from the process.
Major Seth Le Leu is The Salvation Army’s International Projects Officer