I recently had the fortunate experience of being invited to Kenya as part of a United Nations University Education for Sustainable Development Programme where a number of Africa wide Masters programmes are being established. The Sustainability Institute is participating in the cluster considering sustainable urbanisation. As part of the broader workshop programme, the hosts, Kenyatta University, arranged that we visit a number of NGO projects that would potentially serve as learning sights for the Kenya based students. This took us to Kibera, one of the largest slums in Africa. Walking through the narrow streets of Kibera, one could not help but notice the sense of permanence in the structures. For a great many citizens of Nairobi, this is home. Visiting the NGO groups, focussing on real day to day issues of sanitation, solid waste, job creation and improved ecologically based education, it was clear that focus on the small, at the community level was having a real impact on the community. While the interventions were facing the challenges that many face in such communities (of vested interests and an absent state) leadership was being taken, predominantly by young and energised individuals.
A visit to Kahawa Soweto Settlement later in the day allowed for a further set of community interventions to be seen. This is a community with an approach to governance that seeks to take charge of their future and work to improve their situation (with the support of outside donors) but through their own resources (as the pic shows, this includes making sure there is space for a garden in a school yard). Kahawa Soweto was spotless, due to a team of solid waste collectors from within the community that collect waste from the various designated areas of Kahawa on a rotational basis. Women’s groups are working with young girls, advising them on HIV/Aids and education. The same women’s group is also actively involved in technology development at the household level, working to develop new types of cost effective fuels which limit smoke within the dwellings and costs less while at the same time, linked to the waste collection process, recycles old charcoal dust, combines this with paper to produce a fuel briquette.
In all areas, the interconnectedness of all aspects of life in these settlements was clearly evident. Also clear were how these interventions in the small can have a profound impact. Seeing a school developing a feeding scheme from food grown as part of the studies and seeing the gardens as more than just food, but a triumph over adversity in the slums of Kibera, left me wondering if our grand settlement wide interventions don’t miss the real richness and innovation that is taking place on the ground already?