By Shadrack Mbaka and Eva Muchiri
Slum dwellers share a whole lot in common with war tone countries due to civil strife, this is so because, and the most basic infrastructure is non-existent, interrupted or destroyed. In this regard, most slum dwellers are forced to adapt to the existing situation or improvise, just to have access to food and shelter. In order to survive, it is common to observe the level of detail put in innovation. Unlike persons affected by war, who stand up and look up to the future to rebuild their country, slum dwellers have no such opportunity to stand up to address inequalities propagated with lack of access to services and infrastructure .
Many innovative urban planning ideas have been modeled and tried out in major Kenyan cities and towns, which have not been scaled up. It is obvious that slum dweller communities are often ignored in the planning and implementation of slum-upgrading projects. It is more viable and sustainable if such challenges are to be addressed it is prudent to empower slum dweller communities to develop their own ideas and shape them into realistic and measurable plans. However, the link to such solutions rests in the young people living in these informal settlements.
Over the last couple of months, young people from different the informal settlements in Nairobi, Thika and Machakos have had the opportunity to be trained on various skills such as; data collection and management, mapping, advocacy and documentation, since these are tools used to build powerful depository sources of information to engage local governments on the need to deliver services and infrastructure to slum dwellers. The trainings revolved around youth and community media which encompass an array of research, advocacy, and development initiatives around youth and digital technology.
Documentation and blogging of stories from the informality draws on the knowledge and experience with various federation rituals, that include; power of community organisation and savings, data, learning, monitoring and evaluation, project innovation, and policy frameworks. Through these combined approaches, federation youth have begun creating centers of voices and experiences of youth to cultivate revolutionary possibilities of youth activities in the digital space, while also addressing the genuine concerns that come with living in the slums.
In a recent campaign organized by the youth within Muungano wa Wanavijiji to mobilise youths in Nairobi, Machakos and Thika, we got an opportunity to speak to one of the federation youth member, Kevin Kinuthia, who hails from Mukuru Kwa Reuben settlement, who gladly shared his perspectives with us.
“Having been raised by a single mother in the slums has really taught me a whole bunch of things and critical lessons in life. My mother always took it upon herself and reminded me how hard I need to work to avoid living the urban sprawl all my life. She would also often challenge me to strive to be selfless and conscious of the power I have to change the lives of others.
The only thing we can learn from our informal settlements today, especially those located in urban areas, is that it is a fact that informal settlements remain as unsolved puzzle for many years as a result of rapid urbanization.
Urban renewal depends on reformation of institutions especially the county governments mandated by the Kenyan constitution to provide services to the people, especially the poor. It is essential for governments to involve affected communities in upgrading or development projects. Once people living in informal settlements are provided with the opportunities and informed of the importance and benefits of formulating ideas to combat their challenges, they can create the change they want to see in their communities.
As a federation the advocacy approach is to encourage its members and the larger constituency of slum dwellers to break away from the mental oppression and promote a change in mindset by encouraging critical thinking, creativity and innovation. If disenfranchised people can transform their beliefs and attitudes, I believe they can be powerful agents of change for their communities,” concludes Kevin.
Empowering the youth is vital. Giving them the time to develop their own ideas and providing a platform for them to showcase those very ideas is not only beneficial to their communities, but can promote social innovation which offers local solutions to local problems. Mentoring, guidance and financial assistance from public, private and non-profit sectors could be a source of support for implementing slum –upgrading such plans and ensuring scalability.