Susan Wanjiru

Susan Wanjiru

My name is Susan Wanjiru. I am saved and I love Jesus. I have four children and seven grandchildren.

Who is Susan? What motivates you?

What gives me the inner drive is the fact that I built my house with a loan which I have to work hard in order to pay back. Also, I have grandchildren, for whom I have to get up early. You know, you can never stop being a parent – my children are all of age and I have grandchildren who rely on me, so I am motivated to wake up early and go out to make a living in order to provide a comfortable life for them as well as myself. All this motivates me. You found me at the carwash earlier where I sell water, and if we don’t have someone to wash the cars I do it myself, because I can earn something out of it.

My role as Susan Wanjiru in Muungano, is to encourage people. As a leader I have served for a long time. So, I appeal to those in leadership to fully dedicate themselves. As a leader, there are times when you would want to go somewhere but you lack the funds: this means you need use your own money in order to get to where you want and do what is required. Also, I have been able to encourage many, including our youths, to unite and carry out their savings in order to be successful.

How did you first get involved in Muungano?

In the past, community members owned houses nearby, so we came here while we were still young; when we came here, we found this place serving as a parking lot. As we grew up, we decided to leave the area where our parents were, and then we moved here, where we began by building iron sheet houses. We first started setting up market places then once we settled, we thought of progressing further instead of depending on our parents.

Years ago, five women went to visit a slum, and they found other women in this place making progress as by involving themselves in saving in order to change their lives for the better. You know, when you are just one person, there’s not much you can do. So when the women returned, they told us about it and give us the vision. Initially, we kept to ourselves and did business all on our own – we didn’t care much. But they told us how they saw young women saving together so as to buy a piece of land and build together. They shared the idea with the village residents, and we saw it was something worthwhile, so we called all those who agreed with the idea, and the women shared the vision with them as well.

When something starts up, at first it begins with just a few people. For us, some thought that the women were only after their money; so we started off just a few of us, meeting, and we were shown how to begin saving. Savings didn’t necessarily require us to have a lot of money – one could have 10 shillings or 20 shillings and still be able to start saving.

We were supposed to save with an intention in mind. So while we were busy saving, an NGO by the name Pamoja Trust came in and gave us another vision. They told us to make a claim of where we stayed, using our savings, and thereafter develop the area instead of living a low standard of life. We asked them if that was possible and they told us it was. They offered to help, as NGOs, by sending us to government offices where we would get help. We did not neglect their advice: we joined hands with them and as we progressed, we held meetings and they taught us and told us about what we could do to. From then, they showed us how we could access the state offices; we had already discovered that this land belonged to [Nairobi] City Council., and they told us that since land belonged to the city council, it was best to go there and talk to them and ask them to allow us to upgrade the area where we lived. You know, even in the past it was a huge problem to get a piece of land for yourself, so if the council would allow us, we would develop our pieces of land.

Life was not easy. But it wasn’t that hard, because we were in business. We weren’t obsessed with acquiring a lot for ourselves; we just wanted something to help us make a decent living. Others came here and built five, six, or even ten houses, while you probably only have one rental house in your possession so as to be able to have enough to cater for your children and pay for the house. So that is the life we lived.

How did the process of upgrading Kambi Moto start?

It was not a simple journey. We were referred [to the council] by Pamoja Trust as the village residents. We started off with the negotiations, introducing ourselves, and stating what we wanted to do. Generally, we were supposed to introduce ourselves and wait for their response, but they didn’t respond to us: we were required to hold various other meetings. We went to the first office and they told us to leave behind our documents and then they would sit, discuss and give us feedback. It was not easy. It was a long journey for us, before we started to build, or even before we began the enumerations. It was a really long journey, considering the meetings we held, before they finally agreed to give us land and support us in the enumeration process.

We held the meetings, but back then the mayor was in charge. We had to book appointments through the mayor’s appointment book. We also booked appointments with the managers, as well as those who were subordinate to the mayor and in charge of the land. We sat with them and agreed on some issues, which were written down. Then, we obtained a copy of the notes, as members of Muungano – and they also had a copy of what was said. Remember, we didn’t go as members of Kambi Moto only: there are six other villages around Huruma, and so we went all together. We agreed each village would have about two to three representatives who would attend.

We started the negotiations in 2000, between us and the city council. The year 2001, we started the first enumeration, because of the negotiations we were holding. In 2001, we started the city council enumerations and before we begun building, in 2003, we were still carrying out the verification. This is because even before we decided to embark on building, we needed to agree on some issues, for example if people have been enumerated but have passed away; so we needed to carry out the verification and see, based on the enumeration we made, if everyone was still present. We also checked the savings, because even as the negotiations continued, people continued saving. We had to know if people were still saving, whether they were unable to continue, and if there was a sick person within the group. So we had to carry out the verification, once a year.

How have things changed over time in Kambi Moto?

Things have definitely changed. When we started Muungano, people were very excited to hear that there was a movement that would change their lives. We used to live in very miserable conditions, in houses that measured 8x8 or 10x10 metres; you couldn’t get a bigger house than that. That life was quite hard. There weren’t wide pathways to walk on – in certain places the houses were so close together you had to walk bent over in order to pass by. Life was hard. People heard we wanted to come together to change our lives, so they joined, although it was not that easy. People did not believe, but in the year 2003 we started to build at Kambi Moto; we were the first to build a typical house, right there in the field, and all the people came to have a look at it. We were the ones who came up with our own plan for the houses we wanted to live in; we agreed to do a cloth model of a house, and we opened it up for people, who came to see; they approved of it, and in 2003 we started constructing; and the people saw that indeed there was some progress. Thereafter many people started joining Muungano, although as we proceeded with the negotiations we were fewer, since some people did not think that it was indeed possible.

What have been the biggest challenges over the years?

We definitely faced challenges, especially in terms of money. You see, we had to facilitate some of the negotiations with our own money, especially when Pamoja Trust did not have the money to support us. There were instances where we found people owning ten houses ­– and yet we had agreed that the land belonged to us all as residents of Kambi Moto, everyone was to benefit because we were given the land all together as residents of Kambi Moto – so it was a challenge to convince people who owned a lot of houses to let go of them for the sake of the whole community.

We managed to convince them, because how we negotiated with the city council was to agreed that, after developing the land, we would be given communal titles – so each slum member wouldn’t be given a title. There was a chance that we could even lose the [communal] title, which would have really been a great misfortune for the community; so people should choose to sacrifice and give up his or her many houses and acquire one house, rather than holding on to their ten houses and suffering greater losses. It was really a great challenge: we had long talks with the city council, and we held our own meetings where we informed the community about the things we had discussed with the city council. There were challenges, but we progressed, up until when we were able to get to an agreement.

How have things changed over time in Muungano?

We started the Muungano movement in Nairobi. Thereafter, we started exchanges, where we would go and educate our colleagues in Kisumu, Nakuru, Mombasa, and Athi River, among other places. We travelled extensively around Kenya, to educate our peers who live in slums so as to help them gain the vision that will help them grow. Also, we urge those who live in the slum to save up and purchase land which they can then build on, using their savings, if the government fails to give them land.

When we were saving together, it was easier to cultivate trust because we knew each other. So when the NGO came to us and began to tell us about this and that, we doubted them and thought they probably wanted our money. But as we continued interacting with these organizations, they told us that we could manage our savings as well as our accounts, that we could come up with plans that would benefit us, and slowly we started trusting in them. We joined hands with them, and together we started doing so many things within our area. They also supported us as we went far and beyond to educate the community. When you look at Muungano today, it has spread everywhere in Kenya, and Uganda has a federation, as well as Tanzania and Ghana. We have also gone to Malawi and Philippines to educate people about Muungano. And, as we travel to other countries, we find useful rituals that we can pick up and bring to our people and educate them about it.

What have been the biggest achievements over the years?

I have, for example, been able to learn about construction. Before, I knew nothing about building materials, but when we started Muungano, I began to know more about this. This is because the women were in charge of making the bricks as the men made the beams, and so I've now achieved that skill. Now I could direct a construction worker if I wanted something to be done in a certain way.

The community feels that they have achieved a lot. In the past, people were not in a position to freely express themselves, but now they have achieved that freedom. After coming together, many women have progressed and see that they can do more. Women were trained on making the bricks and now many of them have become contractors. Many women have been able to achieve a lot through Muungano.

Out of all those challenges we have gone through in Muungano, we were able to sit down and discover that fear is one of the main causes of poverty. We came up with the slogan ‘fear leads to a lifetime of poverty’ – and so we got rid of fear and came up with a voice. Now, in meetings, everyone has the freedom to air their views, and no one is restrained to speak up because everyone understands their rights. Now, in Muungano, everyone has the freedom to express themselves, unlike earlier, where nobody really cared. Today, even if many people visit, we can talk to them and tell them all about Muungano, with courage – because you come to truly see that Muungano has done a lot for you, which you couldn’t have managed on your own.

What have been the strategies that really worked?

I think the main approach we used was coming together: we were able to consult and tell each other that we can surely make it. In Muungano we have different roles – chairlady, secretary, treasurer – so everyone is given his or her chance to serve. We also decided to appoint new leaders every year, so as to give everyone a chance to lead, helping lots of people gain experience in leadership.

What are your hopes for Muungano Kambi Motos’s next 20 years?

I am now old. In the next twenty years I would like our children to carry on with what we started. I would like you all to come together and have your vision; to say that indeed you saw us come together, and brainstorm on ideas, and advise each other – and now you have seen what we have achieved out of it. We would like the young people to come together and have your vision for the next twenty years, so that in future you can also give out your history and say ‘we, as the children and the grandchildren, we were able to adopt what was begun, and now we have succeeded’.

Has Kambi Moto been a role model?

Kambi Moto has indeed been a role model. When visitors come, they begin by visiting us in Kambi Moto because we were strong, and we were the first to start the upgrading. Many people from other countries and federations have visited Kambi Moto because they heard of our reputation. Our reputation spread throughout Kenya, and people were eager to know more about Kambi Moto. We felt good about this. Were it not for us coming together, then we wouldn’t have achieved this; if we hadn’t forged a way forward, based on realizing our vision through what we had talked about, then we wouldn’t be known. So Kambi Moto has been a role model to other villages, inspiring them to begin upgrading.

What message would you give to the younger generations of Muungano?

The general message I would give, especially to residents in these surrounding slums who haven’t yet started upgrading, is that they should start. Trust is key, because with it things are able to progress well. Trust, among us, will enable the community to achieve great things. I would also like to tell young people to hurry to emulate their parents: they won’t be living with their parents forever; there will come a time where they will be independent, so they should unite as the federation. All the federation groups we've made in Kenya comprise parents, youth, and young children, so we would like them to unite and achieve greater things, which they can be proud of, by emulating their parents.

What are your hopes for Muungano’s next 20 years?

In the next twenty years, God willing, I would love to see every settlement achieving great milestones in terms of upgrading and beautifying their areas. Even the government has stated, in their Vision 2030 project, that they want the country to be without slums. So, I want to see the villages that are yet to develop, uniting; doing away with hatred and self-centeredness. As slum dwellers, we tend to hold on to everything, not wanting to share, so as to develop where we live for the sake of attaining this vision 2030. Once we can get to vision 2030, we will not be evicted from our homes, but if we fail the government will take back the land and we will have ourselves to blame because we were given ample time to develop the area. So, I would say, I have witnessed Muungano do a lot, and our children have also united and have been able to do a lot, as we have done. Now, I am happy that I have a house that has a bathroom, water, and I am able to sleep in it comfortably. Before, I didn’t want visitors, because my house was small, and I wasn’t sure others would fit. Now, I am happy that I have a good and spacious house, and the environment now is much better than before. I pray to God to grant me many years more, so I can see the same developments we have here taking shape in all other places.

What are the biggest lessons from the history of Muungano?

We who live in the slums, we should come together and be united as one. We should know that we shouldn’t be fully dependent on the government – it also has other major responsibilities. So, I would like to tell the whole of Muungano in the country to come together and unite. Even we who earn a low income have been able to come together; we have combined our money and done something with it. If I was alone, I wouldn’t be able to do as much. So, we should join and put our efforts into saving, because we have seen that our savings have enabled us to do something great. Alone, you aren’t really able to do a lot; together, you are able to achieve greater things.