Mathare is one of the largest informal settlement areas in Nairobi. Previous estimates indicated that this is home to nearly half a million people. But according to the 2009 National Population and Housing census, the numbers seem to be minimal than the estimates. The report indicates that Mathare has 5 Sub- locations whose population totals are 161,031. Mabatini has 28, 260 people, Mathare: 20,463, Mathare 4A: 18,776 Mathare North 55, 158 and Mlango Kubwa 38,374.
Many stories come into focus when Mathare is mentioned. In 2006, there was an appalling violence that saw two outlawed rival groups fight each other to death. The groups; Taliban and the Mungiki sought to control “illegal taxation’’ amongst the dwellers of Mathare and as the fighting escalated, hundreds of homes were burnt down and several people killed. The General Service Unit had to intervene as the administration police were unable to contain the skirmishes.
Early in 2007, over 20 people were killed after the Police unleashed fire on the residents whom they had reason to believe were part of the outlawed Mungiki group. The group had been accused of slaughtering two police officers in cold blood while they were on patrol.
During the Post Election Violence (PEV) there was even greater trouble in this area as there was infighting to the extent that demarcations were done by residents to ensure that people of a certain ethnic group would reside on one area and those of the rival group in a different area altogether and if one dared to cross the boundary, they would be in trouble.
Despite of all the misgivings and negative stories arising from Mathare, right in the heart of it, Mwiyukirie women’s group stands tall amongst the groups that have been able to champion the women’s rights by ensuring that they can be able to fend for themselves and their families. Mwiyukirie is a Kikuyu word that means – help yourself to stand on your own – The women from different ethnic backgrounds have shown that they can work together, fend for their families and leave a legacy for the future generations.
Having been able to rise up from the ashes of the 2007/2008 Post Election Violence, (PEV) this group of 33 women is an example of what women can do when given an opportunity to improve their livelihoods. They stand tall, are self sufficient and despite the everyday challenges that abound in the informal settlement areas, they say that they envision a legacy for their children’s children.
Naomi Waceke the Chairlady of Mwiyukirie says that after the Post election Violence, most of the residents of Mathare had nothing to call their own. They were helpless and most depended on handouts for survival.
OAIC was one of the organisations that sought to empower the people in Mathare; theirs was however, a long term initiative.
“I met with OAIC’s David Warui and Bishop Simwa. The two used to visit residents here and encouraged them to form small groups and think of what they would like to do in the long term rather than just depend on handouts. That was how Mwiyukiri came to being,” states Naomi.
“The government and other donor agencies were merely looking to support the people for a short while until they became stable. We used to line up to get food from them and sometimes the lines were too long and especially for women who most of the time did not have the energy to stand in a line for an entire day. Some would return home empty handed. That was the order of the day. What next after the Unga? Women in Mathare quipped. We then decided that we would form a women’s group where we would meet every week, contribute and save some Shillings 50 which would help us so improve our livelihoods,” she added.
Rahab Ng’ang’a the treasurer of the group says that she is proud that the group started with only 15 women and now they are 33 women who have stories to tell.
“I used to sell rice in my neighbourhood here in Mathare. When the PEV took place, most of my customers moved to other “safer zones” and I lost business tremendously. After PEV I was forced to start afresh from scratch. I am happy though that I am alive and kicking and my business is catching up. I pray for a peaceful election that is just around the corner and what happened in 2007/2008 should not recur,” states Rahab.
After the group was formed in early 2008, the OAIC gave them a grant of Shillings 90,000 which enabled them to re-stock their businesses for those who had. The grant came in handy as it enabled them to re-establish themselves. After a year of good work, an additional grant of Shillings 63,000 was given to the group.The group which meets every week on Friday, was able to establish a revolving fund in which members contribute a weekly amount of a minimum Shillings 50 and one is allowed to contribute more depending on how much extra they can afford. This in turn enables the members to take small loans and develop themselves. This has catapulted their lives tremendously, they attest.
All the women in this group are involved in one form of business or another. Some are green grocers, beauty specialists, own small shops, and they are able to fend for themselves and even employ people to work for them.
The group is worth over Shillings 280,000 now. They are now strategising on ways of venturing into investments in land and others that will enable their fund grow even bigger.
During our recent visit to the group, OAIC gave the group a cheque of Shillings 15,000.
Fiona Imbali, OAIC Communications.