Mathare, Kenya, 30 September 2018: - We skipped across open drains, bending our heads below the rusty corrugated iron roofs. We had to dodge our way past sweaty men whistling to clear the way as they hauled large sacks overflowing with vegetables on their backs through the narrow, muddy alleys of Mlango Kubwa, an area in the slum district of Mathare in Nairobi. Finally, four of us squeezed our way into a tiny, dark, mud-walled shack.
We were accompanying Isaac Muasa, fondly known as Kaka – Kiswahili for brother, as he registered youth to participate in a two-year cash transfer pilot project.
“How many of you live here?” he asks 21 year old Patricia Wanjiku.
“I live with my mum, my four-year old son, and my sister’s three children.”
“How many of them are under the age of five?”
“All three of my sister’s children are over five,” she answers as he diligently enters the information into his smartphone before taking a picture of her national identity card.
Kaka is the founder and chair of the Mathare Environmental Conservation Youth Group (MECYG), which is carrying out the project. It began life as a door-to-door rubbish collection and disposal enterprise in 1997 after Kaka and members of his football team decided to tackle the mounting heaps of rubbish in their community. By making their collection services affordable, the group ensured that the initiative took off and became a regular source of income for many jobless youth.
The youth decided to clear the largest dumpsite in Mlango Kubwa and convert it into their own exclusive space.
“We took turns spending nights on the site as we cleared it to make sure no more rubbish was dumped on it and to protect it from anyone trying to grab the land,” says Kaka.
The dumpsite became a playground and meeting point for the youth who mobilized funding to construct facilities including a meeting hall, a cybercafé and ICT centre. Community women’s groups, people with disabilities and the elderly use the centre and the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited in 2017.
Kaka still works at the rubbish collection point where we found him working the morning shift with two friends. Dressed in faded green overalls with a pair of worn out leather gloves Kaka easily manoevred the loaded Mkokoteni or handcart as the team collected bags of garbage responding cheerily to greetings and reminded occasional residents about unpaid collection dues.
Kaka has been selected as one of the five winners of the 2018 UN-Habitat Scroll of Honour in recognition of his work in improving the lives of those in urban areas particularly in the area of solid waste management which is this years theme. He is being presented with the award during World Habitat Day which is celebrated on the first Monday of October, every year. The main event this year is being hosted by the Government of the Republic of Kenya at the United Nations Office at Nairobi, where UN-Habitat’s headquarters are located.