CHARLES GACHANJA saw sprucing up Dandora as an ideal opportunity to tackle rampant insecurity in the area
When his parents relocated to Dandora estate from Kenyatta estate in 1980, Charles Gachanja thought it was the beginning of a happy new life. With the area hosting more than 15 companies then, unemployment rate was low and hence the area was secure.
In early 1990’s most companies closed down, leaving hundreds of youths from Dandora jobless. With no jobs, many youths started engaging in crime as a way of getting their daily bread. By this time Gachanja had finished primary school and peer pressure led him to the life of crime and guns, albeit through keeping the wrong company. “I used to find myself with these groups because they were my friends.
We used to walk together and sometimes we were even attacked for no reason, but thanks be to God I am still alive,” he said. In 2008 life became unbearable for Gachanja, 39, and he decided to go Tanzania where he stayed for five years before coming back.
“I tried to look for a job in Kenya, but I could not get any because of my background. No employer was ready to employ anyone from Dandora because they believed that all of them were thieves,” he said. After coming back he was amazed at the level of crime and filth that had engulfed the place he called home.
Within a week, seven men were killed by police because they were suspected to be criminals and that is when he decided to do something to change the situation and create employment for young men and women in his community. After talking to different people he realised unemployment was the root cause of the crisis.
With an idea of making Dandora a greener, safer and a healthier place to live in, he mobilised 33 youths and sold them his dream of changing the image of the area. “Only two of them turned up the following day when we had planned to start our job but, this didn’t demoralise me,” he said.
They started by digging and unclogging drainage systems before they started converting unused spaces occupied by rocks and dirt into flower gardens surrounded by trees. At first residents were skeptical of them and reported them to the area chief who stopped their project until they got registered. In 2013 they registered Mustard Seed Foundation, a community based organisation.
Three months down the line more youths joined the organisation and they realised that they needed money to buy working equipment because all were volunteers and they had no money.
Their agony came to an end when they were nominated for the Awesome Foundation Award where their project was voted the best. They won Sh100,000. “We were able to buy the equipment that we required and we also mobilised other youths from different areas to start such projects in their respective areas by forming courts,” he said.
The project has turned to be a successful one and they have joined hands together and formed an umbrella body known as Dandora Transformation League (DTL) in 2014 where 139 courts have been formed and each court employing five people.
“I am happy that we have zero-rated the level of crime in this area because most criminals have transformed and are now earning their living through this project my future plans is to expand to other estates around Nairobi,” he said.