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Changing the image of Mukuru slums

Nelson Munyiri, co-founder and director of Nairobi’s Mukuru Intiative and Mukuru Awards looks out for diamonds in the rough in order to grow a generation of changemakers

Tell us more about yourself

I am a 27-year-old youth from Mukuru focused on uplifting the lives of fellow youth living in the slums in my own small capacity. Having been born and raised in Mukuru slums, I understand the challenges that youth in slums face.

Due to high poverty levels, most of them do not pursue education; instead they end up in crime to make a living. Those that are educated cannot be employed by the companies nearby due to Mukuru’s bad reputation.

What measures have you taken to impact youth in slums? In 2013, along with two of my friends we started Mukuru Awards, an event that was aimed at appreciating the changemakers in our community.

This year we held the event on December 2. We did not have money to execute the idea, so we approached companies around Mukuru to support the event. Few companies supported us and we were able to buy trophies and organise the event .

What was the logic of this idea?

Crime levels in Mukuru at the time were ridiculously high. People would be robbed in broad daylight. Many youths ended up getting killed as police cracked down on the criminals.

Some of those killed were people I grew up with, which really saddened me. Even with the tainted image of Mukuru, I knew of other people who were doing positive things in the community. We wanted to celebrate them to help change perceptions about Mukuru.

What was it like growing up in Mukuru

I was raised by a single mother whose income as a kindergarten teacher was not enough to sustain my younger sister and I. I got through primary and secondary school through wellwishers who sponsored my education.

After completing high school in 2009, I joined Nairobits School of Media studies to study graphic design and got an internship. I later volunteered in a charitable organisation as a project officer.

The organisation gave me accommodation in Karen where it was based and the exposure totally changed my outlook on life. For the first time I understood that poverty and crime was not just something we ought to accept, but strive to change.

How do you settle on the people to award?

We award people that are impacting the community positively on a yearly basis. The community nominates various people in different categories; actors, artistes, people running charity organisations. A panel vets the applications, we shortlist and then give them back to the community to vote for them.

What does Mukuru initiative entail

After conducting the awards ceremony successfully, we wanted to find a way of engaging the community throughout the year. Together with my friends we founded Mukuru initiative in 2014.

We train youths on sexual and gender-based violence, social media, governance and offer mentorship. The organisation is registered as a community-based organisation and has 14 members who all work on voluntary basis.

I have since left my job to fully concentrate on the organisation. Doing online graphic designing jobs, mceeing and organising events are some of the ways I make a living.

The impact of your work?

More youths have been encouraged to start similar events around informal settlements, crime has decreased, and some of the award winners have landed scholarships.

The awards are helping show a positive side of Mukuru. Every two years we hold a festival where all the award winners showcase the projects or activities that were awarded.

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