Magazine article World of Work

A Nascent Youth Employment Movement in Kenya

Magazine article World of Work

A Nascent Youth Employment Movement in Kenya

Article excerpt

In sub-Saharan Africa millions of young workers are engaged in survival activities, mostly in the informal economy. Journalist Anne Holmes reports from Africa's second largest slum in Kenya, where cooperatives and green jobs help address the youth employment challenge. With ILO support, the development of cooperatives is a priority of the national action plan for youth employment in Kenya.

In Kenya, cooperatives are helping youth lift themselves out of poverty. Youth cooperatives have created jobs through projects in community gardens, processing waste for biofuel or sanitation.

Victor Matioli, 34, is one of the beneficiaries of these projects. In the community greenhouse, he has already a project in place that is creating jobs for youth.

He explains how the Youth Reform Greenhouse Organic Farm came into being: "Since the post-election violence is the day that we started farming. We came with the idea of joining the youth together and rehabilitating them to do good things."

During post-election violence three years ago, young people were tearing up the railroad tracks that run through Kibera, furious over the lack of jobs and sky-high unemployment. Thousands of idle young women and men took to the streets to disrupt and burn the businesses and houses of perceived members of the economically advantaged.

Today, residents have rebuilt their communities, and the hustle and bustle within the informal settlement has shifted from frustrated violence to productive work. Out on Kibera's main artery, a car wash business is teeming with energy. Gabriel Owino manages the cooperative enterprise he started with a group of friends 10 years ago and also oversees a mechanics shop next to the spring.

"These people have their own qualifications for work. Some come and go and get good jobs," he says. "There are people who are going to school. There are people who have certificates here, and they don't have jobs so we keep ourselves busy, out of (the) streets."

Flying toilets

One of the main challenges in these settlements is the lack of proper sanitation services. "Flying toilets," polyurethane bags used for defecation and thrown by the wayside, pollute the landscape, and the lack of proper sewage systems lead to public latrines becoming blocked, often overflowing when the rains come.

"The major problem in Kibera is toilets and showers," says Mr Matioli. "People don't have them." This gap in public services has stimulated one of the more stable employment opportunities for Kibera residents who decided to take matters into their own hands.

The Umande Trust, an organization sponsored by the ILO's Cooperative Facility for Africa through its Challenge Fund, is one of the most innovative groups involved. They employ largely youth or womens' groups to build and operate what they call "bio centres", public latrines that use bio-base from processed human waste to heat water for the public showers. The gas is also sold to local residents for cooking.

"We are looking now at the human waste as an investment that can produce bio-gas, and this is a clean form of energy. We are able to harness that and ensure that we are providing a dignified, clean form of sanitation services to the community," says Paul Muchire, Communications Manager at Umande Trust. "Remember this is methane, and methane is more harmful than carbon, therefore, when you burn that methane you reduce the degree of harm it will cause to the environment."

Umande has over 50 similar centres throughout Kenya that are run by independent community groups. …

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