Stories from the Field by Geoffrey Tam (F’20)

by jtijssen
Sep 13

During my first stakeholder meeting with Kwangu Kwako, Ltd. (KKL), I had the opportunity to meet Milka Achieng, a charismatic young woman who has grown up in Kibera’s Gatwekera neighborhood. Kibera is referred by many as Africa’s largest slum with an estimated population of around 250,000 people. Milka had worked with KKL on data collection in the past and would be helping me on this round of interviews as well.

Milka shared her experience living and working in Africa’s most infamous settlement, from the dynamics of power and justice to land ownership and education. While her community is unquestionably under-resourced, Milka received a free education up until secondary school via an NGO-operated program promoting girls’ education.

“It’s always girls,” she confided to me with a look, which I had trouble discerning between sheepishness and confusion, “There is nothing for the boys.” Now Milka works for a community-based organization named Diptop, which offers microloans as well as a leasing structure for motorcycles which are essentially the “taxis” of Kibera.

While Milka’s strong education, steady employment, and secure land tenure inherited from her father put her far ahead of many of her neighbors, she dreams of a better future for her and her young daughter, a future that she hopes will include a KKL house. When I asked her about her interest in a KKL house, she said, “It is always about fire. In Kibera, we fear fire and the security.”

Throughout my time in Nairobi, I was grateful to have Milka’s wit, warmth, and capability guiding me physically and socially as I blundered my way around the city asking questions.

Collecting data from current tenants was one of my top priorities for my field interviews, and Milka quickly introduced me to Maxwell, the Diptop employee currently living in the organization’s KKL structure. Before KKL came to Kibera, Maxwell lived on the same plot where he currently resides, although in a wholly different situation.

“The house where I lived before, it was a muddy house, not stable. It was dirty. It was not comfortable. I would fear to welcome a visitor in. It was very untidy. In the place where I used to stay, you can't even find somewhere to put your files because it's a muddy house. You can get your file maybe stole by a rat. You are very dirty. It was not comfortable,” he explained to me, clearly nervous of the camera that I had unceremoniously foisted in his face.

When I asked him about the most significant change he had experienced since moving in, Maxwell connected some dots that I would be hesitant to include on our impact page: “The biggest changes that I saw, I came in and I got married because now I can let someone inside. So now, I have a child. Before, I didn't feel comfortable because in a dirt house, I can't imagine even to have a girl visit me. I can ask some friends outside there to assist me to welcome my visitors. Now here even my friends, they just admire this house. They just want to bring their visitors to visit here to pretend that this is their house.”

While we are happy for Max here at KKL, we are still hesitant about promising the wife and baby sales package on our website.

George Mburu and his aunt each own seven structures in Nairobi’s Kawangware settlement. Although talking to our beneficiaries was important, it was equally key for me to gather feedback from our primary customers, the structure owners. KKL’s other primary presence in Nairobi is in the Kawangware settlement (featured in this UNICEF video) where I spoke to two structure owners, George Mburu and his aunt, Monica.

Despite some loan-related anxiety, I could tell from speaking with George that he was satisfied with the structures, especially compared to his previous ownership experience: “Many of the houses before were vacant and not in good condition. With the others, now you can see they are all full. Sometimes people shift, but we can't stay for long with them remaining vacant. At least they are in demand. It's not like what we had before with mabati houses. Before Kwangu Kwako, I could not afford to build good houses when people can come and be comfortable. I think everything with Kwangu Kwako--it's a life change.”

He also went on to mention the birth of his second daughter, pictured above, since working with KKL, so perhaps we should revisit advertising the wife and child package on our website after all!