Kids living in one of Nairobi's 183 slums

 

February 27th 2009, 12:30

The next Monday, just like the rest of you, we were at work for 9am. And, as working weeks do all over the world, they have flown by. As I type, we are approaching the end of our four weeks. During that time, we have been privileged to see both how the trust works and the good that it does, as well as being exposed to what doesn’t work so well, i.e. the problems associated with unreliable power supplies, poor internet connections and a general lack of IT knowledge and experience. 

Alex proved useful immediately, providing guidance with the website, cleaning thousands (seriously) of viruses off all the computers and being general IT man. It wasn’t so immediately easy for me to find a way to be useful. But after chatting with the organisation's managers, it became clear that their weakness was with reporting. The team were amazing on the field, where they knew what they were doing, but as soon as they got to the computer to report on it, they felt compelled to write War And Peace, the only thing more daunting than reading it. So, they had a lot of wordy, incomplete and largely useless reports that led to errors in reporting to donors. The worst problem was that all the good work being done was not being recorded, remaining a story untold.

 

After researching documentation, speaking to the teams, and visiting the projects, I provided them with a format to make reporting simpler and more structured and wrote up several case studies for inclusion in the organisation's annual review. I've also been involved in helping them with their reporting system and finding a way of tying up their financial reporting with their activities and, in doing so, I’ve been able to gain an invaluable insight to their operations, an experience that has really impressed me, and for which I’m very grateful. 

Pamoja’s overriding concern is to provide slum dwellers with security of tenure – protection from forced eviction. A critical part of Pamoja’s operation, and the first step in any of the endeavours they undertake, is to recruit settlement dwellers into savings schemes in a structure known as Muungano. They encourage dwellers to put any surplus cash they have into the scheme, no matter how small. That money can then be used as collateral for obtaining loans for various needs that fit within a set of criteria, usually for housing development or the provision of basic services. The theory – and practice - is that people are more likely to commit to a project when they've put their own money towards it and it provides a means of finance that banks will not give them. 

Pamoja’s involvement is always triggered in response to a threat (forced eviction) or opportunity (the provision of basic services such as water or electricity) and is, therefore, always made in response to a specific need. That need is communicated to the specific community, sometimes for the first time, during the effort to recruit them to the savings scheme. It’s probably best to explain with a specific example. 

Kosovo is a settlement in a slum called Mathare. Mathare is a particularly volatile slum, and I got the impression that the word volatile was used very much as a euphemism. There is a dispute over the land occupied by the slum – the dwellers claim it is their land, as do private developers. This is possible because, in some cases, slum dwellers have been living on the land since before Kenya achieved independence. Originally, the land on which most of the settlements have developed had been public land, which was then sold to private developers. This was done illegally, but because the government did it, the term illegal has been largely academic. 

This has meant that NGOs such as Pamoja Trust have received an antipathetic reaction in Mathare on the assumption that they are working in the interests of private developers. Pamoja Trust had their first opportunity to establish a Muungano presence in a settlement in Mathare when authorities cut off water supply in an effort to curb gang activities. It became critical for the inhabitants of Kosovo to show exactly how many inhabitants had been cut off in the process. 

This is why the next step in Pamoja’s work is enumerations; working out exactly how many there are of inhabitants, households, structures, structure owners, tenants etc. In doing this, they end up with data that no other authority or agency has. To do this, Pamoja recruit inhabitants from the settlement to form teams to undertake structure numbering, enumerations and mapping. Those teams then train new teams in neighbouring settlements. This is not just because there are 183 slums in Nairobi and only 16 Pamoja Trust staff. It’s to ensure that the inhabitants themselves own both the data and the digital map, complete with geographical data, produced as a result. 

In the case of Kosovo, the numbering system itself, where each structure is given a number (slums don’t provide inhabitants with addresses), conducted over two days, was enough to persuade the authorities and water company to lay down pipes with taps as an emergency supply that was provided free of charge. In fact, when the Pamoja team went back to verify the map they’d produced, they had to update it to include the pipes that had already been laid down. The final digital map helped the water company find the best positions for the pipes and water meters to be situated that would result in a water service that is vastly improved on the one that had originally been switched off. 

Pamoja’s philosophy is rooted to empowering the community, enabling them to achieve their own goals, rather than doing it for them. In Kambi Moto, a settlement that has nearly completed upgrading into structures that you and I can recognise as houses, inhabitants were involved from the ‘house dreaming process’ at the beginning right through to constructing their own houses. I was interested to hear the comment made that slum dwellers are like the middle class – they don’t really know their neighbour and often don’t know about the issues that are affecting them all. Simply by numbering the houses, Pamoja noticed that they were already able to engender a sense of community that can be used to achieve common goals and fight common threats. 

An interesting paradox emerged. A Moroccan team visiting to learn about Pamoja’s theory and practice said they would not have been able to achieve the same results because they would not have been authorised to carry out their own enumerations. It seems that the problems caused to Kenyan slum dwellers by an uninterested government could be solved by the community itself precisely because of the government’s lack of interest.

And if I had known anything at all about IT, given the number of problems they have with it, I might not have been able to find all that out.

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