Empowering vulnerable women in a Nairobi slum

Nearly 2.5 million people live in poverty in the slums and urban areas of Nairobi, Kenya. They lack the basic necessities of life, including adequate housing, clean water, and sanitation services. Educational opportunities are negligible. All kinds of diseases run rampant throughout the communities. The scarcity of jobs complicates every problem.

There are nine distinct slum areas in Nairobi. The Kangemi slum has a population of about 250,000 people.

The parish of St. Joseph the Worker was established in Kangemi in 1985; two Irish Jesuits have been parish priests there – the current pastor, Fr. Michael Kyalo, is a Kenyan Jesuit. Over 65% of the parishioners are young people.

The Jesuit Development Office started just one year after the parish was established.  This Office coordinates all human development programmes such as education (basic education and technical college); health services (HIV/Aids and primary health care); women empowerment projects, youth activities, protection and care of the most vulnerable people in the slum.

Women and children

The Kangemi slum is home to a large number of single-parent families, most of them are women who bear the brunt of all social ills and are often subject to economic, social and cultural exploitation. Despite their oppression they are always ready to respond to and participate in poverty alleviation programmes which are offered and funded through the Jesuit Development Office and other NGOs. 

An innovative project for women.

The most vulnerable women are those suffering from HIV/Aids, single women, those experiencing domestic violence, those undergoing female genital mutilation, or those being economically exploited. As a way of supporting and enabling these women to become self sustaining the Jesuit Development Office initiated a project called the Dolli Craft Enterprise and the Women Sewing Project.

The aim of the project is to train young vulnerable women from the Kangemi slum in income generating programmes, such as sewing, doll making and craft work, so that they can start their own small industries and generate a reasonable income for themselves and their families. The project also offers counselling and other supports to build up the confidence of the vulnerable women involved.

The current goal is to buy more equipment and materials so that the number of trainees can be increased to 300 women each year.

These two projects currently employ and train 100 women.  They make thousands of dolls and other household decorations that are eventually sold to Canada, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland. Contact with those countries is made by the expatriate sisters who work in the slum.  The women also learn how to make church vestments, tourists clothing, African shirts and wares and from the proceeds of the sale they get paid.  After two months of training they graduate and are given a loan to start a small business in the market.

With funding the Centre could easily train 300 women and with more materials and equipment they could be more efficient, with production tripling in a short time.  The project also trains women in business skills, marketing skills, and simple book-keeping to prepare them to engage the outside market once they graduate.  In addition, they receive counselling and support to develop personal and community values which enhance their confidence and self esteem.

Of the 100 women currently undergoing training, 65% suffer from HIV/Aids. Some of the recent additions to the project are HIV/Aids education awareness, seminars, nutritional workshops, home-based care techniques and counselling pre and post checkups at a HIV Voluntary Testing Centre. During such sessions, the trainees are encouraged to share their experiences in small groups, how they are coping with this pandemic and how best they can be helped by this project.

The Development Office and the Women’s Group Association is the monitoring unit of the project.  Weekly reviews are carried out and the Director of the Development Office chairs quarterly financial and operational results. An end of year audit is carried out and regular reports submitted to donors and Jesuits who support the project. 

The project is non-profit and it depends entirely on donor financing; the Development Office is responsible for generating income from other sources. There are plans in place to approach the local government for funding for at least one year through what is called a Constituency Development Fund and as a church there is a very good chance of getting funded. 

Cost of the Project

The total cost of the project in 2008 was €96,887 of which €70,815 was provided by Misean Cara, a company set up by the Irish Missionary Union to disburse Development Aid to missionaries on behalf of the Irish Government. The remaining amount of €26,072 was donated by the Jesuits and friends.

If you would like to help us to continue to fund services to the vulnerable women in the Kangemi slum parish or in other places where the Irish Jesuit Mission Office serves, please send your contribution to:

Fr. John K. Guiney, Director, Jesuit Mission Office, 28 Upper Sherrard St. Dublin 1, Ireland. 

Tel:  (+ 353-1) 836 6509       
Fax: (+353-1) 836 6510

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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