Monday, December 1, 2008

KENYA Day 4, Monday, December 1, 2008

Today I went to the slums of Nairobi for the first-time and it was such an uplifting experience.

That may seem like an odd statement and my emotions from today are so high that it may even be hard for me to explain.

I must start out here by saying that I am tired. It is getting late and training starts tomorrow. So I may leave some holes and some questions, but please be assured that I will try to fill in those holes throughout this week. However, I have to share some points about my day despite the late hour at night.

Today we did site visits to some of the homes and businesses of girls who are going to be in our training program this week. We visited two girls that are in a program conducted by TechnoServe (

Maggie sells water (for 2 shillings a jug—about a quarter) and Queen works with her aunt in a hair salon. Maggie and her two-year-old son live in one room and it is obvious that it is cherished and taken care of with great pride. Lace curtains and beautiful embroidered couch cushions are just a few of the special touches.

But I was particularly impressed when Maggie reached under her mattress to show us her ledger. She had been keeping track of her sales for two months. She shows sales and expenses for each day. But most impressively, she also shows SAVINGS for each day. She is saving over 1,000 shillings a month.

She said she learned how to do all this—her ledger and to save—through the TechnoServe program (which is funded by the Nike Foundation). Maggie said before her training with TechnoServe, she spent the extra money on snacks, but now she understands the importance of saving.


It was quite a walk from the main road and entrance to the slum—and local bus stop—to Queen’s home. I mention this because sometimes when Queen goes to training programs she gets back after dark. Our chaperones from TechnoServe told us how unsafe this area of the slum in particular is at night, and they are concerned about how far Queen has to walk from the bus stop.

The entire time we are walking through the “streets” the young children are running up to us and saying “How are you?” It is a chorus of “How are you?” “How are you?” “How are you?” the entire afternoon! Maggie told me that these are the first English words that children learn. Many reach out to shake our hand. Pauline Mwangi, Entrepreneurship Manager for TechnoServe (and a graduate of a Vital Voices-Fortune program) said most of these children have probably never seen a white person.

There were many ducks on one street. Maggie told me the ducks belong to her cousin, who sells the ducks as a business. I asked her how her cousin can be sure the ducks aren’t stolen? Maggie said, “It is very hard to steal a duck. If someone tries to steal a duck, the duck quacks very loudly so my cousin knows and can come out and get the duck before the person can get away with it.” To Maggie, I’m sure it seemed like a funny question, because the answer is so practical.

We went to a meeting that about 10 girls had for the TechnoServe program. Maggie is the leader with a girl named Florence as the assistant leader. I was extremely impressed with both of the girls’ leadership skills. Since I had not met Florence earlier, she was a welcome surprise. She kept Maggie focused on the agenda, paid attention to staying on track of time and was not afraid to disagree if she did not think plans were practical.

Florence said, “We will be seen as very important now in our community because we have two white women that came to meet with us.”

Florence was also drop dead gorgeous. When I mentioned this on the ride back to the hotel, Pauline told me that Florence’s past included prostitution, but she had quit that and was working hard to stay away from it. TechnoServe had set up a sales internship for Florence and Pauline said she did an outstanding job.

After the meeting Florence came up to me and asked for my email address. She told me she wanted to email me and keep in touch. I was extremely honored that this bright young woman had an interest in me, this 52-year-old stranger from America. I look forward to corresponding with her and really hope she writes to me.

The girls’ group scheduled an acting class that would start the following week. Part of the purpose of the acting class is to use it as a recruiting tool to get other girls to join their group. They also discussed topics for the play they wanted to write and put together. I gave them a goal. I will be back in Kenya in March. I wanted to see their play in March. The girls, and Cyprian Amakulu, our driver and an intern with TechnoServe who works with this specific group, assured me that it would happen.

On the way back to the hotel, I asked Pauline what the goal was with these groups, which TechnoServe has set up all over Nairobi. Is it to get the girls out of the slums? Or is it as simple as trying to build up their self-esteem? Is it to help them grow a business and get a better life?

Pauline said the goal is to show the girls the options that are out there in the world. One option might be entrepreneurship. Another one might be to save money and provide a better life for your child, even if it is within the same community. This answer was so impressive to me. If the goal was to get the girls out of the slums, it may seem too far-reaching and discouraging. To build their self-esteem would not be enough. This goal makes perfect sense.

The three-day training that Vital Voices is doing for the Nike Foundation starts tomorrow. For more information on this program, go to


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