The Practical Radical

Nairobi Reflection #4 – Up with Hope! Down with Poverty | July 17, 2010


This is an update from the Up with Hope folks working in Kenya.

Some brief background – the genesis of Up with Hope was the Environmental Youth Alliance‘s project with the Soweto Youth Group in Kibera, a slum in Nairobi with a population of almost 1 million people. Three EYA folk, interns Sean and Justin and manager Karun, worked with SYG headed by Sammy Ataly to build a waste management/recycling centre.

The Kibera Waste Management Centre

The following is a CBC story on their work.

Following the success from the building of the first Centre, Justin, Shawn began to work with other communities in Nairobi to do the same thing, and Up with Hope was born. Nathaniel (who wrote the story below) came out to help them carry on once they went home.

One thing we (being myself, EYA, and UN-HABITAT) have learned in doing work in East Africa through the One Stops, is that the youth there, who make up sometimes more than 70% of the population, are both entrepreneurial and innovative. One area that they often gravitate towards is working in anything to do with products that can be generated from the “waste stream”, that being anything that is at the end use of human consumption. So, everything happens here from the recycling of tin/paper/plastics to the gathering of coal dust to re-compress into charcoal briquettes – and this is not just in East Africa, but is as well a global phenomenon. For example, the Dharavi slum in Mumbai is described as a “thriving business centre propelled by thousands of micro-entrepreneurs who have created an invaluable industry – turning around the discarded waste of Mumbai’s 19 million citizens.”

Clearly this form of entrepreneurship is a model of sorts yet  it should be perhaps described as a “model of necessity”. One half the world’s population now live in cities and one out of three urban dwellers (approximately 1 billion people)  live in slums. Work like this is clearly entrepreneurial, yet is still back-breaking and unhealthy work done out of necessity in communities which have no services such as garbage collection and proper sanitation. Practical and immediate, for sure, yet it must be seen as only one step along the way to true social, environmental and economic sustainability in these communities.

It is great that Up with Hope is providing this important practical first step. I love Justin’s way of describing how they work:

“We work backwards,” explained Sekiguchi, “A lot of organizations go to these places and try to change people. They try to push programs that are built on North American perspectives. What we do is go and find community groups that are missing one piece of the puzzle, and we provide that missing piece, such as money and education. We’re not trying to be the whole puzzle.”

This is in my experience the best form of development – building from the bottom up based on local knowledge, skills and action.

If you want to read more about them go to ‘Up With Hope’ Addresses Waste Management Issues in Kenya Through Three East Vancouver Guys and the Environmental Youth Alliance article in the Vancouver Observer.

Please read their Up With Hope blog post below and support them if you can through donating to the EYA.

Down By The Riverrr

Saturday, 17 July 2010

I have made a conscious decision with this blog to not bore everyone with constant updates about our recycling businesses. I do on the other hand, know that people are generally interested in what it is here at Up With Hope that we do

I think I should take a couple seconds to tell people where we have come since we started in 2007. I’d first like to thank all the people who have helped share this blog with their friends, family and colleagues. If you are reading this and I don’t know you, you’re my new friend. Feel free to say hi.

We currently have two operational recycling centres in Nairobi. It has been an absolutely mind-blowing experience working with everyone in Nairobi trying to get these businesses off the ground. There have been so many obstacles in our way that have made things no easier for us, and at times I laugh at myself for working so hard to get a business going that I will never financially benefit from. That laughter doesn’t last very long once I think about how much I have learned since we started this project. Yesterday Kaka told me that if it hadn’t been for me they would have given up already and that I have really given them moral, basically making my whole life worth while.

From racist cartels and a corrupt city council we have worked with a lot of odds against us. Up With Hope is not a large organization by any means, the project was initiated by a bunch of broke guys who started off knowing absolutely nothing about development work, which looking back on is really screwed up, but funnily enough we had the right formula and both centres have now been selected as beneficiaries for funding by UN-HABITAT and OXFAM as well as other support from local and international NGO’s. We new we had the right formula when we tried to tackle joblessness and environment in the same punch.

I am confident that if I left tomorrow the businesses would keep running with out me. The question is, do I want to? The answer is hell no. It’s too much fun grinding, welding, sorting, sweating, bleeding and all sorts of hedonistic things. We say here with this job “You have to love this work”. We’ve had a lot of volunteers come and go, they don’t really enjoy wading in trash. I have a huge vision with the people I work with and I want to work with them to attain it. The groups I am working with are some of the best people I’ve ever met and when we started this project my biggest fear was that the businesses would never go anywhere. Thanks to the scrupulous selection of the people we work with I know that our work will never go to waste. RECYCLING IS GREAT.

By the way Up With Hope is always accepting donations. We can always buy more plastic!

Today’s theme is life by the river.



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1 Comment »

  1. This blogger couldnt have put it any better. I remember meeting three young westerners, who were eager to visit Kibera. It was easy for me do dismiss them as tourists taking a detour from the beaten tourist track ,to go to kibera ,get a picture and a story to tell when back home… prove to their friends they realy came to africa and actually went to kibera. If i was emnbarrased, i never showed. Its good i never did for the ” tourists” not only visited kibera again and again but engaged with people on a more personal level than i had expected.with ne benefit of prior experience and an environment poisoned by Big NGO money, poison that manifested it self in the sickening sense of entitlement, the “tourist” managed to be on first name basis with with many youth especially from Soweto youth group. The rest is history.My day out as a “tour guide” stretched into almost two years of involvement in watse management business. Three waste management centres have been built in Nairobi benefiting close to 50 young people and almost half that number trained in business skills.This couldnt have happened if the ‘tourists’ hadnt rolled their sleves ands hand in hand with their peers in Kibera, Makadara and Mathare, waded into the murky world of waste management.ofcourse there are those ideal things you hope to achieve and so did the “tourists”, but then things dont work like that….unforeseen challenges and situations a rising, and you have to respond to that with money and deeds. That is what Sean, Justin and Nathaniel Have been doing…And i thought they were tourists escaping from harsh winter!!

    Comment by patrick Ominde — July 26, 2010 @ 9:51 am


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