Have a question or a concern that we don’t address here? Contact one of our directors and we’ll answer your question as best as possible.
I have questions about how everything is being represented here – I’m concerned about whose voice is coming through on this website. Why does it feel like Andrew and Nush aren’t speaking for the enterprise themselves?
(a note from Matt)
Andrew and Nush have a big job to do in Eldoret. I can’t be on the ground standing with them all the time, much as I wish I could. This is just a reality. One thing I can do from a distance to ease their work load is write, which I happen to know how to do. Andrew and Nush asked me to do the writing for the website for the sake of professionalism, noting that their aptitude in English, while strong, wouldn’t allow them to convey everything they might want to.
It was something we wrestled over a lot. How to represent an organization when legitimacy and authority demand seemingly conflicting expectations around both professional communication and “voices on the ground”. It’s one of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” type of situations.
At the beginning of this process, Andrew and Nush and I would meet at a cafe and write everything down together. The idea, the structure and the spirit of Nyumbani belong to and originated from Andrew and Nush. I was invited into the conversation. We built on one another’s enthusiasm and crafted the organization based on their understanding of daily life in Eldoret.
Andrew and Nush write the first draft of all our reports based on daily/weekly journaling input from the boys; I do the second draft and send it back to Andrew and Nush to make sure I have accurately represented what they were trying to say. This website is the same.
The voices of people in, from, and of Eldoret are at the front, always, even if it is my English you are reading.
How do you identify someone who is ready to get off the streets?
We have space for ten boys, and we are still in the process of recruiting to full capacity. As of September 2011, five of the ten spots have been filled, and we will be sharing their stories on the website shortly. We have a number of criteria to consider carefully when recruiting street youth for a programme like this:
- Those who demonstrate a willingness to change: We talk to the street youth. We have been with them for a while. We know their condition, their lives. A young person may say they want to change, but not feel it and be committed to it in their hearts. When a young person approaches us and asks us, “what can I do to change my life?” This is the first indication that we have found the right person. Through extensive counselling, we uncover what they are interested in doing with their lives. If their interests fit with the opportunities we provide, then they are considered.
- Age: We abide by Kenya’s child labour laws. In Kenya, a person is considered a child until the age of 18 and are not eligible for formal employment. Also, the transition to adulthood in Kenya often marks a time when an individual is meant to be self-reliant and ready for a certain set of responsibilities. Legal adults have different wants and needs from those of children, and these are not always catered for by street children’s organizations in Eldoret. Additionally, the services available to individuals over the age of 18 and living on the street are far fewer in Eldoret than those available to children.
- Those in need of shelter: Street children and youth have various ways of finding shelter. Some have arrangements with friends or family members for shelter. Some are willing to work in exchange for shelter. Others have no place to go at the end of the day. A youth who says, “I will do anything to get off the street and have a roof over my head”, has a need we are looking to provide for.
- Those in need of counselling: When the youth are not taking care of the animals, there is lots of time to talk to them, supervise and encourage them. Our two Kenyan directors are trained social workers as well, and maintain their own businesses separate from Nyumbani; they are also former street children themselves, and so have first-hand experience of life in the streets and the arduous climb out. After their initial counselling, they can also make referrals to some of the other counselors in the community who have specific skills to help us better understand the individual and their needs. Through counselling we can better understand who is whom; we can know their story and we can grow together much more effectively as peers.
- Those who have poor chances of succeeding in formal education: Someone who has never had the opportunity to go to school or has been out of school for a long time may find it incredibly difficult and stigmatizing to return back to basic primary education as an older person. Their experiences have not positioned them well to succeed in free primary schooling provided by the Kenyan government, or even in traditional vocational training programs. There is a need for learning and employment opportunities that are simple to do but that have room for new growth. Through counselling, supervision and training, youth can accept new responsibilities at their own pace.
- Youth who are committed to living drug-free: Our employees are required to abide by a set of guidelines that includes being drug-free while on the job. Part of counselling is to help youth overcome their crippling addictions to glue, petrol or other drugs. We understand that drug rehabilitation can be a long process, and we aim to create a comfortable and supportive environment in which youth can begin to confront these addictions and eventually sweep them away entirely.
- Those who are explicitly street dwellers rather than slum-dwellers: There are a lot of problems in slums, but the world of a street person is different from somebody who lives in a slum. People living in slums have shelter (however tenuous), but may lack other basic needs. Street children and youth have, in some cases, spent their entire lives on the streets. Part of our aim is to provide that basic need – that literal and figurative place called home.
- Those who demonstrate an interest in or a history of saving their money: In Kenya, the law states that an individual must be 18 to open a bank account. Although all of our youth are over the age of 18, one also needs sufficient collateral. We have opened a savings account in their names, and suggest that employees contribute a portion of their earnings to this account. The money remains theirs while they can learn about basic household finances. They can make individual withdrawals or pool their money to make collective financial decisions.
- Must possess a certain level of mental fortitude: Some individuals, unfortunately, have been so damaged by years of untreated mental conditions, inhaling solvents or doing other drugs that they require more assistance than we can provide. An individual who cannot perform the basic functions required to raise animals will have major challenges in most other aspects of their life and could work against efforts to provide a collective, supportive environment for transformation. In such cases, we do everything we can to make appropriate referrals to other services and housing opportunities.
- Desire to start one’s own life beyond Nyumbani: Individuals are welcome to stay in our shelter as long as necessary to get on their feet. However, they should not plan to stay forever. We try to encourage individuals to move out after a period of time, start paying their own rent, and begin their own lives. Nobody will be asked to leave the shelter simply because some arbitrary amount of time has passed.
- (For the time being) we employ individuals who are both male and single: Somebody who is married or who has children and is living on the streets should not be discriminated against. However, families have different needs from individuals, and mixing families and individuals together can create complications counterproductive to our aims. As we are just initiating this programme, we have a minimum level of resources available, and we do not currently have the space or resources to cater for families. As such, males who are married or in a committed relationship will not be sleeping at the centre, but we can still consider employing them, and these cases will be addressed should they arise. Male members of families may be employed, but not housed by Nyumbani. In such cases, we do everything we can to make appropriate referrals to other services and housing opportunities. See below for reasons why we currently only consider housing and employing men.
Why do you not house or employ women?
Although and perhaps because we are sensitive to issues of gender and gender equity, there are a number of reasons we are currently unable to house or employ women. It should be stated that in no way are we trying to further marginalize women by benefiting only men:
- The sensitive nature of their needs: the reality when it comes to recovering street youth is that boys tend to have much lower demands in order to feel safe and comfortable. For unfortunate reasons, there tends to be more cause for worry if a woman is late arriving home than there is for a man, for example. The shelter we are offering is suitable for boys, and having a co-ed residence for unrelated individuals is both risky and culturally taboo.
- Gender norms and traditions in Kenya regulate interactions between men and women in different ways than in other parts of the world. The three directors are men and currently only one of us is married. It is inappropriate for 3 men to bring in 10 young girls off the street. It simply doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. As we are dealing with an incredibly vulnerable section of society, we want to be careful not to give impression of anything sinister. Also, our Kenyan directors being who they are, and being where they came from, a real strength of Nyumbani is how they can relate to the youth based on their own experiences. And some of that, perhaps a lot of that, would be lost if girls were brought in.
- We are dealing with people 18 and above: many street girls 18 and above have children. At the moment, we do not have the resources to support families, and so we are doing what we can for now.
- Culturally, men are traditionally the providers in the Kenyan family. Street youth in relationships might believe that we are trying to take women away by giving them employment and this can cause unnecessary conflict. It is important to empower women, but cultural change happens slowly.
- There are more boys than girls on the streets of Eldoret by an order of magnitude. Taking a boy off the streets has different (though not necessarily greater) impacts on society than taking a girl off the streets. A boy who is sheltered and employed is less likely to commit crime or violence, especially gender-based violence.
- Assisting boys directly or indirectly assists the boy’s extended family in different ways than it might a girl’s.
- N.B.: we have future plans to create an enterprise for girls, but with current resources and other factors listed above, the most sensible decision socially as well as economically is to cater for boys.
Can former street youth still access affordable health care?
Street children and youth in Eldoret can access basic health care services including counselling for free through the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital (MTRH) and other childrens’ services. But what about those with low incomes who are no longer living on the streets?
Employed youth can obtain an identification card from the National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF – google and add link). For a fee of 250 shillings per month (less than $3 Canadian) youth receive basic health insurance, meaning that individuals once admitted are not charged hospital admin fees, lodging and basic drugs and services. This programme ensures that our youth remain safe and healthy, and helps us minimize healthcare expenses.
In addition to support from our Kenyan directors, who are trained social workers, there are also counselors who waive bills for low-income individuals needing assistance. Expensive health care procedures such as surgery have associated costs, and are provided for on a sliding scale based on income. We maintain a suitable contingency fund in the event of emergencies.
Are employees paid a fair wage compared to the directors?
Starting base salaries for youth are commensurate with what others in a similar situation would be paid for doing the same or comparable work, although this is of course to some extent depending on sales revenues (which is dependent on things like death loss of animals).
The cost of living in Kenya is comparatively low, and for a street person, the salary provided is more than enough to cater for basic needs. This salary will enable them to cover their other needs, such as transportation, food expenses, and leave them with some savings. We are also attuned to the recent trend of rising costs of certain staple foods, and can make adjustments accordingly.
Additionally, our youth can gain added commission, so as to encourage things like good behaviour, hard work, and finding new customers. We believe in meritocracy, and Nyumbani is one that incentivizes performance without being cut throat and firing the poorer achievers.
Considering also that our youth don’t pay for accommodation (including utilities), and any major healthcare expenses are covered (think of this as job “benefits”, this wage is around the average per capita income in Kenya. Their salaries can increase over time as the business grows and stabilizes.
The bottom line is that this is a social enterprise – we are not running a sweatshop. Realistically, you don’t need thirteen people to run an outfit like this (three directors and ten youth). As such, the number of hours worked in a day per individual is much lower than it would be if there were two or three people working full-time. We are trying to provide a decent fresh start for a decent number of individuals, rather than focusing closely on worker efficiency.
The directors don’t make a huge profit. We are youth ourselves with a desire to provide ten young people with the basic dignity of a safe home and meaningful employment. It’s a matter of opportunity cost – if our directors were in it for the money, they would be maximizing business, or they would simply be elsewhere.
We have made an investment to try to address a need in our community that was not previously being addressed. Our Kenyan directors are paid modestly for their skills and services, supervision and guidance; our Canadian director, once initial expenses have been recovered, recycles most of the profits back into addressing the future goals of the project. Our major business values include transparency, accountability and social responsibility.
See our financial reports (forthcoming once the project launches) or contact one of our directors if you have any questions about finances.
What are the living quarters like?
As of July 2011, the land has been purchased and construction has just begun. We plan to have the compound ready to house ten boys and to launch operations in September of 2011. Lodging is modest (separated from the animal shelters) and the boys share beds, but unlike some other parts of the world, it is not taboo for people of the same sex to share a bed. The compound has latrines and potable water, and we are hoping to be able to afford electricity in the future. Lodging is semi-permanent, so quarters can be upgraded if necessary. Check back for photos documenting the entire process.
Are the animals well taken care of?
Healthy, happy animals create better profits – this is a simple reality. But beyond that, our ethics guide us to create a comfortable, happy living environment, and to process the animals for sale using the most dignified and painless means available. How customers treat animals once they leave our hands in the event of the sale of live animals is beyond our control.
Are you duplicating existing services?
No. There are many services for children available, but not many specifically targeting individuals over age 18. Since many street children will become street adults one day, there is lots of room for services such as this one without overlap. Many existing services give children basic levels of support to ensure their survival; some provide housing and educational opportunities, others do not. We are teaching young adults how to earn a living, and putting a roof over their head. Our aim is not to work at cross-purposes with other organizations in Eldoret, or to steal funding dollars – our business model allows us to be self-sustaining and income generating. The number of street children in Eldoret continues to grow, the gap in existing services also risks growing bigger. We remain in open communication with our peers in the community to ensure services are not duplicated and to keep relationships smooth.
What considerations have you made for social and environmental sustainability?
As individuals move towards independence from Nyumbani, we are there to support their transition. This includes, for example, helping them start their own similar business in another location by selling pigs to them at an affordable price. We will be there to help monitor and evaluate and support them as they begin enterprises of their own. This project and its youth employees can also act as a model for their peers, and can be a valuable teaching tool for residents of Eldoret and guests alike.
Although there are structural barriers in Kenya that make things like proper waste disposal challenging, environmental sustainability is part of our philosophy. This includes the ethical treatment of animals as well as ecosystem approaches to animal management. For example, we are currently working with our neighbours in the community to have our pigs available to plow and fertilize newly harvested fields (pigs love eating stalks, roots and soil itself, and can “plow” fair sized tracks of land without human labour). Chicken droppings can also be used to fertilize nearby crops.
Do you face any issues with tribalism?
Kenya is still recovering from the 2008 post-election violence that killed between 800-1500 people and displaced 180-250,000. We are working with a very sensitive group of people who come from different ethnocultural backgrounds, often with no common origin. As such, we try to minimize the effects of tribalism. Land is a very sensitive subject in Kenya. When you are developing a project in someone else’s place, you risk creating ethnic tension with potential perceptions of ethnic encroachment. These issues are of course, in part, a relic of colonialism in Kenya. In some way, they will always be present. But with the new Kenyan Constitution (promulgated as of August 2010), steps have been taken to address these issues.
The words “social enterprise” mean a lot in terms of transcending these differences. With official government documents supporting our work, we expect these issues to be minimal. Through counselling and discipline, the boys will be trained to operate sensitively in their host community. We are also starting with a smaller, manageable number of youth. We are there to change behaviours and build livelihoods, not to interfere with anybody’s community. In case of indiscipline, we have a system of warnings in place. If an individual needs to be dismissed, this is an option, but it is the last option.