The Covid-19 pandemic has changed lives in a manner never anticipated. Economy, politics, culture, environment, and all spheres of human endeavours have been disrupted and foreseeably, for good.
Amidst the tough times, the Kazi Mtaani hygiene programme launched last year by president Uhuru Kenyatta is significant. It presented an opportunity to rethink a new way of living in slum areas across urban cities in the country. Economic, political and social systems that have held the world for generations have come down tumbling.
The main goal of the initiative by the government was to protect the most vulnerable youths in the informal settlements from the adverse effects of Covid-19. The president extended Kazi Mtaani last month following an outcry from youths in the country. Evidently the program has improved and acted as a turning point for a number of youths who have now been able to employ themselves from the fortunes of the program.
In Mitume slum within Kitale town, Trans Nzoia County, I meet Hellen a beneficiary of the first phase of Kazi Mtaani ready to open her Chemist. She sets her Chemist for the day before we get into our interview.
" This is a slum area and happened to be strategic place for my business. The number of chemists around here as seen are countable. That's why I opted to settle my business here," says Hellen Wesa.
Enrolled during the first phase of Kazi Mtaani a hygiene programme by the government, Hellen decided to save her 11 days’ earnings from the programme to better her life since she's a single mother of two.
" This was well thoughts by the president for the youths. Before Kazi Mtaani I was an off business and surviving like a free bird," she laughs. " When the opportunity presented itself I responded early enough and luckily I got a position and that's when my journey of serious savings started, " she explaines.
Kazi Mtaani operates in two groups, each in shift of 11 days with a supervisor who runs and watch over the operations undertaken by the participants. With the program majorly focused on the youths in slum areas the initiative was timely considering the fact that the ongoing pandemic changed the entire global system and altered a number of economies.
"Last year after the lockdown and curfew it was very difficult to even get three meals of the day. I entirely depended on selling of Mitumba, second hand clothes, after the lockdown and closure of the open-air markets in town was even worse. The initiative was an opportunity for many of us to improve and have food at the table." says Hellen.
Hellen did not waste an opportunity with a single sent she worked for everyday, with not being sure when the country will be declared Corona free, she had to plan herself out with the little from the government's aid.
"The first earnings were an indication for me that I could make it big from the earnings and the little I earned from the clothes I sold. I started saving little by little and opted for a Chemist around here because I believed one cannot go wrong when it comes to healthcare provision in an area like Mitume." She further said.
With a starting stock of Ksh. 16,000, Helen started her Chemist that is since doing better and earnings and has employed someone to keep watch for her half-day as she tackles other errands in the farm that she leased from the profits of the chemists and the savings from Kazi Mtaani.
" I didn't see myself as an employer. Now I have employed someone who works from 8am-5pm in the evening as I ran other things. I leased a farm at the cost of Ksh. 4,000 in Kabolet at the out of town, planted beans that I used to increase my stock and now that it's planting season for maize approaching, I'm preparing just like any other farmer to plant as the rainy season approaches." She said.
Business in slum areas being active at around late evenings, Hellen says she makes lots of sales during the evenings and prefers to be around by herself and hopes to expand her business and get little of nursing classes before she opens up her own clinic.
Not far from her, we meet Eliud Wafula a supervisor at Milimani participants doing cleanliness of trenches around the area. He finishes the day before he starts talking to us. He has been a supervisor for the both phases.
" This how we live everyday ever since the Kazi Mtaani began. My day starts at 8am and by 12 noon I go and do my personal stuffs," says Eliud.
Eliud who started manufacturing homemade soaps from the Kazi Mtaani savings and now gets both local and large scale demands from around Kitale town. He with a team of four who now forms the team of his employees supply soaps majorly liquid to their customers.
"Since I have to be at work by 8am since we start cleaning around the designated station, I had to look for a team that I trained how to make and by the time I'm done we start delivering around the demands placed and sell to locals around my neighbourhood. I started small with orders majorly around until I utilized social media and started sending pictures of my soap and started getting much orders that I don't regret," he adds.
Schools, small private hospitals and children's home have been his major and regular customers who will order for soaps in large quantities due to the nature of their operations,boosted his morale increasing the team to help him move around markets and supply on time to his customers.
" I did marketing for the first time with free samples on primary schools around here in Milimani who were impressed with soap and started ordering in large amounts. The closure of schools will somehow affect business till when they re-open," he explains.
Evident that lives for Hellen Wesa mad and Eliud Wafula having changed for good since the start of Kazi Mtaani and having employed others from their fortunes shows the greater importance of the government initiative during this tough economic times that it was a productive and successful.
" Definitely things changed, I'm able to comfortably pay my bills and manage my business at the e same time. It was a chance for every youth determined to succeed. I'm glad it was extended,and from second phase that was renewed few weeks ago, I'm saving to enroll for a nursing course," says Hellen.
"I'm way much better and happy at the same time that I was able to employ fellow youths. This program should be made continuous. It was a great initiative by the government as compared to loans that are said to be available for youths with so much difficulty in accessing the money," adds Eliud.
Unemployment rate among youths in the country becoming a major challenge; according to the Kenya National Bureau Statistics (KNBS)as of 2020, unemployed youths are 7.2%. With the general unemployment rate standing at 2.98% in 2020 according to World Bank. 80% of the unemployed youths in the country are aged below 35 years. The Kazi Mtaani has offered a Chance for youths to create employment for themselves and even employing others. Evidently that Kazi Mtaani has improved lives for many youths in the slums in informal Urban centers, With Hellen and Eliud having transformed their lives from the programme.