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How social entrepreneurs are tackling poverty in Kenya

By Carol Kimari – YGAP Country Director, Kenya

With all of the studies available regarding Africa and Kenya in particular, one would think there is absolutely no hope of alleviating poverty and its related social ills. However, this is not the case. In the midst of bitter resentment, complaints and darkness portrayed by a misinformed, self-serving media, there are pockets of justice and good being propagated by individuals who refuse to live a world devoid of hope. These are the everyday heroes we should look to celebrate as they work tirelessly to bring Kenya out of dire straights.

Having been a social entrepreneur, I have experienced the many hurdles anyone working in business faces when trying to tackle poverty-related issues. It is a long, lonely road. Anyone willing to invest time, energy or resources into a business wants to see a significant return within three to five years. But this is not necessarily the case, or the target, for entrepreneurs seeking change in their communities. Rather than a return, they may be looking to provide employment for youth, alleviate disease, improve access to healthcare services or provide better living conditions in low socio-economic areas.

These are the reasons I have dedicated my life to helping my fellow Kenyans, through any means possible. It is not common for people looking to change lives to do so while also making money. Changing lives has always been associated with non-profit and NGO organisations. I believed otherwise, but I didn’t know how to go about it. Luckily, I came across Spark – who later merged with YGAP – and together, we are showing hundreds of passionate social entrepreneurs that they don’t have to die trying to save the world.

What does this mean for the economy? Suddenly, youth who were unemployed can find work and avoid spiralling into a life of crime, people are economically empowered and disease is radically reduced.

When some of these passionate entrepreneurs decide to tackle education-related injustices, be it female genital mutilation, a lack of sanitary education, or shortage of teachers, libraries or books, they work from the ground up. By improving access to education, they create sustainable ways of raising our children to become powerful levers for change.

We always say Kenya has a rich farming background, yet farmers remain some of our poorest members of society. Why? Because they lack markets, information and even the knowledge to produce globally acceptable crops. When our farmers are supported, we see phenomenal growth. Not only can they grow world-class crops, they can send their children to school and create jobs for the unemployed.

It is a well-rounded trip, the support of Social entrepreneurs and our dedication to supporting this group of powerful people will yield tangible results. In the end, people will realise it is the most effective way to alleviate poverty, over and above the standard, vanilla and socially accepted methods.

Of Non-Tooth Fairies And Teachers Failing Our Kids

shocked-womanLet’s get one thing out of the way, right off the bat. Junior is not young and naive any more. The things that used to fly with him no longer do. I discovered this in the most awkward way. The other day, he came home with one of his tooth pulled out. He had stored it in his now empty water bottle. He went ahead and asked me that since he has now learnt to pull out his teeth, whether I could put more money under his pillow. His ballpack figure was Kshs.100. Here’s some perspective for you. I always used to put Kshs.10 under his pillow as he slept, and we all went along playing the “tooth fairy” ruse. I have absolutely no idea when or wherefrom, that he discovered that I am the “tooth fairy” over and above the mother! Now here we are, tooth in hand and Junior asking for a raise of 900%. I, of course, am staring at him with this “deer in the headlights” look. Should I apologize for calling myself the “tooth fairy”? Should I send him to his room for extortion and playing dump for God knows how long?

Another thing we need to get out of the way is there is no better person to raise a child than a parent. That said, our generation is the working parent generation. This means that not only are we busy bringing home the bacon from 8am-5pm (ok this phrase is ridiculous how much bacon can people eat?), but we are also finding ourselves eating into more hours in our days, including weekends and public holidays (we Kenyans love these but we love money more). This means, no matter how much we wish to spend time with our children, they end up spending more time in school with the teachers. Thus, giving the teachers a responsibility to not only teach the children but also educate them in the ways of the world.

So Junior comes home last evening and as he dumps his heavy sack of books he asks to nobody in particular; (really sometimes he just throws questions out there for anybody to pick up and answer him) “why are girls treated better than boys?” The adults in the house look at one another and assumes he must be talking to himself (he has inherited this from me that’s why I know he was not swapped at the hospital). After realizing that we are all playing deaf, he repeats. This time, he throws the question to me. Now here, ladies and gentlemen, is where I have to be very careful how I handle this situation. We have already determined that fairy tales no longer works with this boy and even for candid talks, I am not interested in confusing him more than I have to. So I go ahead and ask him why he thinks this is the case.

The story goes that during break, one of the girls was trying to get the attention of some boys who were playing but the boys were so engrossed with play and they really did not have time to engage the poor girl. Wait, no. This girl is not to be referred to as the “poor girl” because as soon as one of the boys decided to dismiss her and tell her to go and find another game, the girl went ahead and kicked the boy! Yes, I know. At this point, the boy is nearly flying in a blind rage, but luckily, the teachers are always keeping a close watch on the children as they play, and SHE intervenes. Notice how I have capitalised her gender. You will see why. At this point, recess is cut short and said teacher is having a chat with the kids and what he tells them is that girls are delicate flowers and they should not be treated badly. Of course the boys start asking, “what if the girl hits a boy”? The teacher says that it should be reported.

Now, the above response, is, by all intents and purposes, the best and the teacher was right, up until then. Where she failed miserably is when she went ahead and told the children that girls cannot take care of them and it is everyone’s responsibility to take care of them. She then went ahead and said that boys are supposed to be strong and should not cry and when they get hurt, they should tough it out. They should not report everything that happens to them and they should be able to handle a little roughness. Agreed, they should be able to handle a little roughness. But who said that they should be treated different than boys? Is it a wonder that today’s male figure is feeling left out? That the girl child is getting all the attention? Does that mean that men do not have issues that should be equally addressed? What happens when that boy grows up and he has to interact with society? Do you think he will have the same understanding he would have had if he would have received all the care and attention that he needed when he was young?

Back to Junior and I. I painstakingly took time to inform him that it is true, boys tend to be stronger than girls and he should never feel the need to push or hit a girl. If the girl does similar things, the best thing to do is to walk away and report it to the teacher or let me know for a more diplomatic handling of the situation. I did emphasize that all human beings are equal and we should all try to treat each other with respect, just like we would like others to treat us. Hence, the situation of “why are girls more special than boys” was sufficiently diffused.