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Social work beyond offering services: The Mukuru Kaiyaba story

Rory Truell, IFSW Secretary-General, describes the story of Mukuru Kaiyaba in Kenya and how social workers collaborated with the community leaders to improve living conditions.

01/07/24

Social work beyond offering services: The Mukuru Kaiyaba story

In 2005, social worker Evans Nyakundi and his colleagues first visited the Mukuru Kaiyaba community, a slum in the centre of Nairobi.

At that time many residents lived there for only a short amount of time as crime, harm related to drugs and complete lack of facilities made life unbearable.

This week, as the Secretary-General of the International Federation of Social Workers, I was met by Evans and the local community leaders who explained how the community is in an ongoing process of transformation.

Nineteen years ago, Evans and other social workers met with the inhabitants and offered them training in community leadership. They assisted the community in developing their own Community-Based Organisation, constructing a constitution and developing a membership base comprising of residents that would focus on their own development.

Upon doing so the community quickly identified that sewage and the absence of toilets was a major concern. As all the housing was informal there was little chance of having sewage pipes installed. The only way to dispose of human waste was to put it in a plastic bag and throw it in the river or somewhere nearby, a process termed ‘flying toilets’. Before changes were made, it was very important to watch one’s step when walking through the narrow muddy paths between the compact rows of self-constructed dwellings.

The initial community collective comprised 300 members and together they identified a place to build a bio-toilet. They applied successfully for funds for materials to self-build a toilet and shower block with a community room above. From this starting point the collective identified other priorities such as garbage disposal, sanitation, clean water distribution, reducing violence, vocational training/education, developing biogas for cooking and heating, and creating employment.

Today, the residents themselves have trained as social work assistants. Through partnerships with the Nairobi City County Government’s health sector, they have ensured that there is a Community Health Promoter for every 100 houses. Now the collective is buying legitimate land and the population of Mukuru Kaiyaba has reached more than 20,000 people as residents experience better security.

The local community leaders and social workers reported that the community has transformed since the days that Evans and others offered them training. One commented: “We now have a sense of belonging. People stay here and don’t move on because we look out for each other, we look after each other”. They reported a significant reduction in domestic violence as violence is now openly discussed and people, including children are aware of their rights. A community elder said: “The improved health and new incomes from employment have all helped to create community cohesion.”

It was wonderful to hear that the community leaders have become experts in developing partnerships and successfully gaining funding. They spoke with humble pride and optimism for further development and better livelihoods. As they showed me and my daughter who was accompanying me around their community, it was a pleasure to see vibrant, happy children safely playing, and their parents faces full of dignity and grace even though the economic conditions would be classified as poverty. The looks on their faces tell the story of self-led development and initial social work input that thought beyond the concept of offering services, so that Mukuru Kaiyaba became its own self-led service.

Photo: Community leaders of Mukuru Kaiyaba along with social workers.
Credit: IFSW

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