I got into a common matatu inside Nairobi, but destiny waited for us a few kilometers from the Kenyan capital. Our transportation dropped us off on an asphalted street, but from there on the path was a dirt alley. An active market took over the scenario, but we were walking on an extremely uneven land, full of cracks and holes, where hundreds of people and some motorcycles circulated. The alley, approximately 500 meters long, is the last existing connection between the presence of the public power and the Korogocho slum.

The end of the alley opens up to an open field covered in trash. A creek separates the open field from the beginning of the residential area, and in an exposed sewerage pipe children play of hanging above the water. We crossed a less than 1 meter-wide bridge and arrived to the main street where the slum begins. We walked on, surrounded by alert eyes and a greeting from a Muzungu that passed by. A left turn, going by several clotheslines, and we at last arrived to the office of the organization I was going to meet with: SUFTA (Societies United for Transformation in Africa).

I was greeted by John, one of the organization founders. According to him, SUFTA was founded by some young people who were born and raised in the community. I asked him to explain how the organization worked and about the ongoing. I admit: I was dumbfolded by the explanation. He talked about strategic planning, social business, empowerment of young people and women, community social development, holistic approach and other terms that so much used today by NGOs and international agencies. I decided to ask a sensitive question and I was quite impressed by the answer.

-John, where does all this knowledge come from?

He answered me with a shy smile. The organization founders are university students who graduated in administration, economics, and community development. It was interesting to check some data that state that a large number of young Kenyans currently attend the universities in the country. And they specifically decided to use the acquired knowledge to return to their community of origin and make a difference. This was much better than the answer I was expecting, regarding some type of a standardized training provided by some organization.

We discussed a new project of legalizing marriages as a way to reduce domestic violence and make men and women more sensitive about the commitment of starting a family. And, at the same time, IT projects, prevention of HIV/AIDS and malaria, development of small business and psychological support are part of a weekly agenda in the community. An international volunteer of AIESEC was also there, teaching English for the local children.

It is estimated that 120,000 residents live in the Korogocho community, and 70% of the population are 30 years old or less. It is considered the fourth largest community in Nairobi, behind Kibera, Mathare (neighbor community) and Mukuru Kwa Njenga. It is an illegal settlement founded in the 80s, by a majority of immigrants coming from rural areas and even Tanzania. The land is divided and more than half of it belongs to the State and the rest belongs to a private owner. There is no presence whatsoever of the public power in the region, and water and electricity distribution is illegal. Most of the water in the region comes to some water tanks and it is redistributed by middlemen, thus raising the price considerably (according to John, the water quality is very poor).

The presence of the government can barely be noticed when walking along the community streets. On the contrary, it is quite easy to realize where the government presence ends, a little before the access bridge to the slum. On one side, running water, public lighting and how can we say it, aligned streets. On the other side, abandonment in the midst of dirt narrow alleys and improvised houses made of metal sheets and mud.

SUFTA supports two local businesses as a way of pursuing its financial sustainability: a candle factory and a tomato plantation. The profit is used to maintain the office overhead and the activities in the community.  Although they still depend on a monthly donation given by a British citizen, who “adopted” the project, the organization founders and directors are looking for ways of being financially independent to develop their activities.