Mtomondoni is a village on the outskirts of Mombasa, Kenya’s oldest and second largest city. Away from the hubbub of central Mombasa, the community here is closeknit despite the challenges they face. Employment rates are low, particularly amongst youth, and this has been exacerbated by the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of opportunities for youth is a major barrier to breaking the cycle of poverty here.
Lucy Nyawira has lived in Mtomondoni for most of her life. Now 27, she lives with her parents, her younger brother, and her seven-year-old son. The pandemic hit her community hard, “the young people who did have jobs were laid off, those in school were locked at home,” she continues, “the fact that people were not able to work and pay for food, it brought a lot of issues like gender-based violence and stealing.”
“The young people who did have jobs were laid off, those in school were locked at home. The fact that people were not able to work and pay for food, it brought a lot of issues like gender-based violence and stealing.”
In communities like Mtomondoni, community groups are essential for forming a united front against social challenges like poverty, gender-based violence and radicalisation, as well as improving access to healthcare, education and employment. At the height of the pandemic, these groups were a lifeline for young people like Lucy, who is a member of a local youth group called Mwamko and a larger organisation called Safe Community Youth Initiative (SCYI). “We didn’t have food, it was so hard,” she explains, “SCYI gave us maize, flour, and oil so that we could cook. They also gave us face masks and hand sanitisers to protect against the virus.”
Lucy has been part of SCYI for many years and taken on various voluntary roles, including as a community mobiliser, which involves connecting girls to family planning services, and training as a community health worker. This kept her busy during the pandemic as she spent a lot of time educating her community about COVID-19 to dispel fear and misinformation, which she says was rife. Despite the importance of this role, it was unpaid and like many of her peers, Lucy was struggling to find work as a result of the pandemic.
At the end of 2021, she had the opportunity to take part in a new training programme being offered by SCYI with support from the Aga Khan Foundation’s (AKF) wider COVID-19 response programme in East Africa. The EU-funded programme is divided into three pillars: community resilience, health system strengthening, and youth wellbeing and livelihoods. The latter includes providing entrepreneurship training to young people so that they can start their own businesses and become more self-reliant, rather than depending on the limited employment opportunities available since COVID-19. Lucy is one of the nearly 2,000 young people who have completed the training so far across Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
Although small in stature, Lucy fills a room with her presence – but as she says, this confidence is newly found. “From the start of training until now, there have been big changes. If somebody had a photo of before and after, you would really see the difference!”
As a result of the entrepreneurship training, she’s now running two successful businesses from her home in Mtomondoni. Like every good entrepreneur, Lucy identified a need in her community as the foundation of her business. “Initially, I came up with three business ideas. The first was to sell clean water from a tank in my garden because there is no water here in Mtomondoni.”
After presenting this idea to her youth group, they helped her to secure a loan to launch her business. With the loan she purchased and installed a 5,000-litre water tank. Less than three months after the training began, ‘Lulu’s Water Point’ – as she proudly calls it – was up and running, providing safe, clean drinking water to her community. She sells the water at an affordable price – just 20 KES per 20 litres (around £0.14) – because, as she says, “it’s about helping my community as well as earning an income.”
“It’s about helping my community as well as earning an income.”
After the second month of training, her confidence growing, Lucy started a second business. Having a bachelor’s degree in Biology, Lucy has always dreamt of having her own plant nursery. Combining her newfound entrepreneurial skills with her knowledge of horticulture, she wrote a tender for the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organisation (KARLO) to provide them with 6,000 mango seedlings and 5,000 lemon seedlings by the end of 2022. The contract was approved and Lucy is now growing the seedlings in her garden, just a few steps away from her water tank. She’s already supplied 1,450 mango seedlings to KARLO and has distributed others to local farmers in Mtonondoni.
After just six weeks of training, Lucy couldn’t quite believe how rapid the changes were. “If you had told me in December ‘Lucy, you will have not one but two businesses and you will have the nursery that you always wanted.’ I wouldn’t have believed that was possible. Now I can see that I’m going in the right direction – I just needed the opportunity.”
Lucy wanted to share the knowledge she had gained to help other young would-be entrepreneurs. After each training session, Lucy would return to Mwamko Youth Group and share the skills she had learnt with her peers. “There’s one person who is running a vegetable store, one breeding chickens, and another who is selling second hand clothes.” So far in Kenya, more than 1,800 young people have accessed the AKF-supported entrepreneurship training through peer-to-peer learning efforts like Lucy’s.
As a young mother, Lucy is particularly supportive of women who have had a similar experience to her. Many of the women in her group became mothers at 15 or 16 years of age. They had to drop out of school and have since struggled to find work, but Lucy is showing them that they don’t have to give up. “I told them, being a young mother doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. It’s just like a break – you have to sit down, reflect on your life and get yourself up again, because life is short. You can acquire new skills and like me, become your own boss!”
“Being a young mother doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. It’s just like a break – you have to sit down, reflect on your life and get yourself up again, because life is short. You can acquire new skills and like me, become your own boss!”
With the support of her youth groups, Lucy has been able to realise her potential. She’s followed her dreams of owning a plant nursery, whilst also helping her community through ‘Lulu’s Water Point’ and sharing her business skills with her peers. Her natural entrepreneurial spirit and desire to help her community have changed her life for the better, and from where she stands in her garden – in between her two budding businesses – the future looks bright.
A special thank you to Lucy for sharing her story and to the team at Safe Community Youth Initiative for their support.
This is a project funded by the European Union and the Aga Khan Foundation and implemented by agencies of the Aga Khan Development Network. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.