Ben Ooko | Amani Kibera

In 2007, Kenya was at an all-time high political temperature. Campaigns were on top gear with each side highly expectant of victory. The campaigns were largely peaceful with pomp and color apart from a few cases of political intolerance and violence, but nobody had prepared the country for what was to come after the election. Whether the 2007 post-election violence was pre-planned or spontaneous remain a matter of debate. Like many other times before, politicians mobilized youths for campaign purposes, however, evidence from different communities suggests that some of the youths may have been organized and transformed into criminal elements that terrorized people during the post-election violence. This was the experience leading to Amani Kibera initiative.

Due to the socio-economic situation in Kibera, politicians continue to use the slums as a catchment area for idle youths. Few months before the 2007 elections, a group of youths in Kibera identified this cycle of exploitation and organized community sensitization activities. Leading these activities was a young Ben Ooko and his peers, and they called the activities Amani Kibera. Like most of us, the magnitude of post-election violence took Ben by surprise. For weeks, Kibera was on its toes. There were constant running battles between the police and youths. Ben witnessed firsthand how a society could turn against itself, neighbor against neighbor. All around him, there was the destruction of property and death.

Ben and his group could not sit and watch Kibera burn, a community that raised them. They quickly resumed their community sensitization activities. As the Kofi Annan-led mediation process continued, the Amani Kibera activities grew. At first, there were several activities but they soon realized sports attracted more youths. Ben noted the ability of sports as discussed in our previous post.

Encouraged by the support from the community and initial success, Ben and his friends decided to register Amani Kibera as a Community Based Organization and developed a strategic plan. They started small but partnered with the community and other stakeholders as the CBO grew. To date, Amani Kibera designs comprehensive sports programs that include an annual national football tournament dubbed “Ukabila ni Ujinga.” Ukabila ni Ujinga attracts boys’ and girls’ teams from all over the country and has a dream of hosting teams from outside Kenya one day. Amani Kibera also runs other programs like the annual Miss Amani Kibera Beauty Contest. The same pageant that Deborah Gori  won. To date, the organization also runs the Amani Kibera Community Library which won several awards within the country. The library is free to all students and has also stocked Kenyan syllabus-ready kindles. In addition, the facility has an internet-ready computer lab.

Another project, the Amani Kibera Uwezo Empowerment Center is another success story. The center I a relief to young mothers and girls within Kibera. Uwezo Empowerment Center empowers mostly girls, and sometimes boys, through impacting them with skills such as bead making, tailoring, and computer literacy. Uwezo sells most of its products and uses the money to run the center and some part of it to pay learners. The center also houses a daycare unit where young mothers who train at the center and those from the community bring their babies and pay KShs. 50 for the whole day. The daycare has enough facilities and toys for the babies. The daycare, just like all the projects under the CBO, is not for profit. Mothers pay the KShs. 50 paid to keep the facility running, feed the babies, and keep them comfortable. Currently, hundreds benefit directly from Amani Kibera’s projects daily and thousands have indirect benefit.

A clear sign that Kibera recognizes Ben’s effort is the fact that, walking around, everybody calls him “Ben Amani Kibera.” His name is synonymous with peace in his community. He currently commands respect, not only in Kibera but also within Nairobi and the country thanks to the partnerships and friends he has created through his work. Both Ben and Amani Kibera are receivers of several awards but the recognition does not seem to amaze him. According to him, he did not do anything for recognition or award, but he remains glad because people continue to recognize the work of the CBO. Talking to him, he makes his wish known that even when his time is over, Amani Kibera should continue giving back to the community for the next many generations. Ben believes in a collaborative approach to peacebuilding and creating opportunities as a way of mitigating future threats to peace.

The success stories of Amani Kibera are many, but they have also undergone periods of uncertainties and difficulties. One of the major challenges that most NGOs and CBOs face today in Kenya is the shrinking space and funding opportunities, leading to organizations like  Amani Kibera to feel the pinch. Secondly, the organization became a victim of illegal slum constructions after the Kenya Railway demolished a facility they had rented for one of their two libraries because the proprietor constructed it on a railway reserve. Currently, the government is constructing a road that will pass at the center of their office complex that houses the library, daycare, and Uwezo Empowerment Center. I asked him about his next plan for relocation or negotiating with the government for compensation, the ever-positive Ben told me he does not know yet but believes something better will come out at the end.

AMANI KIBERA UPDATE (Few Months after the interview)

Amani Kibera has since lost its center because of the ongoing demolitions in Kibera. The Kenya Urban Roads Authority (KURA) demolished Amani Kibera’s Uwezo Youth Empowerment Center that had a library, computer center, a technical school, and daycare to pave way for the constructions of Ngong Road-Kibera-Kiungu Karumba-Langata link road. Talking to Nation Newspaper, Ben Ooko said people remained calm despite the demolitions due to a series of meetings that they have had with the residents. Amnesty International, however, condemns the activity citing the need to first resettle the affected residents.

M-CHANGA FOR AMANI KIBERA

Amani Kibera has since set up an M-Changa drive to help the organization raise funds. The funds will go towards identifying a space and setting up of the complex. Visit this M-Changa campaign and help Amani Kibera rebuild the Uwezo Youth Empowerment Center.

 

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